Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint

Virginia's Watershed Implementation Plan

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Virginia's Constitution and state water control law require protection of waterways. View Article 11 of Virginia's Constitution that calls for Virginia waters to be protected from pollution. Read key Virginia water quality monitoring and cleanup laws.

What is a Watershed Implementation Plan?

In 2010, after decades of voluntary efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay failed to remove it from the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) list of "impaired" waters, EPA established an enforceable pollution limit known as a "Total Maximum Daily Load" (TMDL) for the Bay and its tidal rivers. The TMDL, a provision of the Clean Water Act, is a scientific estimate of the maximum amount of pollution the Bay can tolerate and still meet water quality standards. Pollution reduction by the six Bay states and the District of Columbia is essential to cleaning up the Bay.

Subsequently, Virginia and the other six jurisdictions agreed to create state-specific plans to implement 60 percent of their Bay cleanup practices by 2017 and 100 percent by 2025. These plans are called Watershed Implementation Plans or WIPs and will not only help restore the Bay, but will also significantly improve the health of local waterways. Collectively, the TMDL and the WIPs establish the Cleanwater Blueprint for the Chesapeake.  

POLLUTION GOALS
in millions of pounds per year
Virginia 1985 2009 2012 2017 Interim Goal 2025 Goal
Nitrogen 85.03 68.13 61.25 58.73 52.46
Phosphorus 11.58 8.67 8.18 7.35 6.46
Sediment 4896 3743 3540 3448 3251
Go to Virginia's WIP website >>

How Much Progress Has Been Made?

Since 1985, Virginia and the Bay states have achieved slightly more than half of the nitrogen pollution reductions and two-thirds of the phosphorus and sediment reductions necessary to meet Bay restoration goals. These reductions appear to be working, as a 2013 study of actual conditions in the Bay by the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University showed that the size of the Bay's oxygen-starved "dead zone" has shrunk specifically because of efforts from the Bay states, including Virginia.

But the work is far from done.

Virginia's Two-Year Milestone Progress

To track progress toward achieving the 2017 and 2025 deadlines for implementing the Cleanwater Blueprint the Bay states and the District of Columbia agreed to establish interim, two-year cleanup goals called Milestones, and to publicly report progress toward achieving them beginning January 2011. The two-year Milestones and progress reports are a critical tool to hold the states and EPA publicly accountable.

In January 2014, the seven Chesapeake Bay jurisdictions' submitted their progress toward meeting their 2012-2013 Milestones and Watershed Implementation Plan goals to EPA.

On June 11, 2014, CBF and Choose Clean Water (CCW) released an analysis of selected Milestones. The goal of this analysis was to ensure that commitments were met, and if not, that actions are taken to compensate for any shortfall.

The evaluation of Virginia's two-year Milestone progress shows the Commonwealth met two of the eight practices evaluated. Since adoption of milestone goals to measure incremental progress toward restoring the Bay watershed, Virginia has maintained a successful record in achieving overall pollution reductions. This has largely been due to a successful program to reduce pollution from wastewater treatment plants. However, milestone goals exist for many pollution-reduction strategies across all pollution sources contributing to poor water quality in the Bay watershed. It was understood from the outset that all of these sectors would have to do their part if we are to be ultimately successful. When you look at all of these milestone commitments, Virginia's success has been mixed.

Assessment of Virginia's Progress on Selected Pollution-Reduction Practices for 2013

icon - agricultureAGRICULTURE

Stream Access Control with Fencing check mark Virginia exceeded its stream fencing milestone. That's good news for the Bay, local waters, and farmers. Preventing livestock access improves herd health, protects shorelines, and keeps manure out of streams. Virginia should continue its successful fencing assistance program, combining state and federal resources to stretch limited dollars the farthest.
Forest Buffers x Virginia achieved just over half of the forest buffers called for this milestone period. Because of previous years' successes, Virginia is very close to reaching 20,467 acres, the goal for 2013. However, growth of this practice must accelerate in order to reach Virginia's 2025 goal of 100,000 acres.
Conservation Tillage x Programs that incentivized this practice have declined as it becomes more routine for many farms. Consequently, reporting of this practice has dropped, highlighting the importance of improving systems to document farmers' efforts. Virginia intends to improve reporting through the Resource Management Plan program. Enhanced outreach and adequate funding are critical.
Composite Agricultural Practices x Virginia collectively reviews farm practices to determine if two-year milestone efforts are on track. While Virginia generally met its overall agriculture goals for cropland and pasture, from 2012 to 2013, acceleration in effort will be necessary to achieve goals for 2017 and 2025. Further reflection on the status of specific practices is warranted.

