Join us as a strong voice for the Rappahannock River at the state level.

The 2024 General Assembly session starts January 10th. While we will be supporting and opposing many issues we are prioritizing the following  issues and will regularly update this page. We will include info on bill progress and how YOU can make a difference for the river. Your voices are vital! 

Remember that your representatives might have changed so to be sure to check who your representatives are by visiting Who is My Legislator? 

Land Use Conversion and Forest Canopy Loss

The Rappahannock watershed is losing urban and suburban tree canopy at increasing rates. We now have an opportunity to provide localities with more authority to conserve trees prior to construction and to replace those that are lost during construction. Urge your delegate right now to support these efforts through House Bill 529 and House Bill 1100 to conserve and plant more trees in your community!

Tell them to please vote in favor of HB529 and HB1100 when these bills come before you. HB529 gives all local governments authority to require tree replacement after construction and HB1100 helps to conserve more trees during the construction process. These bills complement each other and are needed to ensure Virginia continues to protect the health of its citizens and waterways!

The Rappahannock River watershed is experiencing large changes in land use. Forests and fields are being developed for residential, commercial and industrial projects leading to increased stormwater runoff and surface water demand from the river. Localities watershed-wide are receiving many applications for utility scale solar projects due to clean energy deadlines mandated by the Virginia Clean Economy Act. A balance must be established to ensure that water quality cleanup goals can also be achieved. 

The Rappahannock River watershed is experiencing a boom in data center project applications. These projects are vital for our digital lifestyle and can potentially provide localities with financial windfalls but there is a lack of incentives and standards to protect Virginia’s natural resources while allowing for the proper siting of these industrial facilities.

Budget and Policy Recommendations:

  • Support for SB581 which authorizes the Department of Environmental Quality to utilize and incorporate comprehensive groundwater, surface water, and aquifer data in its decision-making processes related to the issuance and renewal of groundwater withdrawal permits and surface water withdrawal permits. Such data may include information relating to water levels, flow rates, and water quality. STATUS:  Passed ACNR committee.
  • Support for HB338/SB285 which requires a locality, prior to any approval for the siting of a data center, to perform a site assessment to examine the effect of the data center on water usage and carbon emissions as well as any impacts on agricultural resources within the locality. STATUS:  Rolled into JLARC study.
  • Support for HJ12– Directs the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission to study the impact of utility-scale solar development in the Commonwealth on agriculture, forestry, and the environment. STATUS: Passed by for the year.
  • Support B1100– Allows any locality to adopt an ordinance providing for the conservation of trees during the land development process. Under current law, only a locality within Planning District 8 that meets certain population density and non attainment classification criteria is authorized to adopt such an ordinance. STATUS: Passed Full Committee
  • Support HB309– Requires the Department of Forestry, in coordination with a stakeholder advisory group, to develop a Forest Conservation Plan no later than November 1, 2025, and update such plan every five years thereafter. STATUS: Passed Full Committee
  • Support for HB528 which would protect homeowners who choose to install  managed conservation landscaping on private property in Common Interest Communities. Currently, Virginia code does not protect homeowners wanting to install conservation landscaping, such as using landscape practices that incorporate environmentally sensitive design to address stormwater runoff, reduce pollution, protect clean air and water and support wildlife through the use of native plants. STATUS: Stricken from docket.
  • Support for HB1157 which requires the Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Department of Environmental Quality, the Department of Historic Resources, and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission to establish policies and procedures for consulting with federally recognized Tribal Nations in the Commonwealth when evaluating certain permits and reviews relating to environmental, cultural, or historic resources that potentially impact those federally recognized Tribal Nations in the Commonwealth. STATUS: Awaits vote in House Appropriations.
Environmental Literacy

Environmental Literacy Plans are necessary to make sure we have an informed Commonwealth that understands the impacts of human activity on the environment and makes sound decisions that reflect that knowledge. 

Having standards of learning (SOL) that contain the basic information our students need to know is not enough. Our teachers and schools need support in effectively teaching our students these concepts and helping them understand what actions they can take in their personal lives to make change. 

Environmental literacy plans are a tool for school districts to map out what their environmental education goals are and how they will achieve them. This goes beyond the SOLs. Creating the plan involves community engagement with families, students, teachers, administrators and the local community at large. Each plan is localized based on the region and resources available. They are created with success as the goal and are, therefore, very centered on the community. 

