Sep 23, 2004

Virginia Residents Willing to Pay More for Cleaner Water

According to a statewide survey, two-thirds of Virginia voters are willing to pay $50 more a year on their water bills to clean up state rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) will be seeking legislation in the 2005 General Assembly session for a dedicated user fee to provide funding to modernize sewage treatment plants and provide incentives for farmers to reduce polluted farm runoff.

"This survey demonstrates the public is willing to pay more for clean water," Roy A. Hoagland, CBF’s Virginia executive director, said in a news release. "Our state legislators should be, too. The result will be cleaner rivers, a cleaner bay, a healthier seafood industry and enhanced recreation, fishing and tourism opportunities."

Conducted jointly by Democratic and Republican polling firms this summer for the CBF, the survey found that at least 56 percent of registered Virginia voters believe pollution of the Chesapeake Bay and Virginia rivers, lakes and streams is a very serious problem. In the poll, only lack of affordable health care insurance was a greater concern.

More than two-thirds said the bay is in only fair condition or worse, and 63 percent said their nearest river is in only fair condition or worse.

When asked whether they would be willing to pay $1 per week more on their household water bill with the revenues dedicated to cleaning up local rivers and the bay, 63 percent of voters said they would.

A 58 percent majority of voters also said they would be more likely to vote for state legislative candidates who support such a clean-water fee. Only 14 percent said they would be less likely to vote for candidates who supported a fee.

According to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, nearly 7,000 miles of rivers and streams in Virginia – more than half of all those monitored by the state – are polluted and listed on the Clean Water Act’s "dirty waters" list.

They include parts of Virginia’s major rivers: the Potomac, James, Rappahannock, York, Shenandoah, New, Chowan and Roanoke. Virginia’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay and the tidal parts of its rivers are on the list because of excess nitrogen pollution, which causes algal blooms that kill underwater grasses and rob the water of oxygen.

The biggest sources of nitrogen pollution in Virginia are sewage treatment plants and industrial facilities. Cost estimates to upgrade the state’s treatment plants with modern, available nitrogen-reduction technology range from $600 million to $1.2 billion.

A summary of survey results prepared by the polling firms, Public Opinion Strategies and Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin and Associates, can be found on CBF’s Web site at