A Virtual Legislative Season Yields Important Clean Water Wins

This virtual state legislative season was like no other. Rightly so, COVID-19 and police reform were priorities. Even so, we’re happy to report that the General Assemblies in Maryland and Virginia wrapped up with some significant clean water wins, thanks to the actions you took to support these bills!


The Maryland General Assembly passed three important bills on climate adaptation, citizen intervention, and environmental enforcement reporting that will lead to stronger implementation and enforcement of the Clean Water Act protections. 

  • Citizen Intervention Bill (HB76/SB334) – This bill gives people and communities who have been harmed by water pollution the ability to legally intervene in a Clean Water Act lawsuit brought by the state in state court, which was not the case in Maryland before this bill passed into law. Waterkeepers Chesapeake has championed this reform since 2009, first through a legal process with the EPA and finally through this legislation.
  • Climate Adaptation Bill (SB 227/HB 295) – This bill will bring Maryland’s development and stormwater management regulations into the 21st century by updating Maryland’s stormwater design standards with the most recent precipitation data available. The bill codifies Maryland’s commitment to meet climate pollution load requirements by 2025. Waterkeepers Chesapeake has been working on this issue for several years, including urging MDE to implement these changes.
  • Environmental Enforcement Reporting Act (HB204/SB324) – This bill enhances transparency in government by requiring Maryland to keep — and make accessible to the public — electronic records of enforcement and water pollution data. This act was introduced in large part because of the frustrating experiences our Waterkeepers have had in the lack of access to information on the outcomes of actions we have referred to the state. Most other states provide this access to electronic records.

Other important clean water bills included:

  • Private Well Safety Program (HB1069) – This bill protects individuals from polluted drinking water by requiring landlords to test drinking water wells on their property every three years, disclose the result to tenants, notify MDE and the local health department when contamination is found, and resolve any contamination issues within 60 days. 
  • Prohibition on Balloon Releases (HB391/SB716) – This bill prohibits an individual from intentionally releasing a balloon into the atmosphere where it becomes litter and can cause damage to marine and terrestrial animals and the environment.

Our Conowingo Dam Emergency Bill was pulled after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved an extremely flawed 50-year relicensing of the Conowingo Dam. We were deeply disappointed, especially after this bi-partisan bill almost passed in 2020, but fell victim to the abrupt halt of the session due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are now pursuing legal action to reverse FERC’s decision.

Fair Farms legislative priorities:

  • Food Donation Tax Credit Program Extension – This bill will extend the Food Donation Program which is set to end at the close of 2021. The program allows farmers to receive credit when donating to certified food banks and food pantries.
  • Urban Agriculture Grant Program – This bill would establish an Urban Agriculture Grant Program and Fund housed within the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA). It will be up to MDA to establish and define the program, but the bill is a necessary first step to providing more assistance to urban farmers in Maryland.

Read more about Fair Farms bills.


The Virginia General Assembly delivered a historic $200 million for clean water programs the coming fiscal year:

  • $100 million for upgrading pollution removal technology at wastewater treatment facilities
  • $69 million for the Water Quality Improvement Fund
  • $25 million for the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund
  • $12 million for the Department of Environmental Quality
  • Plus $60,000 to support a study of PFAS chemical contamination in drinking water by Virginia’s Department of Health (VDH)

Two good plastics bills passed. The Balloon Release Ban bill (HB2159) prohibits the intentional outdoor release of balloons. The ban of EPS foam, aka Styrofoam (HB1902), as a food takeout container takes effect for food vendors and other entities starting in 2023.

But to get the foam ban, there was a compromise that made it easier for highly polluting Chemical Conversion (so-called Advanced Recycling) plants to be built in Virginia (SB1164).

Read more from James River Association and Virginia Conservation Network on other clean water bills that passed.