Working within a partnership like the Chesapeake Bay Program presents unique obstacles when it comes to achieving restoration goals.
Think of the challenge of finding a compromise between the different personalities in a dating relationship or marriage — only in the Bay Program’s relationship, there are nine partners, six goal implementation teams (GITs), 10 goals and 31 outcomes, all angling to prioritize their own agenda while trying to reach consensus on how to best move the partnership forward.
It may seem overwhelming, but over our 33-year history, the Bay Program has a longstanding tradition of achieving that consensus.
Other constraints on our efforts include funding at the federal, state and local government levels, as well as the manpower to get all of the work done. For the vast majority of the people who work under the partnership’s umbrella, this organization is just one small part of what they do. Our work is performed mostly by state and federal agency employees, university and non-governmental organization researchers, local elected officials, small business owners and other concerned citizens with full-time jobs, some of which have nothing to do with the Chesapeake Bay.
What all of these people have in common is a passion for enhancing the quality of life for the more than 18 million citizens of the Bay watershed through improved local water quality, wildlife habitats, fisheries, access to the water and preserving those areas that are already in good shape.
Their endeavors have become more difficult as the tightening of fiscal belts often leaves less money for critical projects and forces those projects to compete with one another for scarce resources.
One way the Bay Program partnership is working to overcome this challenge is through collaboration, led by Kristin Saunders, our cross-program coordinator. Her role is to work with the goal team leaders, staff and other partnership teams on communication and the implementation of cross-program initiatives and strategies. Like a diplomat serving as a liaison between groups that may not speak each other’s language, Saunders seeks out opportunities where the goals of one team intersects with another, and sometimes more.
The purpose is to identify potential high-priority, cross-cutting shared projects — and the resources for their implementation. We are looking to create new partnerships with key stakeholders to help foster the implementation of restoration practices while also ensuring that underrepresented voices are recognized and heard. This work has enhanced communication between members at all levels of the partnership.
Thanks to increased emphasis on cross-program coordination, we’ve been able to identify areas where leadership and other partner representatives feel they need more help. The most tangible example of this will be through a Cross-GIT Mapping Project. The project is developing a map of the Chesapeake Bay watershed that incorporates overlapping layers based on the priority project areas for each of the goal implementation teams. The consolidated map gives a visual representation of hot spots in the watershed where resources can be maximized to have the greatest impact toward achieving the shared goals.
Teams within the partnership are sharing the most up-to-date science and data from the GITs and jurisdictions to reflect their priorities. Working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the partnership is developing a Chesapeake Bay Comprehensive-Water Resources and Restoration Plan to identify what projects will contribute most to Bay preservation efforts, which will also be integrated with the mapping project efforts.
Concurrently, we are coordinating with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to refresh their Chesapeake Business Plan. The foundation manages the Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund on behalf of the partnership, awarding between $8 million and $12 million each year through a pair of competitive grant programs. The cross-program collaboration priorities will help NFWF align these awards with hot spots and priorities identified through the mapping project.
The mapping project will also make it easier for us to connect efforts to match best management practices from one goal implementation team with living resources from another.
Previously, work may have focused solely on improving water quality or raising the blue crab population, without taking into account the interactive nature of the entire Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. Now we can highlight co-benefits and create incentives for actions on the ground for multiple priorities in the agreement beyond the traditional water-quality focus.
The Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement also introduced some new priorities for the partnership that hadn’t been given as much emphasis in previous agreements. The cross-program focus empowers us to better consider diversity, climate change and local government needs, integrating them through ongoing and planned work within all of the goal implementation teams.
The signing of the new agreement implemented a similar construct to the accountability framework of the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load. Under the Bay TMDL, two-year milestones keep the jurisdictions on schedule for implementing needed pollution-reducing measures to achieve water quality standards. In the Watershed Agreement, the partners have established a biennial strategy review system to ensure periodic checks on progress toward the commitments for each goal area.
The emphasis on cross-program collaboration is helping to develop a systematic strategic review of our progress, which will integrate all of the disciplines, get people out of their silos and look at the restoration in a holistic, integrated approach. This approach will drive adaptive management and incorporate the use of the most up-to-date scientific practices and data in partnership decision making. It also allows us to operate more effectively by understanding what the implications of actions taken to achieve one goal may have on other goal areas, so we can avoid or minimize unintended negative consequences and operate more cost effectively.
We’ve made great progress toward restoring the Chesapeake ecosystem over the last three decades, and this will help make us even more effective. Signed in 1983, the very first Chesapeake Bay Agreement called on us to take a cooperative approach through coordinated plans to protect the water quality and living resources of the Bay. Today’s partnership continues to embrace that spirit and is applying it through the efforts Saunders and all of the goal teams are making to maximize the effectiveness of our restoration efforts.