For the past quarter century, the Bay Program has promised to achieve hundreds of goals for everything from improving water quality to ensuring that every high school student gets a "meaningful watershed experience" before graduating.

Volumes of strategies have been written detailing how to achieve those goals.

But as many high-profile goals have been missed and criticism mounted, the Bay Program has for the first time summarized all of its major objectives into a single document.

The new "Chesapeake Action Plan" also provides insight into how much effort is going to meet those goals.

For instance, it shows that in 2007, state and federal agencies, as well as several nonprofit organizations, spent about $1.1 billion to fund 885 specific projects, ranging from nutrient reduction and watershed protection, to improving public access and educational outreach.

Senior officials hope the plan will bring a new era of accountability and coordination, which will prompt greater progress toward goals that have seemed elusive.

"The CAP is enhancing coordination among [Chesapeake Bay Program] partners and will encourage them to continually review and improve their progress in protecting and restoring the Bay as well as heighten the level of accountability for meeting Bay restoration goals," said Benjamin Grumbles EPA assistant administrator for water, in testimony to Congress this July.

The plan culminates more than two years of work, and stems from an October 2005 report from the Congressional Government Accountability Office, which called for a comprehensive, coordinated implementation strategy that takes into account available resources.

The Bay Program has accumulated hundreds of commitments and goals since it was established by the 1983 Chesapeake Bay Agreement in which the EPA; the states of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania; the District of Columbia; and the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which represents state legislatures, agreed to work cooperatively to clean up the nation's largest estuary.

That general goal was elaborated upon by the 1987 Bay Agreement, which made dozens of specific commitments for reducing pollution, managing fish and controlling growth. The Chesapeake 2000 agreement added more than 100 additional commitments. Further, Bay Program leaders have issued more directives over the years, adding more goals.

The GAO found that numerous strategies have been written to reach various goals, but some were never implemented because of the lack of funds. Sometimes strategies were inconsistent with one another, and others were widely considered unachievable.

Because of the lack of any overarching coordination, the GAO said the Bay Program was limited in its ability to target and direct funding to activities that would be the most cost-effective and beneficial. The GAO called for an "overall, coordinated implementation strategy...that unifies the various planning documents developed."

Completion of the report was driven by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D- MD, whose office vowed to withhold $5 million of the Bay Program's roughly $30 million appropriation (including its Small Watershed Grants and Targeted Watershed Grants programs) if it were not completed.

The plan, submitted to Congress in mid- July, contains four elements.

  • It melds the myriad goals from the Chesapeake 2000 agreement, as well as other goals and commitments made by the Bay Program over the years, into a "strategic framework." The framework organizes all commitments and strategies into six overarching goals: restoring and enhancing fisheries; protecting and restoring vital aquatic habitats; protecting and restoring water quality; maintaining a healthy watershed; fostering Chesapeake stewardship; and enhancing partnering, leadership and management. Each goal lists desired outcomes and the strategies needed to achieve those outcomes.
  • The plan includes a centralized database aimed at cataloguing all of the activities related to Bay Program goals as well as the amount of money being spent. For the first time, the database allows agencies to see the full range of activities under way-rather than just those it supports. It also tracks the progress toward meeting various goals within the strategic framework.
  • The CAP creates a series of "dashboards" which, like the dashboard of a car, provide agencies, organizations and the public with a quick online summaries, such as progress toward meeting key goals, what strategies will help achieve the goal, impediments to reaching the goal, needed actions and a summary of the money spent toward achieving the goal, and where it came from.
  • The CAP also contains a promise to move the Bay Program toward adaptive management, promising that as it compiles and analyzes the information, it will be better positioned to identify what actions work and which don't, then change management strategies accordingly.

Previously, Bay Program partners had no centralized means of collecting information and accounting for actions by all participants. Such information can allow better coordination by state and federal agencies and nonprofit organizations which may not otherwise be aware of what others are doing.

"It was fascinating to see one partner go in to see what another partner was doing," said Jeff Lape, director of the EPA's Bay Program Office. "If you don't know what each other is doing, in a tangible way, it makes it almost impossible to say that you can effectively coordinate."

The reporting improves accountability as people can learn how much was spent toward meeting particular goals, and the rate of progress.

For example, in 2007, the data show that $1.1 billion was spent on Bay-related activities, of which $894 million was spent by the states, $216 million by federal agencies and $5 million by two nongovernmental organizations.

