Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement: the next generation
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The Chesapeake Bay Program has worked collaboratively for 30 years to guide efforts toward a restored Bay ecosystem in which citizen enjoyment and environmental stewardship is the norm.
Using the best science of the time, the partnership has built upon its successes while learning from the challenges associated with restoring a 64,000-square-mile watershed spanning seven political jurisdictions. This anniversary serves as both a symbolic and real time of change, when the existing generation of Bay scientists, policy-makers and citizens must begin to set the stage for the next.
At the Bay Program, the time has come to examine our past and lay the foundation for our future successes. It is time for a new Bay watershed agreement based on up-to-date science, existing conditions and emerging circumstances; an agreement bestowing all of the program's partners — Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, the EPA and the Chesapeake Bay Commission — with equal responsibility to work toward the same goals. This is why the partners are creating the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement.
The original Chesapeake Bay agreement was signed on Dec. 5, 1983. It was a one-page document committing the signatories — Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, the District of Columbia, the Chesapeake Bay Commission and EPA — to work cooperatively to address pollution entering the Bay. Over the years, a number of subsequent agreements of greater complexity and detail have been executed, the most recent being Chesapeake 2000 with more than 100 individual goals, commitments and outcomes. While many of these goals and commitments were met, the health of the Bay ecosystem has not sufficiently improved. (See "The Bay Program has come a long way in 30 years, but has only just begun," June 2013) The headwater states — Delaware, New York and West Virginia — joined the Chesapeake Bay Program to work on water quality issues under a Memorandum of Understanding in 2002.
President Obama signed Executive Order 13508 in May 2009, recognizing the Chesapeake Bay as a national treasure and calling upon the federal government to lead a renewed effort to restore and protect the nation's largest estuary and its watershed.
In December 2010, the EPA issued a total maximum daily load for the Bay that set specific reductions in nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment pollution to be achieved by 2025 for the Bay to meet its water-quality standards. The partners had previously agreed that if the water-quality goals were not met by 2010, the EPA would issue the TMDL, a mandatory water-
quality program under the federal Clean Water Act, and, as such, is a departure from the voluntary efforts that are the hallmark of the Bay Program.
While Chesapeake 2000 accomplished a great deal, it has essentially played out, with deadlines for most of its commitments, set for 2010, having passed. Both the Executive Order Strategy and the Chesapeake Executive Council, the Program's top-level leaders, recognized the partnership's goals and outcomes needed to be revised and synchronized with the TMDL and the Executive Order to better coordinate and "harmonize" the work of the federal government with watershed jurisdictions. This collaboration would also enable Bay Program partners to create a new plan for the future based on the most current scientific understanding of the ecosystem and in consideration of emerging challenges to our efforts. In July 2011, the partnership's Chesapeake Executive Council set out a four-step process and time line for doing so. Since then, the Bay Program's Goal Implementation Teams have been reviewing and proposing revisions to their goals and outcomes and recommending changes through its leadership — the Management Board and Principals' Staff Committee.
The Executive Council acknowledged the effort needed by the jurisdictions to respond to the requirements of the TMDL in putting together the Phase II Watershed Implementation Plans and two-year milestones. This effort was reflected in the schedule for developing the new agreement. The Program's leadership has completed a basic framework for the agreement and are now focused on the details. The Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement is a work-in-progress. The partnership is discussing a number of new features. First, the partners want this agreement to be more flexible than those of the past. It will contain only seven or eight overarching goals reflecting the authorizing language of Section 117 of the Clean Water Act, which calls for a comprehensive program for ecosystem restoration throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Under each of these broad goals there will be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound or "SMART" outcomes.
In the agreement, the signatories will agree these are the "right" overall goals and outcomes for achieving a restored Bay watershed. The Executive Council is expected to sign off on the goals and the initial set of outcomes, then delegate the authority to revise the outcomes in response to changing conditions and circumstances. This will be the ongoing work of the Principals' Staff Committee, which uses a rigorous adaptive management process based on monitoring data, science, analysis and collaborative decision-making. The ability to adapt to changing conditions and revise outcomes has not been a routine part of previous agreements.
Next, the agreement is being designed to provide greater tracking and accountability of our efforts. The proposed framework will use management strategies as the vehicle for setting commitments made by the jurisdictions to support specific goals and outcomes. The management strategies will be developed by goal implementation teams who will set specific targets, establish a schedule for meeting the targets, identify the resources being committed by each of the jurisdictions and other partners, build in stakeholder involvement, address the potential impacts of climate change, incorporate the adaptive management process, evaluate land use impacts, and periodically assess progress. The management strategies will serve as a work plan that is reviewed and approved by the Management Board. They will also provide a mechanism for tracking and accountability.
This is perhaps the most important distinction between the new Bay watershed agreement and previous Bay agreements. The management strategies provide a level of transparency and accountability that has not previously existed. It gives jurisdictions and other partners, as well as the general public, the ability to track their progress, make appropriate adjustments based on an adaptive management decision framework, and document their accomplishments. Management strategies, simply put, are both good government and good business practices.
The Bay Program has also been engaged in outreach efforts to ensure stakeholder participation. We have briefed each of the partnerships' three advisory committees — the Citizens' Advisory Committee, the Local Government Advisory Committee and the Science and Technical Advisory Committee — who all have representatives serving on the Management Board and Principals' Staff Committee. We have held panel discussions for various advocacy groups and funding organizations. Additional meetings are being scheduled.
The partnership is including a number of opportunities for stakeholder input, too. At the July 11 management board meeting, two hours will be set aside for stakeholder input on an annotated version of the plan. Once the text of the agreement has been prepared, but prior to being finalized, there will be another opportunity for stakeholder input, likely through the Bay Program website this summer. The partnership expects to have final review of the agreement in early September in preparation for signing by the Chesapeake Executive Council at their meeting, likely in October.
As currently envisioned, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement will provide clearer goals and outcomes. It also will also provide an unprecedented level of transparency and accountability through the use of management strategies executed by the jurisdictions, federal agencies and other partners. The agreement will be flexible, incorporating an adaptive management decision-making process to address changing conditions and circumstances.
Finally, it will also provide for full participation of headwater states — Delaware, New York and West Virginia — who will have the opportunity to join the partnership as full members, marking the first time that all of the jurisdictions in the Bay watershed have signed on. The new watershed agreement will be forward-looking, with the ability to address new threats and challenges on the horizon.
In celebrating its 30th anniversary, the Chesapeake Bay Program marks both a symbolic and an actual transition from the past to a new generation who will carry on the restoration and our work to adapt to a changing environment. While we can and will celebrate the past accomplishments, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement is our preparation for the future.
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