icon - urban/suburban runoffURBAN/SUBURBAN

Urban Stream Restoration check mark Virginia exceeded its urban stream restoration target. This success was bolstered by increased reporting from localities during. Restoring streams enables them to flow into the floodplain during storm events, which reduces stream bank erosion. Stabilizing eroding banks reduces the detrimental downstream effects of sediment and reduces phosphorus pollution.
Modern Stormwater Practices x Virginia missed its milestone for installing modern polluted runoff practices. Communities that implement these practices can reduce polluted runoff and recharge local groundwater systems. Providing consistent and adequate funding for these practices will encourage localities to invest in these practices. Improving urban tracking systems is also critical to success.
Urban Nutrient Management x Although Virginia did not meet its milestone for this practice, it seems to have a specific plan going forward. In heavily populated areas of the state, the plan could focus on large homeowners' associations to effect change on commonly managed open space, and provide access to reach the homeowners there.
Composite Urban Practices x Cumulative estimates of urban practice implementation indicates that Virginia is very slow in implementing measures to reduce polluted runoff. While reductions are occurring for agricultural runoff and from wastewater treatment facilities, polluted runoff efforts lag significantly. At a minimum, accelerating issuance of new permits for Virginia's urban centers is critical.

Source: Chesapeake Bay TMDL website

View the complete report

Virginia can celebrate its wastewater reductions, thanks to a sustained effort to reduce pollution from that sector. Virginia must now exercise that same level of commitment to the other sectors that have not performed as well. Considering the trajectory of implementation to date, and the reductions still to be realized it is clear that there is little time for delay. The McAuliffe Administration has the opportunity to set a strong course toward achieving 2025 goals by accelerating programs to manage urban pollution and farm practice installation.  Virginia cannot afford for it not to be seized.

You can track progress for all Bay jurisdictions, including Virginia, on EPA's Chesapeake Stat website site. On EPA's Chesapeake Bay TMDL website you can read about progress already being realized.

What Obstacles Does the Cleanup Face?

Apathy, finger-pointing, anti-Bay legislation and lawsuits, powerful interest groups, and a bad economy all threaten to derail the collaborative local/state/federal Bay cleanup. Yet most experts consider this the Chesapeake Bay's best, and perhaps last, chance for real restoration. The problems have been identified; we have the know-how and tools to fix them; and the benefits of a restored Chesapeake Bay manifestly outweigh cleanup costs. If we work together to make the pollution limits work, many scientists believe the Chesapeake Bay will reach a tipping point when improvements outpace pollution and the Bay rebounds exponentially.


Still, more than 12,000 miles of streams and rivers in Virginia and most of the Chesapeake Bay remain polluted from dirty water running off streets, parking lots, lawns, and farms, from poorly treated wastewater, air pollution, and other sources. Much work remains to be done.

The decline of the Bay has cost our region billions of dollars in lost jobs, revenue, and resources and threatens to be a continuing drag on local and state economies for years to come. To find out more about the economic impact of the Bay to the region, see the following CBF reports:

2012 - Debunking the "Job Killer" Myth: How Pollution Limits Encourage Jobs in the Chesapeake Bay Region (pdf)

2012 - The Economic Argument for Cleaning Up the Bay and Its Rivers (pdf)

2010 - Oyster Report: On the Brink (pdf)

2008 - Bad Waters and the Decline of Blue Crabs in the Chesapeake Bay (pdf)

Bay pollution also threatens public health. To read more about health threats, see CBF's report Bad Water 2009: The Impact of Human Health in the Chesapeake Bay Region (pdf)

So after decades of still-unsuccessful efforts to restore the Bay, EPA established a pollution limit, the TMDL, in 2010 that aims to reduce Bay pollution by approximately 25 percent. The six Bay states and the District of Columbia are each required to do their part.

You can find the EPA pollution limit documents on the EPA's Chesapeake Bay TMDL website.

Developing Virginia's Clean Water Blueprint

In 2010, EPA approved Virginia's "Phase I" WIP.

The next step in the process was the development of a Phase II WIP. In general, this plan is supposed to bring the effort to a more localized level, such as a county.

For much of 2011, the 96 Virginia localities whose creeks and streams drain into the Bay researched the best, most cost-effective strategies to further reduce pollution in their local waterways. If these localities clean and restore their local waters, Virginia should achieve its share of the Baywide pollution limits. Virginia localities were submitted their local cleanup strategies to the Commonwealth, which compiled the local plans. Virginia submitted its "Phase II" WIP to EPA March 30, 2012. 

In 2017, Virginia and the other Bay states are to submit a Phase III WIP which will focus on ensuring that all practices are in place by 2025 as need to fully restore the Bay and its tidal waters.

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