It's less than 12 months to the new millennium and the Bay Program has a few key questions to ask itself.
Like, where does it go from here? And, how does it get there?
For the past dozen years, the guiding document for the restoration effort has been the 1987 Chesapeake Bay Agreement. That set a broad course for the Bay cleanup, including the Year 2000 nutrient reduction goal, which has been a driving force for the Bay Program.
To mark the arrival of the new century - and the deadline for the nutrient reduction goal - the Bay Program wants to have a new document to direct efforts for the next decade or so.
So for the next year, the Bay Program - with input from citizens, government officials and scientists - will review where it has been and flesh out a framework for where it needs to go.
The goal is to have a new Bay Agreement signed in the year 2000, possibly on Earth Day, by the Executive Council - the governors of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania; the mayor of the District of Columbia; the administrator of the EPA; and the chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which represents state legislatures.
What's expected is not so much a wholesale rewrite of the 1987 document as an update. "We like the term 'Renewing the Bay Agreement,'" said Jon Capacasa, deputy director of the EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program Office. "We are not scrapping it and starting completely over. It has served us extremely well."
The 1987 agreement set broad goals to protect living resources: improve water quality; manage population growth and development; improve public information education and participation; and establish a management structure for the Bay Program. For each goal, the agreement set out numerous commitments and objectives, the most touted of which was to achieve a 40 percent nutrient reduction by 2000.
"You'll find that 95 percent or more of those specific commitments have been achieved on paper," Capacasa said. "But the ultimate objectives certainly have not been achieved in every case, although considerable progress has occurred on a number of fronts."
What may be needed in the new agreement, Capacasa said, are new commitments and approaches to help reach the overall goals - perhaps specific targets for open space protection or increases in wetland acreage. But new, big-picture goals may emerge as well, he said.
Some think that a more aggressive approach to managing growth could emerge as a "hot ticket" for the new document - Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening, chairman of the Executive Council, emphasized the issue repeatedly at the council's December meeting. A host of other goal topics could come up, from exotic species to global climate change to multispecies management in fisheries, to transportation.
And, Capacasa said, early discussions reveal that many still want a few standout commitments - like the 40 percent nutrient reduction - in the new document. "I think there is a healthy interest to make sure that we have a very visible objective or two that will challenge not only the program participants, but the public at large over the next 10 to 20 years."
Nutrients are likely to remain a central focus. While the Bay states appear likely to meet their phosphorus reduction goal, it's unlikely they'll meet the nitrogen goal. After they reach the reduction goals, the states have committed to keeping nutrient inputs at those reduced levels.
At the same time, there is recognition that the original nutrient reductions may not be enough for the Bay's water quality, and further cuts will be needed. "I think we have to admit to ourselves that nutrients are the primary problem that we're dealing with as far as water quality concerns, and they will continue to take a high profile in the agreement," Capacasa said.
As part of the "Chesapeake 2000" initiative, the Bay Program's committees and subcommittees are doing their own internal review.
In addition, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay has launched a 2-year "Chesapeake Renewal" program, the first elements of which are aimed at conducting surveys, interviews, focus groups and roundtables to gather input from the public, all levels of government and key "stakeholder" groups about the Bay Program in general, and future directions in particular. "We want to hear whatever people have to say," said Lisa Keir, the project manager.
There will be other efforts to secure independent or peer review of the program from individuals outside of the immediate Bay Program, such as other estuary program managers across the country.
Also, the Bay Program's Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee is conducting a "Chesapeake Futures" project. By the end of the year, scientists from around the watershed will paint a picture of what they think the Bay will look like in 2030 under three scenarios: a status quo approach to Bay recovery; a stepped-up approach in which the Bay states achieve all present commitments; and a greatly enhanced program where significantly more aggressive recovery goals are pursued.
In the first phase of that review, the scientists will produce a short document offering insights about near-term issues that need to be addressed, including emer-ging issues for the future. A longer report will follow. "It's important to us to keep our eye on the ball, the long term," said Donald Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and leader of the Chesapeake Futures project. "What we're supposed to be about is Chesapeake Forever."
All the input will be going to a Chesapeake 2000 review committee and the Principals' Staff Committee, which will help formulate recommendations for the Executive Council.
Mike Hirshfield, vice president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation - one of the groups expected to be represented on the review committee - said the Bay Program needed to use the review to conduct a fundamental "soul searching."
"I really do think that in some ways, the fundamental premises of the Bay Program need to be questioned, including the philosophy that underlies a lot of what has happened in the last 15 years, particularly with regard to nutrients," he said.
The Bay Program has relied on voluntary efforts to meet objectives, he said. But the result is that the Bay states won't meet their nutrient reduction goal, at least for nitrogen. "I think there is a lot of evidence that regulations drive technology and drive markets a lot faster than voluntary approaches where there isn't any real pressing necessity for problems to be solved with any great speed," he said.
Some action, like future nutrient reductions, may be driven more by upcoming national actions, such as the development of nutrient criteria, than by Bay Program activities. As a result, he said, a challenge for the Bay Program is to establish objectives that clearly will have "results and accountability."
"I think there has to be a clear demonstration of value added," Hirshfield said, "and it has to be more than just around the margins."
To some degree, that type of analysis may result from the Alliance's Chesapeake Renewal Project, which is funded through Congress. After gathering input about future issues and directions, it will take a hard look at the Bay Program structure, accomplishments and setbacks, and report its findings to Congress.
While the Bay Program's complex committee structure offers an opportunity for officials from different states to participate in the development of interstate restoration strategies, there are always questions whether it is overly cumbersome and slows decisionmaking.
"We need to make sure that it is working as best it can," said David Carroll, an Alliance board member and the former secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment.
The project will also examine whether big issues facing the Chesapeake basin, such as growth management and further nutrient control actions, are being addressed and are being communicated to the public and decisionmakers.
"I don't think anyone is really systematically trying to prepare the public and decisionmakers for the kinds of things that we are going to have to wrestle with after 2000," Carroll said. "Soon, people are go-ing to come smack up against some really tough issues, and we're going to start seeing whether the public is as serious about the Bay cleanup as it says it is."
The answer to that may determine whether Chesapeake 2000, in fact, becomes Chesapeake Forever.