The lion's share of the money-more than $850 million, went to nutrient controls and other efforts to protect water quality. Of that, $729 million was used for wastewater treatment plant upgrades and $121 million for agricultural controls. The rest was used on a variety of activities, from stormwater control to septic system upgrades.

But the information also highlights gaps between what is being spent in different areas, and how close Bay Program partners are to meeting key goals. For instance, the data show that the region had achieved 47 percent of its nitrogen reduction goal in 2007, and at current rates would achieve 54 percent of the goal by 2010. Of the 16 goals analyzed, only one-oyster habitat restoration-is likely to meet its original deadlines.

In its report, the GAO had criticized the Bay Program for not having realistic goals or measurements that accurately assessed the rate of progress.

Still, some believe the document falls short of what's needed.

Ann Swanson, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, said in written testimony for a July 30 congressional hearing said the CAP was an "excellent inventory" of actions being taken to meet the goals.

But she faulted the report for not offering a timeline in which goals would be met and for failing to identify the amount of funding necessary to meet those goals.

"It only illustrates the funding available, which gives the false impression that those areas of need are adequately addressed," she said. "The EPA must be required to identify funding gaps along with opportunities for federal agencies to fill those gaps, at least in part."

She called on Congress to specifically require those elements in future reports.

Ana Mittal, GAO director of natural resources and environment, similarly said the CAP represented "important progress" that would improve management and restoration efforts, but faulted it for not identifying specific activities needed to reach goals and identifying resources needed to meet them.

Likewise, Rep. Robert Wittman, R-VA, said the plan makes "great strides" in unifying the reporting on cleanup efforts and highlighting the importance of adaptive management. But Wittman said the activity database should be available for everyone to examine.

"I would suggest that a comprehensive accounting of all Bay restoration activities available to everyone, including Congressional oversight committees, appropriators and stakeholders should be an important component going forward to ensure program effectiveness," he said.

Lape said summaries of the information, and perhaps the entire database, may be made available in the future after there has been an opportunity to "debug the system" and ensure that it accurately depicts activities.

"The partners are really going to great efforts to put data and information on the table, and they need time to make sure it is quality data, and that they are comfortable with the data," he said.

Although the 2007 figures represent the most comprehensive effort to report Bay-related spending and activities, federal regulations prevent the government from collecting information from more than nine non-federal agencies without approval from the White House Office of Management and Budget, which is pending.

As a result, it only contains information from 10 federal agencies, the six states in the watershed, the District of Columbia, and two nongovernmental organizations, Ducks Unlimited and the Chesapeake Bay Trust.

Lape said he was hopeful that over time the database will include more information from nonprofits and other nongovernmental organizations and local governments, as well as more refined information from state and federal agencies.

Theoretically, that information should push agencies and organizations toward "adaptive management"-the ability to change strategies when new information, or better scientific knowledge, becomes available. That, in turn, could help to better predict environmental results. If those results don't occur, the adaptive management approach could lead to more monitoring to better understand the effectiveness of management actions.

Using adaptive management-which was advocated by the GAO-would likely focus the most effective actions in the most effective areas as information becomes available. Such targeting has sometimes been resisted, as some agencies have instead emphasized fairness in the distribution of cleanup or activity money.

Exactly how adaptive management changes will occur is unclear, as the Bay Program does not necessarily drive the decisions of individual agencies or states. "No CBP partner has the authority to direct another partner to change such processes," the report notes.

But, Lape said, the desire to show results will likely drive partners to change how they do things. Indeed, he said the Bay Program needed a "fundamental rethink" on how the region handles growth, deals with stormwater and agricultural runoff and how people use pesticides and fertilizers around the home.

If people are not seeing the results they expect, the CAP may be the tool that helps prompt change. "As long as we are growing from a population and development standpoint the way we are, and we are not making dramatic changes in reversing the trend, we are going to stay in a holding pattern for a while."

Information about the Chesapeake Action Plan is available on the Bay Program's website at cap.chesapeakebay.net.

Realistic Annual Targets

In its 2005 report, the Congressional Governmental Accountability Office faulted the Bay Program for not having goals with realistic time frames. Using information gathered for its Chesapeake Action Plan, the Bay Program analyzed the rates at which key programs were being implemented to determine where they would likely be in 2010.

