Advisory committees the building blocks of a better Bay cleanup
The Chesapeake Bay Program is powered by science and collaboration. Three independent committees – the Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee, the Local Government Advisory Committee, and the Citizens Advisory Committee — advise the Bay Program's top leadership, the Executive Council, on the scientific and collaborative efforts needed to restore the Bay.
Advisory committee members volunteer countless hours toward this effort each year. Collectively, they help Bay Program decision makers better understand the root causes of the Bay's degradation while planning practical pathways to restoration; maintaining and improving coordination with local governments; and considering citizens' concerns and priorities.
Perhaps the best way to understand the advisory committees' role is to think of them as the team needed to build a house. If the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load and the state-level Watershed Implementation Plans are the blueprints for a restored Bay "house," these committees represent the engineer who makes sure the foundation and walls are solid (STAC), the infrastructure, such as plumbing and electric, that make the house functional (LGAC), and the homeowner who must be satisfied with the work (CAC).
At the annual meeting of the Chesapeake Executive Council on July 9, each of these committees will offer their advice on how to best move the construction of the solid Chesapeake Bay "house" forward.
Science for Better Models, Better Policies, Better Outcomes
The Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee's 38 volunteer scientists, a subset of our region's great scientific community, devote their diverse expertise and energy to improving and understanding the complex physical, chemical and biological processes of the Bay ecosystem. Today, STAC is helping the Bay Program Partners create better models, develop better policies and achieve better outcomes.
Computer models play an important role in the design and implementation of restoration policies. They are tools to represent complex processes, understand trade-offs, and efficiently allocate limited resources. Over the last decade, STAC has provided peer review of the technical basis for these models and repeatedly concluded that current systems represent sound, state-of-the-art tools. Moving forward, STAC will help the Bay Program create a new generation of better models for building the restored Bay "house," including the consideration of multiple models and new methods to understand uncertainty.
Better models must be complemented by better policies. Recently, STAC has paid particular attention to a new generation of market-based policies, such as nutrient trading. These policies have the potential to lessen the costs of necessary nutrient reductions; increase flexibility for regulated sources of pollution; and create new opportunities for profitable investment in restoration. STAC will continue to assist the Bay Program in evaluating the impacts and implications of such potentially transformative policies.
Better models and better policies will be judged by their value in helping to achieve better outcomes. Today, STAC supports the Bay Program in understanding and implementing adaptive management as the core of a systematic, science-based process of learning and improvement. Within this management process, restoration actions are treated as experiments that can help managers improve their understanding of the Bay ecosystem; evaluate the efficacy of specific strategies; and incrementally improve performance over time. STAC will be helping the Bay Program institutionalize adaptive management in planning, implementation and evaluation.
The Local Government Advisory Committee members are elected leaders and supervisors of cities, counties, townships, municipalities and boroughs. Complying with the TMDL and WIPs are only one of many challenges that these officials face and must factor into competing demands for services on limited financial resources.
Local officials know the importance of clean, healthy waters to their communities' quality of life. But local governments and their constituents simply cannot bear the economic burden of water quality improvements alone — it is not politically or financially feasible. Continued adequate funding and support from the EPA and the states is essential to this effort.
History has shown LGAC that expert technical assistance for local governments is a reasonable way to help them meet WIP responsibilities. The Bay Program partners should ensure that support for this type of assistance is an integral part of building the restored Bay "house."
LGAC also recommends flexibility in meeting the requirements of the WIPs so that local governments can incorporate cost-effective, innovative alternatives with broad community benefits — such as green infrastructure projects — into plans for reducing stormwater flows.
In all instances, the Bay Program must continue to work with local government to build better infrastructure and to overcome barriers to water quality solutions.
Finally, LGAC knows that successful local projects to improve water quality require the support of those who benefit most — communities and citizens. LGAC members are constantly improving their ability to communicate the importance of local, healthy, clean waters to other elected officials and their constituents. The committee also recognizes the importance of the vast army of volunteers who can help restore and protect their local waters. In particular this year, LGAC would like to commend and encourage the work of the Anne Arundel and Anacostia Watershed Stewards Academies where the training and certification of expert volunteers may be the best long-term, cost-effective resource for restoring and protecting local waterways.
The Citizens Advisory Committee's main role is to follow the Bay Program's progress toward achieving goals and plans to clean and protect the Chesapeake Bay's waters.
Although there are many watershed organizations and coalitions that also track this progress, CAC is unique because its membership includes environmentalists and home builders, farmers and business people. CAC's strength come from this diverse membership that offers advice based on different interests and experiences, rather than a singular point of view.
CAC's diverse members and perspectives represent the entire Bay watershed. They frequently offer insights on innovative, local success stories that show how collaborative efforts between groups and/or local government can result in improvements in the local river health. The common lessons of these stories are: Success is not necessarily achieved on the basis of water quality alone, and the power of positive messaging is limitless.
Even though the membership is varied, CAC's common focus is restoration progress. Every member asks: How far along are we in implementing cleanup plans? How do we remove obstacles to progress? What is the plan to do so? CAC uses its formal role to ask these tough questions, thereby encouraging better accountability and transparency.
CAC believes the primary tools for tracking progress toward a cleaner Bay are the jurisdictions' two-year milestones established under the TMDL, the blueprint for a healthy Bay "house." Holding the EPA, the jurisdictions and the Bay Program accountable for these commitments and related legal structures like the Clean Water Act is critical to the restoration effort. Because CAC believes a well-informed citizenry leads to one that is actively engaged and supportive, the committee's transparent and timely reporting on restoration activities is critical to achieving the goals.
Citizens and communities respond to the call for clean drinking water, natural recreation areas, safe public access to rivers, good seafood and strong fisheries, forests and wetlands. They also look for sustained property values, healthy food sources and stable jobs.
In the end, the strength of all of these elements can be connected to clean waters and an ecosystem that is healthy, rather than degraded. They are essential to quality of life and our ability to have desirable places to live, work and play.
It is CAC's job to watch over the progress being made on aspects of the Bay's restoration that can foster and strengthen the health of our ecosystem and that quality of life.
Through their work on the critical issues affecting the Chesapeake region, all of the advisory committees make important contributions to the protection and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed.
All are committed to a future where citizens can enjoy clean water, abundant living resources and diverse economic and recreational opportunities.
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