On May 12, President Barack Obama made history when he issued the first-ever presidential directive on the Chesapeake Bay when he signed Executive Order 13508.
Nearly six months later, on Nov. 9, the federal government answered the president's call to form a comprehensive new strategy for protecting and restoring the Chesapeake Bay.
Led by the EPA, this impressive effort encompassed federal agencies from the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, Interior and Transportation, who worked in collaboration with the six Bay watershed states, the District of Columbia, the Chesapeake Bay Commission and other key stakeholders.
The draft strategy released on Nov. 9 contains eight federal initiatives that address the challenges facing the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed. The initiatives stem from seven reports developed under section 202 of the executive order, which were also released last month and contain more detailed information about the actions listed under each initiative.
While these initiatives show the breadth of the federal partnership that has formed to lead Chesapeake Bay restoration into a new era, it is important to note that our future success depends on a collective effort among state and local governments, nonprofit organizations, the private sector and the watershed's 17 million residents.
I want to briefly highlight the key points of each of the eight initiatives, which support three broad goals: to restore clean water in communities throughout the Chesapeake region; to conserve treasured landscapes and restore fish, wildlife and their habitats; and to adapt to the effects of climate change.
Using expanded regulatory tools, the EPA will lead the charge to reduce pollution and restore water quality. The six Bay states and the District of Columbia must develop and implement detailed pollution-reduction plans as part of the Bay TMDL (total maximum daily load, or pollution budget). Two-year milestones will ensure that all practices needed to restore the Bay and its local waterways are in place by 2025.
The EPA will also increase coverage and raise standards for concentrated animal feeding operations, stormwater runoff and new pollution dischargers unless the states strengthen their permits. A Chesapeake Bay compliance and enforcement strategy will ensure that these and other pollution sources meet legal requirements.
An enhanced partnership between the EPA and the USDA called Healthy Waters, Thriving Agriculture feeds into another important USDA action to conserve the region's farm and forest lands. The agency will aggressively target voluntary conservation actions in high-priority watersheds to protect the farms and forests that are so critical to the health and beauty of the Bay's streams, runs and rivers.
The draft strategy also emphasizes improving stormwater management on federal properties and reducing polluted runoff from new and existing roads.
When we think about the Chesapeake watershed and its network of tributaries, we envision irreplaceable natural areas, from West Virginia's mountain streams to the pine forests of Delmarva. These areas are critical not only because of their benefit to wildlife and water quality, but also for their links to recreation, history and culture.
To recognize and protect these valuable areas, the Department of the Interior and other key federal partners will pursue the development of a Chesapeake Treasured Landscapes Initiative. Our region may see new or expanded national parks, wildlife refuges or historic trails as a result of this vital program.
Additional large-scale habitat efforts will come from a partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who will work together on a campaign to restore aquatic and upland habitats and manage fish and wildlife.
NOAA and the Army Corps of Engineers will also lead a revitalized endeavor to recover oyster reefs and establish self-sustaining oyster sanctuaries by 2020.
One of the Chesapeake's most significant challenges is climate change. NOAA and the U.S. Geological Survey are leading the development of the federal strategy for adapting to the effects of climate change on the watershed, including rising sea levels, warmer temperatures and stronger storms.
Empowering local efforts and engaging the watershed's citizens are critical to achieving the draft strategy's new goals and measures. Federal agencies will expand technical assistance programs, support innovative and emerging methods such as markets for ecosystem services, as well as smart growth principles for livable, Bay-friendly communities.
Science is behind the entire Bay restoration effort and keeps us informed of our progress toward conservation goals. The cornerstone of the initiative to use science to drive decision-making is ChesapeakeStat, a web-based tool for tracking partner activities, spending and progress. ChesapeakeStat will be publicly accessible and serve as a comprehensive accountability tool for all Bay and watershed restoration activities.
As we move forward on these initiatives into a new period for restoration, the federal government must lead by example. The Bay Program will increase its transparency through ChesapeakeStat and other public reporting tools, as well as a fully independent review of our water quality activities.
In turn, Bay Program partners must commit to historic coordination and full integration of their restoration activities and programs.
With this draft strategy, we begin to move forward into a new era of federal leadership, accountability and responsibility on the restoration and protection of the Chesapeake Bay.
Federal agencies need to hear from their state, nonprofit, local government, citizen and private partners to help make the final strategy robust enough to restore the Bay and its network of streams, creeks and rivers.
The draft strategy is available for public comment, which will be vital in shaping the final strategy to be released in May. Please take time to visit http://executiveorder.chesapeakebay.net and submit your formal comment on the draft strategy. Click on the "Provide Feedback" button, which will direct you to the proper feedback form.
Together, the voices of the watershed's residents will help to shape this draft document and enhance our progress toward realizing a restored Chesapeake Bay.