RICHMOND — Gov. Mark Warner yesterday proposed spending a record $200 million to help clean the Chesapeake Bay by funding sewage-plant improvements to cut pollution and improve the health of the Bay’s watershed.
The proposed funding would be put into the Virginia Water Quality Improvement Fund to help 92 of the 125 public wastewater-treatment plants in the Bay watershed meet stringent nitrogen- and phosphorus-reduction requirements the state Water Control Board adopted last month.
“With this funding, we’re going to be able to reduce nitrogen loads by 2.6 million pounds per year, and that will take us to two-thirds of our goal” of the amount needed to get Virginia off the Environmental Protection Agency’s “impaired waters” list by 2010, Mr. Warner said at a press conference.
If approved by the General Assembly, the $200 million would be the largest contribution to the state water-quality fund and “the largest single contribution any state in the Bay watershed has made in the life of the program to clean up the Bay,” Mr. Warner said.
The one-time funds are part of a $242.5 million water-quality package in a budget that Mr. Warner plans to introduce before he leaves office in mid-January. The funding would be in addition to the state’s mandatory $56.6 million deposit to the water-quality fund, 70 percent of which will be used to reduce agricultural runoff and other nonsewage pollution.
The Bay’s two largest sources of nitrogen pollution are sewage-treatment plants and agricultural runoff, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, an environmental group that gave the estuary’s health a “D” in its annual report card.
Mr. Warner said improvements need to be done sooner than later, because deferring upgrades will be more expensive in the long run and the costs would be passed on to consumers in higher sewer bills.
He also said he plans to propose $2.9 million for the Virginia Institute of Marine Science to monitor the state’s progress in meeting the 2010 cleanup deadline.
Mr. Warner’s budget proposal also includes:
$25 million in grants to local governments for public sewage-treatment plants in Southwest Virginia and other areas outside the Bay watershed.
$10 million for community projects that would provide safe drinking water, particularly in the southwest.
$7.5 million for sewer-overflow projects in Richmond and Lynchburg.
“This is truly a historic announcement, but let me be clear — this doesn’t get us all the way there,” said Mr. Warner, who called for permanent funding for cutting Bay pollution from all sources. He also noted that although Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania have increased Bay spending, federal resources have been curtailed.
House Speaker William J. Howell, who appeared with Mr. Warner at the press conference, noted that House members last year backed a 10-year, $500 million cleanup plan, which met with Senate resistance and was trimmed to a one-year, $80 million measure in the final budget. “We’re going to continue to make efforts over the next nine years what we started last year,” he said.
Ann Jennings, the Virginia executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said Mr. Warner’s proposed investment is an aggressive approach to funding water-quality needs.
“But this is not a permanent fix, and we’ll be looking to the General Assembly in the coming session to establish a significant, reliable, dedicated funding source to address water-quality needs,” she said.