It was a momentary lapse. I recently called someone and asked about a “tributary strategy.”

“What?” they wondered.

It’s a term that’s not been actively used in Bay circles for many years. Tributary strategies were the original Bay cleanup plans — making the foundational connection that cleaning up the Bay means cleaning up the rivers that flow into it. They were first written by states in 1992, with a couple of iterations over the next decade.

The strategies laid out what states had to do to meet the Bay nutrient reduction goals as they were written at the time, the first of which was set in 1987. Obviously, they were not totally effective, as we are still talking about meeting Bay water quality goals. Today, though, our strategies are called “watershed implementation plans.” These documents are not only more specific than their predecessors, but potentially more enforceable under the Bay’s Total Maximum Daily Load, established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2010.

In the coming months, we’ll get an idea about whether the WIPs are indeed more effective. The drafts released April 12 were supposed to be something of the endgame — the plans that would show how the remaining nutrient reduction gap would be closed between now and 2025, thereby restoring healthy conditions throughout the Chesapeake.

Frankly, it’s not encouraging. Pennsylvania’s plan doesn’t add up, and its task is beyond daunting. New York, which has made relatively little progress, has declared that it will keep doing the same things, even if it doesn’t get to the goal.

For many of the other states, meeting goals would require the implementation of
runoff control practices on farms at rates far greater than have been seen in the past, and they require continued over-performance by wastewater treatment plants to cover likely shortfalls from the stormwater sector.

The EPA is reviewing plans to determine if they are feasible and adequately show how remaining gaps should be filled. If not, it could potentially set the stage for future agency action. The public is encouraged to review the plans as well.

WIPs were supposed to make the Bay cleanup efforts “real” in a way the tributary strategies never did. Soon, we’ll find out if that’s the case.

Stream ‘An Island out of Time’

The latest film sponsored by Bay Journal, “An Island out of Time,” premiered to on Maryland Public Television in April.

The half-hour documentary, produced by the filmmaking team of Sandy Cannon-Brown, Dave Harp and Tom Horton, tells the story of a seafood-harvesting family on Smith Island, MD, their vanishing heritage and culture — and the difficult decisions made by their children to break with that tradition. Based on Horton’s 1996 book, the film is an elegy for a place beset with erosion, dwindling population and vanishing economic opportunities.

Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can watch it on our website