As 2008 came to a close, the Chesapeake Bay Program marked its 25th anniversary with an understanding of the formidable task ahead in restoring the Bay and a commitment to new approaches, fresh investments and management reforms to help us get there.
The quarter-century mark offered the Bay Program an opportunity to reflect on strides taken and lessons learned. More importantly, it served as a clarion call for the greater actions needed to protect and restore this incredible natural resource.
We recognize that until the public sees more crabs and oysters and fewer dead zones and fish kills, they will remain skeptical of our efforts. And no one is more frustrated that the Bay remains degraded than the participants in our partnership.
But a failure to meet cleanup goals does not mean there has been a failure to make progress.
It is important to consider the Bay Program's wide-ranging accomplishments, which include fostering unparalleled cooperation between six states, the District of Columbia, the Chesapeake Bay Commission and a core group of 10 federal agencies.
The Bay Program is widely recognized for having the most advanced watershed science in the nation, allowing us to intimately understand the functioning of the ecosystem, track pollution, establish water quality goals and identify needed restoration measures. Dozens of watershed programs and foreign countries have sought guidance from the Bay Program and modeled many of their efforts after those used for the Chesapeake. In fact, the existence of the Bay Program led to the creation of the National Estuary Program, which supports restoration of 28 estuaries.
During the last 25 years, our partners have pioneered innovative techniques for restoring a large-scale ecosystem that have been duplicated countrywide. For example, Maryland was the first state in the nation in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, and now Pennsylvania has the largest CREP in the country. Virginia took the practice of "never till" from concept to widespread practice. Pennsylvania was the first state to enact mandatory nutrient management plans for farms, to have an EPA-approved Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation permit and to initiate phosphorus limits on major wastewater dischargers. Maryland, Virginia and Delaware placed a moratorium on striped bass harvests, leading to the restoration of the stock.
Critical protection measures are in place on millions of acres of land and along thousands of miles of waterways. This includes nutrient management plans on 3.2 million farmland acres, and conservation tillage on more than 2 million acres. There are more than 1 million acres of best management practices in place for stormwater. Another 1 million acres of forests, wetlands, farmland and other resources lands have been preserved.
Partners have planted more than 5,722 miles of streamside forested buffers and restored 12,532 acres of wetlands. The partnership has also removed blockages to more than 2,000 miles of spawning grounds to help restore migratory fish.
The efforts of the Chesapeake Bay Program have also supported the allocation of critical financial resources. For wastewater treatment infrastructure, Maryland has the Bay Restoration Fund, with $66 million per year from the flush fee. Virginia is investing $700 million over two years and Pennsylvania has $1.2 billion for statewide projects. Farm Bill funding of at least $188 million was secured for the unprecedented targeting of agricultural conservation practices in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and specific tributary river watersheds. In 2008, the EPA provided more than $15 million for on-the-ground implementation work through the Small Watershed Grants and Innovative Nonpoint Source Reduction Grants as part of its overall support for the Bay Program.
But again, despite this progress, the Bay has not responded the way everyone had hoped it would to counter 400 years of human activity and its battery of old, new and emerging threats.
In November, the Chesapeake Executive Council acknowledged that a new approach is needed. To start, the council moved its annual meeting to the spring, beginning in 2009, when the most current scientific information about pollution levels becomes available.
At that time, the Executive Council will establish specific milestones for restoration that will be set in two-year intervals. These milestones will focus the partnership on achieving short-term goals, thereby intensifying restoration efforts and tracking progress toward a new overall deadline.
Moving the annual meeting to the spring means it also coincides with the release of the Chesapeake Bay Program's annual Health and Restoration Assessment. This will allow members to act on the latest information about the watershed and to more effectively coordinate restoration initiatives with government budget cycles and legislative sessions.
Additionally, the Chesapeake Bay Program partners are working with the EPA to help shape the landmark Chesapeake Total Maximum Daily Load, a federally mandated pollution budget for the watershed that will be accompanied by specific cleanup plans.
With the recent election of a new president and 111th Congress comes the opportunity to seek a renewed federal commitment to protecting the nation's largest estuary. On behalf of the Bay states, the District of Columbia and the Chesapeake Bay Commission, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley have indicated that they will seek support from the president-elect and Congress to accelerate restoration efforts.
At the annual meeting, the Executive Council also launched a plan to position the Chesapeake region as a national leader in the production of next-generation biofuels. This new sector of biofuels does not rely on food crops and can be grown sustainably to yield environmental and economic benefits for the area's farms, forests and industrial sector, while simultaneously advancing water quality goals.
Numerous other noteworthy events occurred in 2008, including work on champion roles, which began in 2007 when Executive Council members selected topics critical to restoration. The Chesapeake Bay Program partners have since made significant progress on issues that include the promotion of low-impact development, support of agricultural conservation practices, and improvement of wastewater treatment. The partnership will continue taking this type of targeted action in 2009.
Last summer, The Chesapeake Bay Program submitted a report to Congress, Strengthening the Management, Coordination and Accountability of the Chesapeake Bay Program. Outlined in the report is the Chesapeake Action Plan, which features tools that can strengthen and expand partnerships in the watershed, enhance coordination of restoration activities and increase the collective accountability for protecting the Bay. To learn more, visit www.cap.chesapeakebay.net
In July, a hearing by the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure's Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment gathered testimony on recommendations for the protection and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay from a variety of interested parties and stakeholder organizations. Testimony acknowledged that the Bay Program's progress in improving restoration efforts and focused on the continuing challenges to restoring water quality throughout the watershed.
In October, the Bay Program's Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee released an independent report that shows the Bay ecosystem will be significantly impacted by climate change during the next century. Climate Change and the Chesapeake Bay: State-of-the-Science Review and Recommendations details the potential consequences of global warming for the Bay over the next 100 years and explains the need to adapt restoration to account for the environmental changes. The report is found at www.chesapeake.org/stac/.
As we move into 2009 and beyond, the pressures of population growth and development are the greatest challenge to restoring and protecting the Chesapeake Bay. Suburban and urban stormwater runoff is the only source of pollution that is increasing. From 1990 to 2000, the watershed population grew 8 percent, while impervious surface rose by 41 percent.
Projections through 2030 show continued explosive growth and construction in the watershed.
Every entity and individual in the watershed has a role in saving the Bay, including governments, businesses, nonprofit organizations and the 17 million residents. To restore the Chesapeake, we must each reduce our impact on the environment-by skipping lawn fertilizer, using rain barrels and rain gardens, picking up after pets, driving less and volunteering for a watershed group.
The partners of the Chesapeake Bay Program are confident that our comprehensive restoration efforts, combined with this type of citizen involvement, will create the healthy Bay we want today and owe to future generations.