This year is a critical time for Bay restoration efforts. It is a critical time politically, too. Maryland and Pennsylvania will elect governors, the District of Columbia will elect a new mayor, and Virginia’s Gov. Terry McAuliffe is in his first year in office. Together, these elected officials must implement the programs and policies that either will, or will not, reach the 2017 goal of putting practices in place to reduce pollution by 60 percent to restore water quality in local rivers, streams and the Chesapeake Bay, with the balance due by 2025.
In 2010, these Bay jurisdictions and the EPA set pollution limits that would restore water, and each state developed its own plan to meet those limits. In addition, the states made two-year milestone commitments to take specific actions to ensure progress was being made to achieve the necessary pollution reductions.
Taken together, the pollution limits, milestones and state-specific long-term plans make up the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. This Blueprint provides a historic opportunity to achieve water quality goals on a scale that is unprecedented.
For the first time in the history of Bay restoration, we can measure, evaluate and hold states accountable for short-term commitments. The milestones enable the states and the EPA to identify shortcomings and take corrective action before the 2017 and 2025 deadlines. In signing the new Bay agreement, Gov. Martin O’Malley, chair of the Chesapeake Executive Committee said, “Instead of praying for better results 20 years from now, we are taking better action today in order to achieve better results tomorrow.”
The good news is that the Clean Water Blueprint is working so far. But, there are danger signs ahead.
EPA data indicate that, overall, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia are on track to meet the 2017 pollution-reduction goals for nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment.
This progress has been achieved primarily through pollution reduction from sewage treatment plants, which will not be sufficient to achieve long-term goals. This underscores the need to reduce pollution from agriculture and urban/suburban runoff, especially in Virginia and West Virginia.
Delaware is falling short of both its nitrogen and phosphorus goals; New York is missing the mark for nitrogen; and Pennsylvania for both nitrogen and sediment. All three must increase efforts to reduce pollution from agriculture and urban/suburban runoff. The District of Columbia is not on track to meet its sediment goal, and also needs to step up efforts to reduce urban/suburban polluted runoff.
Missing milestone goals or not being on track to meet the 2017 interim goal is worrisome. Either means that we will continue to be plagued by polluted water, human health hazards and fewer recreational opportunities — all at a great cost to society.
The states and EPA need to plan now for how they will ramp up implementation to address agricultural and urban polluted runoff, not kick the can down the road. And they need to be transparent about those plans.
Restoring local rivers and streams, and saving the Chesapeake Bay are important. A clean environment will provide benefits today and for future generations. Threats to human health will be reduced, jobs will be created, and recreational opportunities will be improved.