Historic investments proposed for water quality and land conservation
When Gov. Ralph Northam addressed the General Assembly’s budget and tax committees on December 17 to present his proposed biennial budget, he laid out ahead of everything else his environmental and renewable energy investments.
The budget includes $733 million in new funding for environment quality and renewable energy including heavy investments in Chesapeake Bay clean up efforts. This may be the most in new funding for water quality and land conservation that has ever been proposed in a single budget.
Secretary of Natural Resources Matt Strickler also noted VIRGINIAforever’s five-year strategic plan for natural resources investments and its longtime advocacy for helping pave the way for this historic new funding.
There’s $400 million for water quality projects and programs.
This includes $182 million in authorized bond funding for stormwater projects. (Previously, the most ever proposed for stormwater in a single budget is $35 million.) This new stormwater funding likely will be stretched out over numerous years. Considering that the state stormwater funds must have a dollar-for-dollar match from local governments, this will total nearly $400 million once implemented.
The budget also includes $120 million in authorized bonds for wastewater treatment plant upgrades, helping local governments remove nutrients from local streams and rivers. These state funds also will require a local funding match. On top of this, Alexandria Renew Enterprises – the wastewater treatment authority for Alexandria and part of Fairfax County – is slated to receive $65 million in authorized state debt to help with its $400-500 million state-mandated fix to its combined sewer overflow system. This is the most ever proposed at once for a CSO project.
State assistance to Virginia’s farmers for agricultural best management practices totals nearly $90 million over the biennium.
And, for the first time, a Virginia governor is proposing the maximum for land conservation called for in state law. In 2013, the General Assembly passed a law requiring governors to invest $20 million annually in the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation. Northam is proposing the full $20 million for VLCF, which provides grants to local governments and others to preserve open-space lands, working farmlands, forests, and key historic lands.
State parks also will see a big investment – $144 million for new infrastructure. Additionally, there’s another $6.5 million proposed for additional lands for natural area preserves and $14.5 million for wildlife management areas and more boating access to rivers.
State Agency Staff Investments
New to VIRGINIAforever’s advocacy efforts is state agency staffing. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and other environmental agencies have lost significant funding over the last decade for staff, which has hampered their permitting and environmental protection responsibilities. Northam proposed nearly $40 million for additional personnel at DEQ, the Department of Conservation and Recreation, and other agencies.
Well, as the saying goes, “the governor proposes, and the legislature disposes.” VIRGINIAforever will ramp up its legislative lobbying when the 2020 General Assembly convenes in January.
VIRGINIAforever’s membership – environmental advocates, outdoor enthusiasts, and the business community – will have to highlight to legislators these historic investments in natural resources and encourage their strong support.
The General Assembly convenes on January 8 and adjourns on March 7.
On December 17, VIRGINIAforever held its Annual Budget Briefing on Natural Resources. Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Matt Strickler and Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring presented details on natural resources-related components of Governor Northam’s introduced budget. Representatives from agencies that fall under these two secretariats were also in attendance and helped answer questions from the audience.
At its annual meeting in December, VIRGINIAforever elected the following to serve as its officers for 2020-2022:
* Denotes member is serving second term in this role
Please extend a warm welcome to our new leadership committee.
A huge thank you goes to Dennis Treacy for his leadership and service in his chairman role over the past four years.
VIRGINIAforever is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ourlandourwater. “Like” our page to stay in touch about VIRGINIAforever announcements as well as natural resources funding news from across the Commonwealth. You are encouraged to “share” and “comment” on our content.