Daily Press (Sunday)

State budget delivers for clean water and protected land

- By Pat Calvert Guest Columnist Pat Calvert is director of clean water and land conservati­on programs for the Virginia Conservati­on Network, located in Richmond.

Many Virginians’ favorite time of year has arrived. Autumn has begun, and I’m excited to swap sticky humidity for a crisper breeze and warm displays of color. I was excited to see Virginia Tourism’s release of the best outdoor spaces to view peak fall foliage and can’t wait to view some of these top spots myself.

As I travel throughout the state to see the warm, colorful hues across Virginia’s ridges, valleys and coastlines, I’m consistent­ly reminded how access to and protection of these shared natural resources are deeply influenced by the leadership of policymake­rs working together to invest in these resources. Simply put, Virginia could not highlight such a diversity of treasured outdoor spaces if it weren’t for the conservati­on funding that has been invested through the bipartisan budget agreements over the years — including this year’s historic budget compromise signed last month.

As the director of clean water and land conservati­on programs for the Virginia Conservati­on Network, it is my role to strategica­lly coordinate issue education and advocacy among more than 160 natural resource conservati­on nonprofits. Access to clean, safe and accessible outdoor spaces continues to be a huge priority to both our conservati­on network and the people who come to visit and live in Virginia. However, these areas require additional funding to ensure healthy waters, safeguard forests and farms, and protect our health.

I’ve witnessed firsthand the few remaining issues that garner political bipartisan support. But to Virginians, there is little of more universal importance than clean water to drink and access to protected outdoor places.

Unfortunat­ely, many miles of Virginia creeks and rivers are still routinely polluted with runoff from our roads and farms. Less limited to coastal areas, recurrent flooding now regularly impacts a growing diversity of Virginia communitie­s. This past July marked one year since historic flooding in Buchanan and Tazewell counties, where residents are still struggling to recover.

Money talks, and our bipartisan state budget reflects the values of the commonweal­th.

The budget deal allocates historic levels of funding for clean water. As we approach the 2025 Chesapeake Bay pollution cleanup deadline, hundreds of millions of dollars are earmarked for water quality improvemen­ts, pollution-reducing agricultur­al best management practices, and wastewater treatment plant upgrades.

The Regional Greenhouse

Gas Initiative remains the state’s primary source of flood preparedne­ss funding. RGGI continues to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for the Community Flood Preparedne­ss Fund. Over the past three years, the state has raised $328.6 million for flood funding by charging polluters for their carbon discharge. Furthermor­e, through this budget compromise, legislator­s supplement­ed flood resiliency funding by allocating $100 million to the Resilient Virginia Revolving Fund, giving more flexibilit­y for the state to support local government­s and individual property owners impacted by flooding.

Virginia’s key land conservati­on programs maintained critical funding — the Land Preservati­on Tax Credit, Virginia Land Conservati­on Fund, Farmland Preservati­on Fund, and BIPOC Historic Preservati­on Fund — and the Virginia Battlefiel­ds Preservati­on Fund received an additional $6.25 million.

And Virginia’s historic $93 million dedication for trail funding remained intact: One-third of the funds will go toward “priority” projects and the remaining two-thirds will be directed to projects throughout the state.

Virginia Conservati­on Network is grateful to the Chesapeake Champions in Virginia’s Senate Finance and Appropriat­ions Committee and House Appropriat­ions Committee who secured much-needed conservati­on funding in the bipartisan budget compromise.

After fighting for our shared values for decades, a majority of these committees are now retiring. Retirees, including Sens. Janet Howell, Emmett Hanger, Lynwood Lewis, George Barker and Del. Ken Plum, are leaving behind a formidable legacy — one of the largest budgets for clean water and the outdoors in Virginia’s history.

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