“What is the Midpoint Assessment, and why should I care?” is a question that is echoing from the farthest reaches of local governments in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to those closest to the Bay itself.
The good news is the Local Government Advisory Committee is here to help, not only by sharing information with the more than 1,800 local governments we represent within the watershed, but also by regularly and clearly bringing local perspectives and feedback to the Chesapeake Executive Council. The importance of the latter cannot be overemphasized. Local buy-in is imperative as we seek to fulfill the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement. In fact, much of the burden in meeting our goals will fall on localities.
The task ahead is different for each of our many and diverse localities. For those with ready access to the Bay, the importance of the watershed agreement may be clear. For those farther away from the Bay, like LGAC’s first member from West Virginia, it may be more abstract.
If we want local governments to understand their role in protecting the Bay, our message must resonate locally. What makes your watershed worth protecting? Are your local streams polluted? Can people fish and play in your local streams and rivers? Are your residents experiencing loss of private property from flooding and erosion? Is sedimentation in a waterway increasing the costs of treating drinking water? As a council member and former advisory neighborhood commissioner in the District of Columbia, I deeply understand the need to make things relevant locally, and I am energized as I take on this new role as LGAC chairperson.
LGAC’s attention will be focused on several key areas in the coming year. We will continue to advise Bay Program partners on the actions required to more effectively engage, empower and facilitate local governments in watershed protection and restoration. A key aspect of this is a better understanding what drives local action.
What did it take, for example, to rally localities that manage wastewater treatment facilities to step up and meet 2025 pollution goals long before the deadline? Let’s replicate that in all of the other sectors in which we have fallen behind in meeting the 2025 pollution reduction targets. And, let me take this opportunity to commend the governments across the watershed that worked collaboratively on these solutions. I am proud that the Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Facility in the District, which has the capacity to treat 384 million gallons of sewage each day, is among them.
New tools like BayFAST are making it easier for localities to engage, but implementing best practices at the local level requires technical assistance, sustainable funding and other support, which is needed well into the future, not just on a one-time basis. We need our state and federal partners to understand that and be readily available to work alongside us, and not just simply share information.
Just as we are being told that the job won’t get done without local governments, farmers, conservation districts, watershed groups and others working at the local level, we want to make clear that this partnership is a two-way street. We will certainly need more money, but as we communicate with our state and federal partners, we must be clear about how much and for what purpose. We must be data-driven as we seek to understand what needs to be done — in our community, in our watershed, in our region — as well as how much we can do individually or in partnership with others.
Throughout the watershed, in places like York and Blair counties in Pennsylvania, and Maryland’s Eastern Shore, communities are finding value in working collectively to plan and implement water quality improvement projects. In each case, having a solid understanding of their goal, such as how much nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment they want to reduce, has been critical to understanding the path forward and the best way to leverage resources.
In partnership with the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, LGAC will present a local government forum (date to be announced shortly) focused on streamlining how we implement capital projects. We will share the recommendations of this forum with the Chesapeake Bay partnership and local governments across the watershed.
As you read this, states are gearing up for another round of planning to meet the 2025 deadline for implementing practices that achieve the pollutant reductions required by the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load. Are they engaging their local government partners? Are they listening to our voices? They will only be able to achieve these goals if they do.
Another key question being explored by a newly formed Bay Program task force is whether there’s value to including some form of local area target in the next round of state watershed implementation plans, which are due in 2018. LGAC is pleased to have three representatives on the Local Area Targets Task Force. Along with other local government representatives on the task force, they will do their best to represent the interests and concerns of local governments throughout the watershed.
It may seem daunting to accelerate our efforts as we reach this Midpoint Assessment. But I have no doubt that local governments will rise to the challenge and together realize our common goal of healthy vibrant communities for all. That’s what local leaders do: We get it done.