The following is an open letter to the Chesapeake Bay Program, based on a letter sent to the Chesapeake Executive Council in September.

In December, the Chesapeake Executive Council faces a historic opportunity to take the steps that are necessary to restore the Bay. When the Bay Program staff committee members develop the goals and actions for a renewed Chesapeake Bay Agreement, we urge you to adopt the attached plan. If you do, we are confident that you will set the Bay restoration effort on a course that will, by the year 2010, restore the Bay to a level of health not seen for decades.

Our plan is based on goals for elements of the Bay ecosystem critical to its health, elements that are contained in the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s State of the Bay report. Although the Bay may rate only a 28 on a scale of 100 today, we are confident that, if the actions in this plan are carried out, it will reach a 50. Our plan is based on the presumption that the Bay Program wants to restore the Bay, and not simply just slow its decline.

As we have said in the past, the Bay program has been most effective when it has established specific measurable and ambitious goals and the programs to achieve them. We will encourage the public to call for a new Bay Agreement filled with actions that will occur by certain dates. Actions like “Reduce nutrients entering the Bay by 40 percent by the year 2000.” A new Bay agreement filled with words like “promote,” “evaluate,” “explore" and “encourage” is unacceptable. We have made our recommendations in that spirit. Our plan is organized into goals for each element of the Bay’s health, followed by actions to carry them out. The following are CBF’s goals for a healthier Bay by 2010:

  • Nitrogen and Phosphorus: Total nitrogen and phosphorus loading to the Bay (including air deposition) should be permanently reduced by at least 50 percent from 1985 levels.

  • Dissolved Oxygen: Dissolved oxygen levels should be adequate to support underwater life in all parts of the Bay. This means an oxygen level of at least 5 parts per million in spawning and nursery areas and at least 3 parts per million in other areas.

  • Water Clarity: Water should be clear enough to support underwater grasses at a depth of 6 feet.

  • Toxics: The amount of toxic substances entering the Bay from all sources should be reduced by 50 percent from 1995 levels.

  • Wetlands: The annual loss of existing wetlands should be reduced by 75 percent, and 125,000 acres of wetlands should be restored, using 1995 as a baseline.

  • Forest Buffers: The annual loss of existing streamside forest buffers should be reduced by 75 percent, and 5,000 additional miles should be restored, using 1995 as a baseline.

  • Underwater grasses: Underwater grasses should cover 225,000 acres in the Bay and its tributaries.

  • Resource Lands: The current rate of land development should be reduced by 50 percent — from an estimated 90,000 acres per year to 45,000 acres per year; 500,000 additional acres of farms and forests should be protected from development forever.

  • Blue crabs: The Chesapeake Bay blue crab population should be restored to the size and composition of the 1960s, when there were substantially greater numbers of larger and older crabs.

  • Striped Bass: The current, restored level of the Chesapeake Bay striped bass population should be maintained, but the number of larger, older fish should be increased so that a balanced, natural age-class distribution is achieved and spawning potential is maximized.

  • Oysters: Ten percent of the Bay’s traditional oyster grounds should be set aside as sanctuaries that incorporate 1,000 acres of inter-tidal reefs have been rebuilt. Another 10,000 acres of oyster grounds in the vicinity of the sanctuaries should be rehabilitated as harvest bars open to watermen.

  • Shad: The 10 largest Chesapeake Bay tributaries should each have spring shad runs sufficient to support fisheries without jeopardizing the continued growth of shad populations.

Space does not allow the publication of all of the associated actions for each of the goals. To illustrate the kinds of actions we see as necessary to achieve these goals, the following are the actions for nitrogen and phosphorus.

By 2000, EPA has developed and by 2002 states have adopted—and are implementing plans to achieve — enforceable Water Quality Standards for nitrogen and phosphorus based on habitat requirements for living resources, including underwater grasses.

Beginning in the year 2000, all permits for new or expanding sewage or industrial wastewater treatment plants in the watershed will be written to include nutrient removal in design and construction, and nutrient limits for discharges. For existing facilities, nutrient removal technology will be phased in by 2005.

By 2002, major poultry and other livestock companies will be responsible and provide funding for approved manure management and disposal, in a program enforced by the state environmental agency.

By 2002, the states will require all existing septic systems to undergo inspection and maintenance to specified standards every 5 years; by 2005, any new septic system in the watershed, particularly those that serve more than one residence, will include innovative technology that results in nitrogen and phosphorus removal.

By 2005, all land-applied nutrients in whatever form (manure, fertilizer, sewage sludge) applied commercially or agriculturally in the watershed will be applied following an approved nutrient management plan based on nitrogen and phosphorus.

By 2005, the states and federal government will ensure that nitrogen oxide emissions in the Bay airshed from power plants, as well as cars and other mobile sources, have been reduced by at least 50 percent from 1985 levels.

Although our plan does not try to address every problem faced by the Bay and its watershed, and does not focus on institutional aspects of the Bay Program itself, that does not imply that other issues are not important. For example, one question has been on the table for years: Should New York, Delaware, and West Virginia formally join the Bay Program? (We think that the time has finally arrived to include them.) This and other important issues will need to be decided in a new Bay Agreement, and the CBF intends to comment on them.

The Bay Program has accomplished much that is good for the Bay. We at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation have been critical of the Bay Program in the past, and we are quite confident we will be critical of it in the future. We’re sure you would be surprised and disappointed if we weren’t critical. It is too slow, too cumbersome, too bureaucratic. The CBF is impatient, and it is our job to push as hard and as fast as we can. Yet our impatience with the Bay Program is also a measure of our respect — we expect nothing less than the best from it. It has never been “just another government program,” and we intend to make sure that it continues to strive for the highest goals, not the lowest common denominator.

We recognize that adopting the plan we are proposing will require a great effort on the part of government, as well as a willingness on behalf of the 15 million citizens of the Chesapeake Bay watershed to make the changes needed to carry it out. While we call on you to provide the leadership needed to make these changes possible, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation pledges to do whatever it takes to make this vision for the year 2010 a reality.

For copies of the CBF’s Chesapeake Bay Restoration Action Plan, please contact Katrina Knudson at 410/268-8816 or kknudson@cbf.org.