If not 2010, then when? That was the question in my mind as I left the Dec. 5 Chesapeake Executive Council meeting.

It was at that meeting that Gov. Martin O'Malley, chair of the Executive Council, announced that the Bay jurisdictions would not meet the 2010 goals. In addition, he and the other council members would not commit to a new deadline.

The Chesapeake is the canary in the coal mine for our region's future economic vitality and overall quality of life.

Citizens applauded seven years ago when the Chesapeake 2000 agreement was signed. It stated that by 2010, our region would be restored, with clean water, clean air and safe places where our children could play.

Unfortunately, our political leaders blinked. While there was a lot of talk about accelerated restoration at the meeting, no plans were outlined to make that happen anytime soon.

The Bay Program has decided to move full steam ahead in developing a regionwide Total Maximum Daily Load allocation process. And while there is nothing inherently wrong with a TMDL, that approach will probably not get us to a cleaner Bay any sooner than if we had moved forward with the existing agreement.

At present, the point sources can be pushed to the limits without a TMDL. And the tributary strategies that each state has developed will do a fine job of that.

On the other hand, we have agricultural runoff. Unless there are major changes in TMDL regulations, agriculture is not part of the process and therefore the agriculture nonpoint source goals are not reachable with the current enforceable authorities under a TMDL.

In addition, one of our biggest long-term term issues is development and the stormwater issues that accompany it. TMDL enforceability with stormwater lies somewhere between point sources and agriculture.

There are some stormwater issues that fall within a TMDL regulatory scheme. For example, there are some requirements for stormwater permits affecting larger urban areas, but there has been a real reluctance to put teeth into those by both the EPA and the states.

The Chesapeake Bay partners seem to have committed the next four years to refining the data and the allocations. This is the same type of process that slowed down implementation in the 2000-04 time frame during the development of the state tributary strategies.

Unfortunately, data and allocations are not the problems hampering Bay watershed restoration. The real danger is that the public will be led to believe that a TMDL is going to provide the solution once it is completed.

We already know the sources of the nutrient and sediment pollution and we know the technologies and techniques that will reduce it. Our real problems are a lack of money and leadership.

The EC would have won rave reviews if it would have rededicated itself to the Chesapeake 2000 agreement, committed itself to finding the funds to implement the tributary strategies and set a date of 2014 to achieve Bay watershed restoration.

Chesapeake cleanup goals without a firm deadline is not a plan for success in creating a region where blue crabs, brook trout and children can thrive.