The development of “tributary strategies” has been proclaimed the cornerstone of the Bay Program’s implementation plan for the Chesapeake 2000 agreement. Sadly, the draft strategies recently released in Maryland reveal that there is no silver bullet here.
In fact, even if the draft strategies were implemented totally and worked to perfection, they still would not meet Maryland’s share of the 110 million pound nitrogen reduction goal, which may in itself not be enough to restore healthy water. What’s more, Maryland has been heralded as leading the other Bay states in tributary strategy development. Pennsylvania and Virginia are still far behind.
We applaud the many volunteers who have spent countless hours on the tributary strategies. However, the current draft strategies do not achieve the needed reductions in nitrogen pollution. This is a severe blow to their good efforts. While the tributary strategies process can still be a critical piece of the overall restoration effort, significant time has been lost as the Bay system continues to suffer from pollution.
Immediate action is needed on two fronts. First, the federal Clean Water Act must be enforced to stop nitrogen pollution discharged from sewage treatment plants and industry. This can be done without further delay using technology that is available and affordable.
Second, the tributary strategies, when finalized in April, must be sufficient to reach the commitments made by the states in the Chesapeake 2000 agreement.
The states are already almost two years behind schedule, and Virginia and Pennsylvania have no excuse for their foot-dragging. They must now play catch-up with Maryland, and quickly.
Furthermore, the Maryland strategies can and must be improved so that they achieve the goal, monitor the pollution reduction efforts, provide for accountability and address funding issues. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has prepared specific and detailed recommendations which are available on our web site at www.cbf.org.
The Chesapeake Bay Program has the potential to be a world-class model of excellence—the standard by which every other complex environmental restoration program is measured.
If actions are taken, the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries can be restored, and all in the watershed will benefit. But this will become reality only if extraordinary leadership is exhibited now to dramatically reduce pollution.
Whether at the tributary level, or the Baywide watershed level, difficult decisions are being avoided. There is a point in time at which the Bay will not be able to bounce back. We are inching ever closer.