In the first-ever summit of its type, top environmental and agricultural officials from all six states in the Bay watershed met with their federal counterparts in late May to discuss working together to improve rivers and streams.

The summit attracted either the secretary or assistant secretary of every state environmental and agriculture agency in the watershed, except for New York, where the environmental secretary’s plane was delayed and a substitute came instead. Other states represented were Delaware, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland.

The meeting was in response to President Clinton’s Clean Water Action Plan unveiled in March. The main focus was on the nation’s largest remaining water quality problem — controlling runoff, much of which comes from agriculture. [See New water policy shifts focus to runoff,” Bay Journal, April 1998].

A large part of the plan was aimed at having the EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as well as their state counterparts, working more closely together. That means breaking down some “cultural barriers,” said Bill Matuszeski, director of the EPA’s Bay Program Office, who helped to organize the summit. Historically, agricultural agencies have sought to achieve their objectives through incentives such as cost-sharing programs and technical assistance, while environmental agencies have often relied on regulations.

“Those cultural barriers are not going to break down overnight,” Matuszeski said. “But I think what has happened on balance is everyone has decided this is the right thing to do.”

To promote the policy, additional money was promised to states that complete “unified watershed assessments” by October. These assessments identify all water-related impacts to water quality, from pollution or loss of wetlands to preservation, to help develop holistic solutions to problems.

The plans are to be used as the basis for distributing additional money next year. A House Subcommittee has approved $153 million for the program in the EPA’s 1999 appropriation, while the Senate has earmarked $123 million. Most of that would be used to provide grants to states to control runoff pollution. In addition to the EPA money, additional funding to implement the plan is expected to be available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture next year.

Matuszeski said the summit should help efforts to develop watershed assessments in the region, which — if funded — should help Bay restoration efforts.

One sign that the summit went over well: Matuszeski said the state participants asked that it be reconvened either this fall or early next year.