Gov. Ralph Northam has proposed providing $90 million in state funds to help farmers put in conservation practices that would prevent the runoff of nutrients and sediment from crop fields and feedlots. That’s more than triple what state lawmakers have made available in years past for pollution-controlling measures on Virginia’s 46,000 farms — and closer to what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has estimated the state needs to invest in agricultural cost-share conservation programs.
Agriculture is the largest source of sediment and nutrient pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. The Virginia cost-sharing program helps farmers implement more than 50 types of best-management practices to reduce polluted runoff, such as fencing livestock out of streams, installing waterfront buffers and planting cover crops.
“These are some of the most cost-effective steps we can take as a state to restore the Bay and local streams,” said Rebecca Tomazin, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Virginia office.
The Virginia Conservation Network, which represents the conservation interests of 120 organizations, is calling on the legislature to set aside $100 million for the program.
Virginia could easily pay for the increase from the $550 million in unexpected revenue it has collected, said Lee Francis, deputy director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters.
Stormwater funding: To stay on pace to reach its Bay cleanup goals by 2025, Virginia must boost its financial commitments toward reducing stormwater pollution in cities and suburban landscapes, environmental groups say.
Since debuting in 2014, the state’s Stormwater Local Assistance Fund has helped finance 175 projects in 51 localities. Northam is urging lawmakers to set aside $50 million for the matching grant program, which is directed at local communities. That total matches the amount sought by many environmental groups.
But “it will take a lot more than that over many years, of course,” said Pat Calvert, the Virginia Conservation Network’s policy and campaigns manager for land and water.
Lawmakers appropriated $20 million for the program for the 2019 fiscal year after providing no funding the two previous years. Calvert and other supporters hope the legislature will amend the budget left behind by outgoing Gov. Terry McAuliffe, which zeroed out the program for 2020.