The new Chesapeake 2000 Agreement is signed and two years of effort by a great many people from all over the watershed has paid off. Everyone seems pleased and inspired by the results — the new goals and objectives with clear measures and tough timetables will help us keep the Chesapeake Bay Program in the forefront of restoration efforts worldwide.
But in a very real sense the work is just beginning, as we must now turn our goals into reality. And while it may seem that we have nearly a decade ahead of us to achieve some of our most far-reaching objectives, if we have any hope of success, we need to get started without delay.
One of the first things I did was to take out a pencil and paper to try to estimate how ready we are to take on these new goals. For each set of objectives, more than a dozen in all, I tried to estimate the current institutional capability to deliver.
I thought about such things as current relevant laws and programs, the degree to which agencies and relations among different levels of government are in place, and the sense of public involvement in the issues. Where the agencies and other institutions exist, do they have the necessary mindset? Where they don’t exist, what needs to happen and what are the barriers? And can the Bay Program’s spirit of collaboration and partnership operate in the institutional environment that exists or is likely to emerge?
After thinking about all of these variables, I tried to rank the “institutional readiness” for each area of the agreement on a scale from 1 to 10. Of course, I knew that such an exercise had to be highly judgmental. But we cannot avoid dealing with these realities now that the agreement is signed and the marching orders have been issued.
So I tried out my ratings on the staff at the Chesapeake Bay Program Office. Of course, whenever you take such rankings before a large number of people, everything tends to merge toward the middle. While there was pretty good agreement in many areas, there were others where views were spread out all over the range.
By the time the staff was done, they had persuaded me to abandon all “1” and “10” ratings, and caused me to rearrange some other rankings. They had a lot of insight and challenged me on a number of points, but they did not lead me to abandon the exercise. In fact, it led to the kind of lively discussion that benefits all of us.
After all that, here are my ratings on institutional readiness for the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement, which I blame on no one but myself. They are in their order of appearance in the agreement, with higher numbers indicating greater readiness:
Oysters & Crabs: 7 – These two areas rank rather high, even though they deal with two of our most visible and critical living resources. Although the goals are far-reaching, especially the tenfold increase in oysters in the next decade, the responsible agencies and interests seem to be in sync on a plan to proceed. Thanks to great work by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and others on an oyster plan, and the efforts of the Bi-State Blue Crab Commission set up under the auspices of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, there is a sense that the capability is there to get the job done. The recent decision of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission to establish a crab sanctuary for females in a large portion of the Bay’s mainstem is further evidence of progress.
Other Fisheries: 3 – In contrast to oysters and crabs, the management efforts called for in the agreement are going to require major shifts in thinking by the fisheries management agencies. Multispecies and ecosystem-based management plans are ideas that have been discussed for a number of years, but real experience putting such plans together and dealing with interactions among trophic levels are limited. We are likely to be leading the way in both areas. This will require changes in state and regional agency procedures and mindsets, as well as new ways of integrating science with fisheries management. While all the parties are ready to give it a try, it is a launch into major new territory.
Wetlands Regulation & Restoration:8 – This is rated high because many of the programs to achieve no net loss are in place, and the new Virginia non-tidal wetlands program is on a tight schedule for implementation. In addition, Maryland, which has the lion’s share of the restoration burden, is well-organized to deliver in that arena, while the other jurisdictions are gearing up. The key issues that remain relate to our capacity to create effective restored wetland areas, and are less institutional than technical.
Watershed Management Plans: 3 – This is an area that needs a lot of attention because it requires the development of delivery systems to help local concerns with management plans on the small watershed level, with emphasis on stream corridors, riparian buffers and wetlands preservation. The goals are daunting: two-thirds of the watershed with community-based management plans and 25 percent of the same area with implemented wetlands preservation programs by 2010. The states will be in the lead to develop these delivery systems, and the resource implications could be considerable.
Nutrients & Sediments: 9 – The rating here is very high, to a large degree because Bay Program jurisdictions are already at work with Delaware, New York and West Virginia to meet the goals and timetable set out in the agreement.The institutional framework is essentially set by the Clean Water Act and the committee structure put in place to remove the Bay and tidal waters from the impaired waters list by 2010. The only reason this isn’t a “10” is that the staff convinced me that the capacity to adequately address nonpoint source pollution is not yet firmly established. They were right.
Toxics: 8 – Also highly ranked, the means of dealing with chemical contaminants in the water seem to be mostly in place. In contrast with nutrients, where much of the structure is backed up by the regulatory process, the toxics effort is predominantly voluntary, with major reliance on pollution prevention programs. Nonetheless, the work of Businesses for the Bay and the evolution of the new toxics strategy (out for public review this summer) provide some confidence that we are prepared to deal with new goals, especially for point sources. The area of weakness, predictably, is with runoff and other nonpoint sources, where the means to deal with the problems are legally and technically weaker.
