The Chesapeake Bay watershed is home to nearly 17 million residents and covers more than 64,000 square miles. It is the largest estuary in the United States and is critical to the region's economy, culture, and outdoor recreation. Fourteen percent of West Virginia drains into the Potomac, Shenandoah, and James Rivers, which flow on to the Chesapeake Bay.
The Chesapeake Bay drainage area in West Virginia includes Berkeley, Grant, Hampshire, Hardy, Jefferson, Mineral, Morgan, Pendleton, and small portions of Preston, Tucker and Monroe counties.
Sometime ago, the Environmental Protection Agency made a determination that the Chesapeake Bay was an impaired body of water under the Clean Water Act due to high levels of nutrients in discharges entering the bay from several states, including West Virginia.
The high nutrient levels, mainly consisting of nitrogen and phosphorous, were bringing down the levels of dissolved oxygen and consequently, aquatic life was suffering.
In order to deal with the pollution, the EPA has imposed stringent nutrient standards on the discharges coming from the states. The standards are different based on how far away the states are from the bay. To meet the standards, West Virginia has to employ very expensive wastewater treatment technology to reduce the levels of nutrient discharges.
This presented myself and other lawmakers with a significant problem. We had to work to meet these standards but we were faced with an incredible cost to do so. Passing these costs on to the consumer in full was simply not an option so we crafted the Chesapeake Bay Bill, which will be introduced in the Senate soon.
This bill establishes a funding program for the West Virginia wastewater treatment facilities that discharge into the bay. The bill authorizes the West Virginia Water Development Authority to issue $180 million in bonds to fund the program. In order to pay the annual debt service on the bonds, the bill increases the annual distribution from the excess lottery revenue fund to the infrastructure fund from $40 million to $46 million.
The remaining funds needed to pay the debt service would come from rates paid by the customers of the West Virginia wastewater facilities that drain into the watershed.
The bill also authorizes the WDA to require governmental agencies to consolidate new or existing water development projects. Larger facilities provide better treatment and service while lowering operating costs and customer rates.
If you would like to follow the daily action of the Legislature, visit the 80th Legislature on the web at www.legis.state.wv.us/.
Please feel free to contact me on this or any other issue. You may leave a message by phone at 304-357-7973, or by mail at Sen. Clark Barnes, West Wing Room 203, State Capitol Building, Charleston, West Virginia 25305.
(Editor's note: Barnes represents the 15th District in the West Virginia Senate.)