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Virginia’s Environment: Celebrating Our Success

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In the 20‐year history of the Department of Environmental Quality, Virginians have seen a series of environmental successes that cover a wide range of natural resource protection efforts in the Commonwealth.

Significant improvements for Virginia’s environment have occurred while equally significant challenges have evolved. For example:

Virginia’s population has nearly doubled since 1970.The number of rules affecting Virginia and other states from the U.S. Environmental Protection agency has increased steadily. At the same time, the amount of federal funding has been declining.

DEQ staffing levels have dropped 30 percent since 1993, from more than 1,000 then to just over 700 now.

DEQ was formed April 1, 1993, to provide streamlined and coordinated environmental services. With the consolidation of the state’s air, water and land protection agencies, DEQ began to help reinforce the environmental protection efforts already under way. The results tell their own story (more details are available on the DEQ website:

Air is cleaner

The definition of “clean” is a moving target, as the national standards for air quality become more stringent. But pollution continues to decline, and Virginia’s air is much cleaner.

In the past 30 years ozone levels have dropped significantly, and they continue to decline. The number of high‐ozone days statewide has dropped 71 percent.

Sulfur dioxide emissions, a contributor to acid rain, are on a steep downward trend and now are well below the national air quality standard. The same holds true for emissions of fine particles.

As a result of efforts to control emissions from stationary and mobile sources, levels of major air pollutants have decreased 42 percent since 1980.

Waterways are cleaner

Though cleanup of polluted waters is a long‐term process, Virginia is seeing key indicators of success in pollution reduction efforts.

Improvements have been made through investments in municipal wastewater treatment plants, sanitary sewers, stormwater sewers, failing septic systems, animal waste structures, and other aquatic and agricultural management systems.

Significant resources have been spent to reduce pollutants in Virginia’s rivers, lakes and the Chesapeake Bay. This includes more than $2.5 billion since the 1980s from the Clean Water Revolving Loan Fund, and more than $750 million since 1997 from the Water Quality Improvement Fund.

Other improvements include:

The amount of nitrogen entering the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries from point sources has decreased below Virginia’s 2011 target of 21.4 million pounds, and it is close to the long‐term target.

The most common cause of impairment in state waters is bacteria contamination. However, long-term water quality monitoring shows that the concentration of bacteria has declined significantly in the last 20 years at select stream locations.

Since the drought of 2002, Virginia has achieved 100 percent compliance with new regulatory submission deadlines for local and regional water supply plans. The Commonwealth also has achieved successful regionalization of water supply planning with 97 percent of all localities participating in a regional plan.

Virginia has been meeting the goal of “no net loss” of wetlands since 2002. About 2,000 acres of wetlands have been lost in permitted activities, but more than 3,500 acres have been protected through conservation and other means required in permits.

Land is cleaner

DEQ has several programs that oversee solid waste management, including reuse, recycling, storage, treatment and disposal. One area that has seen improvement is landfills, for which standards have been heightened and designs have been improved. As a result, landfills now are better able to protect underlying soil and groundwater, and some are able to convert waste to energy. In addition:

The petroleum storage tank program has seen a large drop in the number of leaking tanks – and in the need for tank cleanups. For example, the number of leaking tanks being reported annually has declined from 1,342 in 1993 to 163 in 2011.

Under the Voluntary Remediation Program, contaminated sites have been converted from abandoned scrap yards and rail yards into office complexes, medical facilities and other projects that enhance communities. Since 1996 more than 3,400 acres at 275 sites have been cleaned up.

The recycling rate has increased from 32.2 percent in 2005 to 43.5 percent in 2011.

Since 1993, the number of tire piles has dropped significantly because of an aggressive cleanup effort. Abandoned tire sites – which once numbered more than 1,300 – have declined to less than 130. To date, more than 23 million tires have been removed.

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Virginia’s environmental successes have been substantial. We have cleaner air, land and water. Yet challenges remain. DEQ looks forward to working with all Virginians to meet those challenges and to continue ensuring environmental protection for generations to come.

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