Air Pollution: 9 – Right up there at the top with nutrients and sediments, the structure for setting and meeting air pollution reduction requirements is provided by the Clean Air Act. Air is the source of about a quarter of the nitrogen entering the Bay. If the lawsuits (some of which involve Bay states as plaintiffs) ever get settled or decided, there should be substantial reductions in emissions. We have played a leadership role in identifying the impacts of air pollution on the Bay, but we could do a better job of handling toxic air pollutants to the Bay, and (even more important) getting air and water pollution officials to talk to each other more often about airborne nitrogen’s effects on estuaries.
Land Conservation: 7 – The new goal to preserve 20 percent of the watershed as open space already has a lot going for it. Private land conservancies and trusts have been making steady progress protecting forests and farms with conservation easements and outright acquisition. State programs such as Maryland’s Project Open Space and Pennsylvania’s Growing Greener initiative, as well as new laws expanding efforts in Virginia, are all positive trends. And the federal government has upped its support through the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program and pending legislation to expand funding to states and at the local level. The challenge is to get all of these efforts working together, while respecting their independence and individual conservation agendas.
Sprawl & Managing Development: 3 – This is an area that calls for a lot of institution-building if we are to meet our goal to reduce the rate of loss of forests and farms by 30 percent by 2012. It is true that we have seen some movement at the state level through the Smart Growth and Growing Greener initiatives, but they have limited impact beyond state funding decisions.
What remains to be addressed is the triad of interests, each of which points to the other two as the cause of our current development patterns. The builders claim it is the buyers and the local governments that demand the large-lot zoning and standalone houses that create the pattern of sprawl. The buyers say they would live in more compact communities with local amenities if they were offered by the builders and allowed by the local governments. And the local governments say they are responding to market demand and builder preferences.
There are places in the watershed, like the Rappahannock Basin, where these three are beginning to work together on solutions to sprawl. And the Bay Program’s history of getting people to work out their differences and reach agreement on how to proceed offers hope that these nascent efforts can be cultivated and helped to spread.
Transportation: 2 – Well, something had to come in last, and this is it. It is a pity, because the new federal transportation act, known as TEA-21, has many opportunities for environmental innovation in transportation projects. But, as I set out in detail in the May Bay Journal, [“In transportation, a step of prevention is worth a pound of cure”] we lack the capacity to resolve regional transportation conflicts. Even though the transportation goals in the new agreement are among the weakest, achieving them will be one of our biggest challenges. It will require major changes not only in institutions, but in mindsets.
Public Access: 5 – This is a tough area to judge. In many respects, we have made major advances in recent years, with enactment of the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Water Trails Act, Growing Greener, Project Open Space and other initiatives at the state and local levels.
But there is still powerful resistance to general public access to the Bay in many areas. No part of the proposed agreement received such lukewarm endorsement from the public, who expressed great anxiety over how access might bring litter, pollution and other environmental degradation.
Yet the first impression of many new to the Bay region is how little access there is for those who do not own waterfront property. Everyone favors the concept of public access; in the execution lies much controversy. I am not convinced we have worked out the rules of procedure, although the Gateways Network is moving us along. A hard call.
Education: 6 – A lot of progress has been made by recent efforts to involve education authorities in the Bay Program. And private organizations like the Bay Foundation continue to carry out remarkably successful programs. The new goal to ensure that all students have a Bay or river experience will help us organize our efforts. But in a broader sense, the job of educating the general public about the Bay’s cleanup and what each person can do to help is never-ending. Innovation and involvement by teachers at all levels are part of the solution.
Community Engagement: 5 – Communication with the public is a two-way street, and we aren’t very good at driving on either side of it. We need to listen better to the needs of community groups for such things as funding for small projects and technical assistance. And, we need to get our messages out on how to help restore the rivers and the Bay. The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and other groups do a good job with many aspects of this, but resources are limited. And surveys consistently show that the best way to reach the general public is through the most expensive medium: television. Maybe we need a “Baywatch East.”
So that is my take on how well-prepared we are to deal with all the demands of the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement. When you lay them out from top to bottom they look like this:
9 – Nutrients and sediments
9 – Air pollution
8 – Wetlands regulation and restoration
8 – Toxics
7 – Oysters and crabs
7 – Land conservation
6 – Education
5 – Public access
5 – Community engagement
3 – Other fisheries management
3 – Watershed management plans
3 – Sprawl and managing development
2 – Transportation
I am sure you have your own opinions of where the greatest challenges lie, as well as some good ideas about how to build the additional institutional capacities needed. Let me know your thoughts and I will pass them on to the Bay Program partners.