Bay cleanup leaders took the first step in January toward establishing a watershedwide authority that could collect money—and redistribute it across state borders—to pay for Chesapeake restoration projects.

The Chesapeake Executive Council agreed to name representatives from each jurisdiction, along with financial and legal advisors, to a committee to determine how such an authority would operate. The council includes the governors of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania; the mayor of the District of Columbia; the EPA administrator; and the chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which represents state legislatures.

Delaware, New York and West Virginia, which are not members of the Executive Council but have agreed to help make the nutrient and sediment reductions needed to clean up the Bay, were also invited to participate on the committee, which is to make a detailed proposal by July 1.

“For two decades, Bay states and the federal government have worked together to coordinate on-the-ground restoration programs throughout the Bay watershed,” said Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, outgoing chair of the council.

“Today we are taking the first strides toward jointly prioritizing the financing of these efforts at the watershed level,” he added. “The Bay’s crabs and rockfish know no political boundaries, and neither should our restoration efforts.”

The establishment of a regional financing authority was a top recommendation by an independent Blue Ribbon Finance Panel, which was appointed by the council last year and chaired by former Virginia Gov. Gerald Baliles.

In its report, the blue ribbon panel put forth a conceptual framework for an authority representing states, nonprofit groups, stakeholders and others, which would direct funds to the most efficient and innovative projects, regardless of geography.

The authority would make low-interest loans and, in some cases, outright grants to farmers and communities who need to take actions to meet Bay cleanup goals.

The blue ribbon panel said the authority should have an initial capitalization of $15 billion, with $12 billion coming from the federal government and $3 billion from the states.

The fund would be maintained over the long term as loan recipients repaid their debts. In addition, the blue ribbon panel said the authority should be supported by an ongoing revenue stream from the states, such as development fees or surcharges on sewer and septic system users.

States would keep a portion of the fees for projects within their borders, with another portion going to the authority.

But officials say there are few precedents for such a cross-jurisdictional authority, leaving numerous details to be fleshed out. The committee appointed by the Executive Council was charged with developing a specific proposal for a funding authority, and must address four key issues:

  • the governance structure for the authority;
  • identification of any state or federal regulatory or legislative changes that are necessary;
  • examples of funding mechanisms that could generate ongoing revenue; and
  • a decision-making process for the distribution of funds.

Rather than wait a year for the next Executive Council as is usually the case, the council is considering another meeting in late summer or early fall to act on recommendations for the authority.

The council also issued directives on a number of other recommendations stemming from the blue ribbon panel’s report. Among other actions:

The council directed Bay Program leaders to reach an agreement on funding priorities that would make the best use of currently available federal, state, local and private funding.

It pledged to seek greater participation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the Bay Program. Farming remains the largest single source of nutrient pollution to the Bay, and USDA programs are a major source of financing for farm conservation programs.

It will establish a workgroup to identify potential funding opportunities that could be promoted when the next Farm Bill is written in 2007. The goal is to develop a proposal that would emphasize programs most beneficial to the Bay restoration efforts when Congress begins consideration of the next Farm Bill, which will likely begin late this year or early 2006.

It will establish a “Chesapeake Bay Watershed Funding Network” that would bring together officials overseeing the EPA’s State Revolving Loan Fund program in the watershed, USDA officials responsible for Farm Bill assistance to watershed farmers, and other financial assistance programs. The idea is to improve coordination among funding agencies and promote “co-funding” efforts where possible.

It directed the Bay Program to identify stormwater control programs that are most effective at preventing runoff; promote environmentally sensitive designs; protect resources; and which make the best use of regulatory, voluntary and incentive tools. Controlling stormwater was one of the most expensive elements of the tributary strategies, but stormwater is expected to increase as more of the watershed is developed.

Fish Passage, Oyster Plans Approved

The Executive Council approved a new fish passage goal, calling for the completion of 100 fish passage or dam removal projects between now and 2014, which will open an additional 1,000 miles of tributary habitat to migratory and resident fish.

Through 2004, the Bay Program partners have opened 1,570 river miles to migratory fish. This surpassed a 1,357-mile goal set in 1993.

The council also adopted a new Chesapeake Bay Oyster Management Plan as part of an effort to fulfill native oyster restoration goals set in the Chesapeake 2000 agreement. The plan commits Bay Program partners to work together to implement management actions that address disease, oyster sanctuaries, harvest, hatchery and aquaculture, as well as monitoring and data management.