Each of the many individuals and organizations concerned with the future of the Chesapeake Bay are all too aware of the serious environmental challenges we face. Over the past two decades, federal, state and local partners have worked together to produce modest restoration gains. But stronger actions must be taken to reduce the region’s nutrient and sediment loads to the Bay.
All levels of government are facing difficult financial constraints, making it all the more crucial that we focus on innovative, identifiable, cost-effective strategies to meet the water quality goals of the Chesapeake 2000 agreement to restore the Bay by 2010.
Thanks to the hard work of many organizations and countless individuals that have taught us about the problems facing the Bay, we have gained scientific knowledge that has helped us to learn more about what we can do to fix the problems facing the Bay.
By collaborating and making decisions on a regional scale, we have seen some significant gains, such as the recovery of the rockfish and shad fisheries.
Water quality, though, remains the largest challenge we face to improve and restore the watershed.
Each year, hundreds of millions of pounds of nutrients and sediments wash from the farm fields, development projects, streets and wastewater treatment plants into the Bay.
Sediment buries oyster beds and kills Bay grasses while excess nitrogen and phosphorus spur the growth of unwanted algae and other microorganisms that deplete the Bay’s oxygen, cloud the water and destroy other living resources.
Under the Chesapeake 2000 agreement, the Bay State governors and the EPA committed to take measures to remove the Bay from the EPA’s list of impaired waters under the Clean Water Act.
The Bay Program partnership has given us the knowledge and identified some of the tools that are necessary to remove the Bay from this list.
The states’ tributary strategies have also given us a geographic template to help us focus our resources and actions. To make these necessary improvements, however, we must be able to provide adequate resources and target them strategically.
In the past five months, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Blue Ribbon Finance Panel released a report estimating the cost of restoration to be around $15 billion over the next six years. Meanwhile, the Chesapeake Bay Commission released a report outlining the most cost-effective ways to restore the Bay.
Both reports detail the funding sources needed to implement tributary strategies basinwide and make recommendations regarding actions at the federal, state and local level. The Blue Ribbon Panel, in particular, identified a definitive need for $15 billion over the next six years, with $3 billion committed by the states and $12 billion from the federal government.
In times of fiscal restraint, it is vital we target and find the most cost-effective programs to achieve nutrient reductions.
There have been numerous bipartisan efforts in Congress urging the administration to commit more federal funds to the restoration effort. Last fall, we asked President George Bush to pledge $1 billion toward this effort in his fiscal year 2006 federal budget and asked for targeted increases specifically for wastewater plant upgrades and conservation assistance for farmers.
Unfortunately his budget falls far short of these goals. The president’s budget did not include adequate funding or targeted requests for the Bay. In fact, key national programs that provide critical support to the restoration effort were severely cut.
The Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund, which is the single largest source of funding for pollution reduction upgrades to our nation’s municipally owned wastewater plants, was cut by a third, from $1.1 billion to $730 million. Other federal programs that provide critical support are slated for elimination or cuts, such as the Rural Utilities Service wastewater disposal program and the EPA’s Small Watershed Grants Program.
Furthermore, the president eliminated or cut federal funds for the Oyster Recovery Project, which is working to restore the ecological and economic benefits of oysters in the Chesapeake Bay. Outside of their economic benefit to watermen, oysters play a crucial role in filtering the Bay’s water and naturally improving its water quality.
Agriculture also plays an integral role in the cultural and economic landscape of the Bay region. Agricultural lands account for almost a quarter of the watershed, and contribute more nutrients to the Bay than any other single land use. Let’s be clear, this is not an assault on the Bay’s agriculture or an attempt to impose additional regulations, rather a recognition that the programs available to our farmers are not made accessible to enough of them.
The 2002 farm bill substantially increased funding for conservation programs and expanded new initiatives to help producers protect and enhance our natural resources. However, as they are currently administered, these programs are causing regional discrimination and an inequitable distribution of funds geographically. For example, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program is the principal source of cost-sharing assistance for producers who wish to implement soil, water and wildlife conservation practices. Three Chesapeake Bay states—Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia—had nearly $8 billion in agricultural sales in 2002, but received only $29 million in EQIP funds in fiscal year 2004, 3 percent of the national total of $908 million.
An equitable and strategic distribution of federal farm conservation dollars is a meaningful and fiscally responsible way to help reduce nutrient runoff pollution here in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and elsewhere around the country.
We should allow science and cooperative decision making to target resources, and we need to encourage innovation and collaboration, especially at the local level. Without the direct involvement of farmers and local citizens in finding the solutions to these pressing environmental problems, we can expect little real progress toward the ambitious cleanup goals that we need to achieve for the Bay, ourselves and future generations.
Every year, there is a strong regional effort to increase funds and programs to help restore the Bay. This year is no exception. As Congress now begins to consider fiscal year 2006 priorities, I will be fighting to restore these cuts and will continue to invest in federal programs that help to clean the Chesapeake Bay, improve water quality overall and promote successful conservation practices.