Basinwide Nitrogen Reduction
Goal: Achieve by 2010 a 162.5 million pound nitrogen reduction from 1985 levels to achieve an annual cap of 175 million pounds entering the Chesapeake Bay.
2007: 47 percent achieved
2010: 54 percent achieved

Basinwide Phosphorus Reduction
Goal: Achieve by 2010 a 14.36 million pound phosphorus reduction from 1985 levels to achieve an annual cap of 12.8 million pounds entering the Bay.
2007: 62 percent achieved
2010: 68 percent achieved

Basinwide Sediment Reduction
Goal: Achieve by 2010 a 1.69 million ton reduction from 1985 levels to achieve an annual cap load of 4.15 million tons.
2007: 64 percent achieved
2010: 74 percent achieved

Municipal & Industrial Wastewater
Goal: By 2010, achieve a 49.9 million pound nitrogen reduction from 1985 levels.
2007: 74 percent achieved
2010: 84 percent achieved

Municipal & Industrial Wastewater
Goal: By 2010, achieve a 6.16 million pound phosphorus reduction from 1985 levels.
2007: 87 percent achieved
2010: 93 percent achieved

Animal Lands & Animal Operations
Goal: By 2010, achieve a 96.99 million pound nitrogen reduction from 1985 levels.
2007: 48 percent achieved
2010: 54 percent achieved

Animal Lands & Animal Operations
Goal: By 2010, achieve a 6.48 million pound phosphorus reduction from 1985 levels.
2007: 51 percent achieved
2010: 54 percent achieved

Animal Lands & Animal Operations
Goal: By 2010, achieve a 2.55 million ton sediment reduction from 1985 levels.
2007: 48 percent achieved
2010: 54 percent achieved

Streamside & Tidal Shoreline Fish Passage
Goal: Reopen 2,266 miles of rivers to fish migration between 1989 and 2014 and complete 100 fish passage projects between 2005
and 2014.
2007: 81 percent achieved
2010: 92 percent achieved

Submerged Aquatic Vegetation
Goal: Plant 1,000 acres of underwater grass beds
between 2003 and 2008.
2007: 14 percent achieved
2010: 17 percent achieved

Riparian Areas
Goal: Restore 10,000 miles of forest buffer by 2010.
2007: 57 percent achieved
2010: 68 percent achieved

Wetland restoration
Goal: Restore 28,500 acres of wetlands by 2010.
2007: 49 percent achieved
2010: 61 percent achieved

Blue Crab
Goal: By 2007, revise and implement fisheries management plans to incorporate ecological, social and economic consideration, as well as multispecies and ecosystem management approaches.
2007: 56 percent achieved
2010: 56 percent achieved

Oysters
Goal: Restore 2,466 acres of oyster bar and reef habitat between 2007 and 2010.
2007: 32 percent achieved
2010: 100 percent achieved

Watershed Education
Goal: 100 percent of students should have a meaningful watershed educational experience by their high school graduation.
2007: 80 percent achieved
2010: 84 percent achieved

Land Preservation
Goal: Permanently protect an additional 695,000 acres of forest land by 2020.
2007: 0 percent
2010: 23 percent

Strategic Framework

The Chesapeake Action Plan includes a new "Strategic Framework." The framework sets six overarching goals and identifies specific actions or strategies stemming from past Bay agreements that will help fulfill these goals. The intent is to prioritize funding toward specific activities and actions that will meet the goals.

The six goals, and the amount spent on each during 2007 are:

  • Protect & Restore Fisheries: Restore, enhance and protect finfish, shellfish and other living resources, their habitats and ecological relationships to sustain all fisheries and provide for a balanced ecosystem. $27.4 million
  • Protect & Restore Vital Aquatic Habitats: Restore the habitats and natural areas that are vital to the survival and diversity of the living resources of the Bay and its rivers. $41 million
  • Protect & Restore Water Quality: Achieve and maintain the water quality necessary to support the aquatic living resources of the Bay and its tributaries and to protect human health. $942.1 million
  • Maintain Healthy Watersheds: Develop, promote and achieve sound land use practices that protect watershed resources and water quality, maintain reduced pollutant loadings for the Bay and its tributaries, and restore and preserve aquatic living resources. $62 million
  • Foster Chesapeake Stewardship: Promote individual stewardship and assist individuals, community-based organizations, businesses, local governments and schools to undertake initiatives to achieve these goals and our shared vision. $18.6 million
  • Enhance Partnering, Leadership & Management: Improve and enhance the leadership and management of the Chesapeake Bay Program partnership. $23.4 million