Budget and Policy Recommendations

  • Support for HB538 which creates the Virginia Environmental Literacy Fund. The purpose of the Fund will be for awarding grants on a competitive basis, to any public school district or community partner that seeks assistance to initiate, expand, or improve their school district environmental literacy plan, that will support teacher professional development opportunities or student environmental education programs that align with the content and objectives outlined in the Virginia Environmental Literacy Plan. STATUS: FAILED TO ADVANCE FROM APPROPRIATIONS
  • Support for budget amendment which provides the Virginia Environmental Literacy Fund with $500,000.
  • Support for $500,000 in funds (currently $250k) from the Governor’s budget for competitive grants to provide Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences (MWEE) to Virginia’s students
  • River Issue: Our Rappahannock River fisheries are important both culturally and economically to the people of the river basin. Virginia’s fisheries managers continue to struggle with managing and rebuilding fish populations, including species such as blue crab, river herring, American shad, striped bass, menhaden, and sturgeon. The growing prevalence of new land uses and the impacts from climate change necessitate prioritizing investment in better understanding the cumulative impacts of these changes on our iconic fisheries.

    As localities move toward utilizing surface water to meet future water needs more surface water intake facilities will be installed. These surface water withdrawals kill billions of fish, shellfish, eggs, and larvae each year through impingement (organisms being pinned against mesh screens because of strong withdrawal velocity) or entrainment (organisms that go through a facility’s water system because mesh size is too large). This chronic mortality threat is studied on a case by case basis but we lack data on the cumulative effects such withdrawals have on aquatic fauna mortality.

    Virginia ranks #1 in oyster production on the East Coast. Oyster aquaculture is a significant reason for this top ranking. Oysters raised from aquaculture filter the water helping to improve water quality and aquatic habitat. Aquaculture helps take the pressure off wild oyster populations which have just begun to rebound in recent years. Oyster aquaculture companies are vital partners in the Rappahannock River Oyster Restoration Partnership.

    Blue catfish are an invasive fish that was introduced to rivers in Virginia beginning in the 1970’s. The voracious predators have been found to make up up to 75% of all biomass in certain parts of the Rappahannock River. They can get up to over 100lbs in size and feed on iconic depleted species such as blue crabs, American Shad, and river herring. Despite their abundance and deleterious effect on the River they are not able to be harvested and sold at high enough levels due to unfair inspection requirements that dampen their market.

  • Budget and Policy Recommendations:
    • Support HB1135/SB402 which encourages coordination regarding efforts to create a robust and resilient market for blue catfish. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) shall convene a work group of stakeholders who have a vested interest in reducing the negative ecological effects of blue catfish and increasing their processing and sales.  STATUS: Passed committees and awaits votes on Full House and Senate floors.
    • Support for HB 1520 which requires the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) to study the mortality of aquatic fauna due to surface water intakes in the Chesapeake Bay. STATUS: FAILED TO ADVANCE, Passed by until 2025 with a letter to VIMS.
    • Support HB19 which directs the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) in collaboration with the Marine Resources Commission and certain stakeholders to conduct a three-year study of the ecology, fishery impacts, and economic importance of the Atlantic menhaden population in the waters of the Commonwealth. STATUS: FAILED
    • Oppose SB275 which prohibits the Marine Resources Commission from issuing any permit for any floating oyster cage in a water column, rack-and-bag, or other similar apparatus for oyster aquaculture in the Lynnhaven River or its tributaries.  Blanket prohibition of  floating oyster cages in a water column, rack-and-bag, or other similar apparatus for oyster aquaculture in the Lynnhaven River or its tributaries sets a bad precedent that could be used in other rivers.  Oyster aquaculture gear choices should be decided by VMRC on a permit by permit basis. STATUS: STRICKEN FROM DOCKET
Water Quality

Stormwater runoff from urban and suburban areas is the fastest growing source of pollution to our water and the main reason many of our urban streams are impaired. This growth is largely caused by the expansion of our built environment and the impervious surfaces — parking lots, roofs, and roads — that carry more polluted runoff to our waterways. With more intense rain- fall events on the horizon as a result of climate change, untreated stormwater may exacerbate dangerous and costly flooding. Virginia’s plan to clean up the Chesapeake Bay calls for strong investments in better stormwater control to protect clean water and frontline communities.

Agriculture is Virginia’s largest industry by many metrics. It also represents the largest

source of nutrient and sediment pollution reaching Virginia’s local streams, rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay. Fortunately, this source of pollution is declining thanks to increased investments in agricultural best management practices that improve water quality. The Virginia Agricultural Cost Share Program (VACS) funds the implementation of a wide suite of agricultural practices that reduce pollution while enhancing farm productivity. Virginia should follow through on its commitment to fully fund this impactful program.

Budget & Policy Recommendations:

  • Support for at least $80 million in funds per year to the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund (SLAF)
  • Continued support for the $4 million in funds allocated to the Virginia Conservation Assistance Program (VCAP). This program provides cost-share assistance for smaller-scale residential and commercial projects to reduce stormwater runoff and erosion by utilizing best management practices such as rain gardens, conservation landscaping, and living shorelines. 
  • Support for $200 million for Virginia Agricultural Cost-Share (VACS) Program as proposed in the Governor’s budget
  • Support for $200 million in the Water Quality Improvement Fund which funds wastewater treatment upgrades for localities

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