Virginia legislators and its governor are proposing a cattle exclusion mandate from all perennial streams by July 1, 2026.
This is a bold move by the Virginia democrats who now control both houses of the general assembly and the governor’s mansion.
Virginia Senate bill SB704 and House bill HB1422 have concurrent language. The bills are currently supported by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the James River Association, Friends of the Rappahannock, and the Potomac Riverkeeper Network. Several conservation groups have chosen not to take a position and several groups are against the bills including the Virginia Farm Bureau and the Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts.
Virginia House Bill 1422 states:
Beginning July 1, 2026, any person who owns 20 or more bovines in the Chesapeake Bay watershed shall install and maintain stream exclusion practices sufficient to exclude all such bovines from perennial streams in the watershed.
It further states:
It shall be an affirmative defense to any action brought under this article for failure to install or maintain stream exclusion practices that the person required to install and maintain such practices submitted a complete application, as determined by either the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) or the appropriate soil and water conservation district, for cost-share funding prior to December 31, 2025, and is waiting to receive cost-share funds.
In other words, the farmer is not in violation if he is signed up for assistance with a local soil and water conservation district (SWCD) and there are no public funds available for him.
What Supporters Are Saying
Supporters are saying we need a cattle exclusion mandate because most farmers have not excluded their bovines from perennial streams after more than 25 years of voluntary funding. Much of the funding has been at 100% or more.
Only 20% of the needed stream exclusions from cattle have taken place after more than 25 years of marketing, increased staffing and public funding.
Voluntary measures have served us well but it’s time for a deadline.
Virginia will not meet its WIP III targets in the Chesapeake tmdl without this requirement.
Enough is enough, it’s time for regulation.
Clean streams benefit everyone.
Cattle in streams destroy aquatic life and pollute the water.
What Opponents Are Saying
Opponents argue there are not enough public funds for a cattle exclusion mandate or enough staff to assist with getting the job done.
The deadline will alienate farmers and cause some to go out of business.
Who is going to put the fence up after a flood takes it out?
What’s Good About the Bill?
There are several good parts of the bill. For starters, if there is no funding from the state to finance the installation of the exclusion practices, a farmer can’t be in violation if he is signed up to do it.
The bill does not specify how to exclude cattle from perennial streams and includes provisions for temporary fencing. Also, the bill does not specify how far the exclusion measure has to be from the stream.
The bill defines a perennial stream as a blue line on a USGS topo map. We don’t have to waste time defining the term.
What Needs Improvement?
If the state is mandating a deadline it has to come up with 100% funding and the personnel to help get it done.
It needs to fund a program to help maintain the components of the exclusion system such as invasive species, the pumps for the livestock watering system and the upkeep of the fences.
What if a flood takes out the exclusion fence? If the state is going to mandate the exclusion it needs to stand by its mandate after a disaster. The local SWCD should be empowered to determine disaster status and there needs to be emergency funding to repair the damage.
What’s Next For Cattle Exclusion Mandate?
At this writing, both bills are being worked on by the administration, committee members, and advocates on both sides of the issue. Committees will vote on Tuesday and Wednesday next week. If they are reported out of the committee they go to the senate and house floors for discussion and votes.
Let your legislators know how you feel
Is it time for a deadline to get the cows out of the streams or do we continue as usual? Let your legislator know how you feel.
Here’s my op-ed on this issue.