In March, state legislators passed a budget that included more than $200 million for some of our biggest priorities in land conservation, agricultural conservation practices, and stormwater and wastewater treatment. But it soon became clear that COVID-19 would deeply impact our Commonwealth, prompting Governor Northam and the General Assembly to place almost all new funding temporarily on hold.
In August, lawmakers returned for a special session of the General Assembly to balance a tighter budget, to meet the needs of a public health crisis and to answer renewed calls for racial justice. We urged legislators to put the health and welfare of Virginians first, and where possible, to restore funding for Virginia’s natural resource programs to maintain our progress toward cleaner water for all.
Why do natural resources programs matter?
- These programs support local jobs. Every dollar invested in putting conservation practices in place on farmland can generate $1.56 in economic activity here in Virginia, helping farmers and our food supply system which have been severely disrupted by the pandemic.
- These programs promote public health and mental well-being. Access to clean air and water is critical to the health of our communities, particularly during a pandemic where handwashing and preexisting health conditions are vital factors. Moreover, this pandemic has shone a light on the role that accessible green spaces play in providing peace of mind and refuge.
- This funding will continue our progress towards addressing environmental injustice as a Commonwealth. For years, low income communities and communities of color have disproportionately faced the impacts of polluted air and water while lacking access to safe green spaces.
- These programs further long-standing environmental goals like the Chesapeake Bay Cleanup effort. Virginians have worked together in a multi-decade to reduce pollution to the Bay and its tributary rivers, and we are currently at pace to meet our cleanup commitments by 2025. Without adequate funding, we risk missing our deadline and delaying our ability to enjoy the many benefits of cleaner water.
We’re pleased to say that the revised budget bill, as passed by the General Assembly, restores important investments critical to clean water and a healthy James River. This includes
- almost $100 million over the next two years to support the installation of agricultural conservation practices,
- $50 million to reduce pollution by upgrading wastewater treatment plants,
- $50 million to assist localities with stormwater treatment practices that help local water quality and mitigate flooding, and
- $10 million each year for protecting natural landscapes through the Virginia Land Conservation Fund.
We thank the many leaders who worked together to restore these funds, including Governor Northam, Senate Finance Chairwoman Howell, and House Appropriations Chairman Torian. We’re also grateful for our partners and volunteers, like our RiverReps who helped us achieve this goal by sharing their support for continued investments in cleaner water! Together, we can keep Virginia on the path toward a Grade-A James River and a restored Chesapeake Bay.