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Clarkson: Still a long way to go in cleaning up Virginia's waters

Clarkson: Still a long way to go in cleaning up Virginia's waters

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From left: Emmett Shreve, age 3; friend Alice Hunter, 4; and her cousin Ford Hunter, 3, got a close-up look at the churning waters of the James River at Pony Pasture after the river rose to more than 9 feet in October.

This past Tuesday marked World Water Day.

Of all the things to celebrate, water is certainly one we can’t overlook. We are made of it after all.

We drink it, we play in it, we rely on it for life, as much for spiritual existence as physical.

Whether one is talking about recharging the aquifers in the eastern portion of the state, closing coal ash ponds on the James and other rivers, or reducing nutrient and sediment runoff in the Chesapeake Bay, the controversies and concern over Virginia’s water isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

I tried to keep folks informed about bills and budget allocations related to the outdoors and conservation during the General Assembly, and it seems appropriate to follow up with how it all shook out, or at least portions related to funding for cleaner water in Virginia.

In short, Gov. Terry McAuliffe and the Virginia legislators recently put forth the largest investment for clean water in Virginia’s history.

The General Assembly approved more than $140 million in funding packages related to clean water: $20 million for the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund, which provides matching grants to localities for cost-effective projects that reduce urban and suburban polluted runoff, $61.7 million for agricultural best management practices in fiscal year 2017 (this includes funding for fencing cattle out of streams and other programs that reduce nutrient pollution into Virginia’s waterways), $59 million to reduce pollution from Virginia’s wastewater treatment plants and $4 million for oyster replenishment.

“We have to be stewards of our economy, of our land, and of our water,” McAuliffe said at a local Water Day celebration at Rockets Landing on Tuesday hosted by the James River Association, The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Hardywood Brewery.

“There is nothing we can take for granted with the challenges to clean water,” McAuliffe noted.

Organizations with a focus on Virginia’s waters, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and The James River Association, considered the events of the General Assembly as a step in the right direction for clean water funding.

“The governor’s recognition of World Water Day is yet another signal of his dedication to providing access to clean and high quality water in all Virginia communities. We look forward to seeing the governor’s final approval of these items in the biennial budget, and know that he will continue to recognize the importance of investing in the Chesapeake Bay,” said Rebecca LePrell, Virginia executive director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

While significant progress has been made through much hard work, the waters of Virginia, like the Chesapeake and the James, still are in peril. There are native species in these waters that are barely hanging on. There is concern over invasive species, and the sediment and nutrient loads have to come down, period.

“The historic investment Virginia is making in clean water this year is important,” said Bill Street, chief executive officer for the James River Association. “This critical step will pay huge dividends in cleaner local streams, a healthier James River, and in keeping Virginia on track in the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort.”

We have come a long way in the past 40 years in cleaning up Virginia’s waters, but there still is a long way to go.

We can’t bury our heads in the sand and say we didn’t know. And although it is a daunting task, we can fix the bay. We can fix the James and every other river in the commonwealth. We have the technology and the understanding. The real questions are do we have the fortitude, the willingness to make sacrifices, and the financial will?

We are fortunate to have an early spring this year, and with spring comes one of the most remarkable events in all of nature, the return of anadromous fish to their home rivers. Here in Richmond, the shad, the stripers, the white perch, and the herring are coming home to the James.

Their return each year serves as an acknowledgement of the importance of water and as a reminder that really, every day is Water Day.

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