Governor Warner Announces Water Policy Reform Legislation
-2003 Reform Agenda includes enhanced
support for regional water supply planning-
RICHMOND — Governor Mark R. Warner announced today that he will propose water policy reform legislation to the 2003 session of the General Assembly that will implement long-range water supply planning for the first time in Virginia history.
Governor Warner also signed Executive Order 39, which will maximize the state’s existing resources for meeting the needs of Virginians for clean, safe drinking water. The Virginia Water Supply Initiative sets as a goal providing clean, safe drinking water to an additional 25,000 Virginians within the next five years. The Governor will be asking relevant agencies to set annual targets to meet this goal. The Initiative also sets a goal of cleaning 450 impaired streams in the Commonwealth by 2010.
“The core of our new policy will be improved state support for regional water supply planning,” Governor Warner said. “But instead of attempting to impose a ‘top down’ solution from Richmond, our bill will direct the Department of Environmental Quality to work with local governments and other stakeholders to develop regional water supply plans for public water systems and for wells when appropriate.”
The Governor’s reforms will:
Initiate Comprehensive Water Supply Planning. The state has been required to engage in water supply planning since 1966, but little meaningful action has ever been taken. As a result, too many areas do not have adequate water supplies, particularly in times of drought. The Governor’s proposal directs the Department of Environmental Quality to work as a partner with local governments and other interested parties to develop local and regional water supply plans. It sets a deadline of three years for the completion of the water supply plans, with preliminary plans in one year.
Coordinate State Water Programs to Improve Service. Currently, the Department of Health manages the drinking water fund and the Department of Environmental Quality manages the much larger wastewater fund. In many instances, better coordination of these funds could generate more money to provide safe drinking water for our citizens.
Governor Warner’s proposal also would consolidate permitting of wastewater treatment plants and review of wastewater plans and specifications in one agency, the Department of Environmental Quality. Currently, this function is spread across both the Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Quality. This consolidation will streamline processes for the regulated community and help pool the state’s wastewater engineering talent in a single agency.
The drinking water revolving fund, which pays for drinking water works construction and upgrades, will remain under the oversight of the Department of Health, with increased collaboration from the Department of Environmental Quality. The fund provided nearly $34 million in financing for 30 water supply projects last year.
Governor Warner’s proposal also would merge water quality reporting by the Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Department of Environmental Quality into one report to provide a comprehensive look at water quality in the Commonwealth.
Prepare for Future Droughts: The Governor has directed the Drought Coordinator to work with state agencies, local governments, and the private sector to develop a drought management plan for the future by April 1, 2003 to implement the lessons learned from the drought of the past several years. Such a plan might include a study of water resource conservation, compiling accurate information on river levels, and working with localities in targeted regions on short and long-term water conservation planning.
Sets a State Goal of Meeting the Needs of 25,000 Virginians for Clean Safe Drinking Water: By executive order, the Governor will create the Virginia Water Supply Initiative. The initiative makes drinking water a priority in grants that state agencies apply for and in grants and loans that they award; identifies strategies for improving how many citizens and how many communities are served with existing programs; through the Department of Housing and Community Development and with the involvement of local stakeholders, and works to assist local planning and engineering efforts to get more appropriate projects ready for available financing. The Initiative also sets a goal of having 450 streams that are currently impaired meet water quality standards by 2010.
Governor Warner’s water policy reform legislation is endorsed by a variety of stakeholders, including state legislators, leading environmentalists, and local government officials:
“The Governor has a bold initiative to once and for all address the drinking water needs of the Commonwealth in a unified and comprehensive fashion,” said Del. Clarence “Bud” Phillips of Castlewood. “I commend the Governor for his innovation and commitment to the people of Virginia to bring clean drinking water to areas of the Commonwealth that need it.”
“This is a great initiative. It combines the planning, the coordination, and something near and dear to my heart, clean water for rural areas,” said Gerry McCarthy, executive director of the Virginia Environmental Endowment. “This is the first Governor since Governor Holton to take water supply planning seriously.”
“The Governor’s actions represent an important step forward,” said Richmond Mayor Rudolph C. McCollum. “In light of the recent drought, it is imperative that we all work together to find solutions to our common water problems.”
Governor Warner’s water policy reform proposals are part of a broader package of reforms he will propose to the General Assembly in January. In addition, the Governor will call for: stiffer penalties for those who violate traffic laws, and additional tools for enforcement of traffic safety; an end to one-term limit for Virginia governors beginning in 2009; reforms to the financial management of VDOT and transportation planning policies, sweeping changes in the way that Virginia develops budgets and manages state finances; the consolidation of several existing agencies; and reforms in the delivery of certain human services.