Gov. Northam signs legislation committing Commonwealth to reducing polluted runoff from state lands

Ralph Northam Clean the Bay (June 3) 3.jpg
Ralph Northam Clean the Bay (June 3) 2.jpg
Ralph Northam Clean the Bay (June 3).jpg
Posted at 5:44 PM, Jun 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-03 17:44:13-04

RICHMOND, Va. - Gov. Ralph Northam signed executive order Thursday setting pollution reduction targets for lands within the Chesapeake Bay watershed that are owned by state agencies and public institutions of higher education.

Nonpoint source pollution, also known as polluted runoff, occurs when stormwater moves over the ground collecting pollutants like excess nutrients, sediment, and toxins that degrade water quality and harm living resources.

“Stormwater runoff is among the most harmful and challenging sources of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries,” said Gov. Northam. “Virginia has taken bold action to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution and we have made meaningful progress, but we must step up these efforts to achieve our clean water goals by 2025. As one of the largest landowners in the Bay watershed, this directive will ensure that the Commonwealth leads by example.”

In 2019, Virginia released its Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan to achieve the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load by 2025 that included a commitment to develop a plan specific to state lands. Over the past year, a team of experts from state agencies and public institutions from higher education worked at the direction of Northam's Conservation Cabinet to produce a State Lands Watershed Implementation Plan (SWIP) by mapping state lands, calculating runoff pollution targets, and identifying conservation practices that when implemented will reduce nutrient and sediment pollution.

According to the governor's office, the goal of the SWIP is to achieve significant reductions in, or to offset unregulated, nonpoint source pollution originating from state lands within Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay watershed. Northam's office reports the SWIP required the development of a comprehensive dataset of more than 400,000 acres of state lands within the Chesapeake Bay watershed and calculation of pollution load reductions using the Chesapeake Bay Watershed model. The SWIP details reduction targets of 122,000 pounds of nitrogen and 10,100 pounds of phosphorus and specifies eleven programmatic actions to achieve success.

“State agencies and institutions of higher education must take the same steps to restore the Chesapeake Bay that the Commonwealth is expecting of farmers, homeowners, private businesses, and local governments,” said Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew J. Strickler. “If we make reducing pollution part of everyday business in Virginia, we will ensure that future generations can enjoy and benefit from healthy rivers and a cleaner Bay.

Executive Directive Seventeen orders the Secretary of Natural Resources, in partnership with the Secretary of Administration, Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security, and the Conservation Cabinet, to ensure that the SWIP is fully implemented by all Virginia agencies, public institutions of higher education, and other state governmental entities that own or manage land within Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay watershed.

The full text of Executive Directive Seventeen is available here. The State Lands Watershed Implementation Plan can be found here.

Gov. Northam made Thursday's announcement at the historic Ancarrow’s Landing along the James River, where he participated in the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s annual Clean the Bay Day by picking up litter and cleaning the riverbanks and trail with members of his Conservation Cabinet and volunteers.

Related: Clean the Bay Day returns for several days after tradition being canceled due to pandemic

A tradition in the Commonwealth since 1989, thousands of Virginians come together each year on the first Saturday in June for Clean the Bay Day. This year, Clean the Bay Day will be a six-day event from May 31 through June 5.

You can read the governor's 2021 Clean the Bay Day proclamation here.