The Bay Program will attempt to "fully engage" the watershed's more than 1,650 local governments in the Chesapeake restoration effort during the next year.
An initiative signed Nov. 30 at the annual Chesapeake Executive Council meeting recognizes local governments as "increasingly important partners" as the Bay Program strives to reach its goal of reducing nutrients entering the Bay 40 percent by the turn of the century.
"For the first time ever, local elected officials will be assured an essential role in the direction and the commitments in the Bay Program," said Virginia Gov. George Allen, outgoing chairman of the Council, "and that is real progress."
The Executive Council is the Bay Program's top, policy-making body. It includes the governors of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania, the mayor of the District of Columbia, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and the chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which represents the legislatures of the three states.
As states have written "tributary strategies" to curb the amount of nutrients reaching the Bay, it has been apparent that reaching the goal will mean additional stormwater controls, sewage treatment plant upgrades and land management efforts, such as protecting forest buffers along stream. Those decisions are largely in the hands of local governments.
"Local government can be a potent force in the Bay," said Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening, who was attending his first Executive Council meeting. "Just as the Bay starts in its tributaries, local government can be where the new era of the Bay cleanup begins."
The policy directs the Bay Program to convene a task force by Feb. 1 that will outline steps to incorporate local governments' participation in Bay Program activities; broaden outreach efforts to local governments; identify sources of funding and technical assistance for local government activities; and recommend changes to the Bay Program organizational structure and functions.
In addition, the Bay Program's Local Government Advisory Committee will prepare a handbook to help local governments initiate Bay restoration projects. The Bay Program will also initiate a "Bay Partner Communities" program to recognize outstanding local government initiatives to protect water quality and watershed resources. A conference will take place by October 1996 that will provide local governments with an opportunity to exchange ideas and techniques for environmental protection initiatives.
In other actions, the Council also
Set a goal of implementing integrated pest management practices on 50 percent of commercial land and 25 percent of residential land by the turn of the century. Integrated pest management includes a variety of control techniques aimed at reducing the use of pesticides. The goal will be incorporated into the Chesapeake Bay Basinwide Toxics Reduction and Prevention Strategy, which the council adopted last year. [For more about the toxics strategy, see "Council adopts revised toxics reduction strategy," in the November 1994 Bay Journal.]
Adopted the recommendations of a recent report by the Chesapeake Bay Commission, "The Introduction of Nonindigenous Species to the Chesapeake Bay Via Ballast Water." The report outlined the threat posed to the Bay from the introduction of nonnative species through ballast water, which cargo ships take in at one port to help stabilize the vessel, then discharge at their destination port, often transporting living organisms in the process. The report made a number of recommendations, such as calling for national ballast water management guidelines, educational materials for ship crews, worldwide ballast water management protocols, the development of new vessel designs, and other actions. [For more about the report, see "Playing 'Ecological Roulette,'" in the April 1995 Bay Journal.]
"We are the first region in the nation to examine this issue, and rightfully so," said Michael Weir, chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Commission. "Together, the ports of Baltimore and Norfolk receive more ballast water than any other port on the Atlantic Coast."
Also attending his first Executive Council meeting was Pennsylvania Gov. Thomas Ridge, who reaffirmed his state's commitment to the Bay cleanup. He noted that his choice to head the Department of Environmental Protection, James Seif, helped to write the 1987 Bay Agreement when he was administrator for EPA Region III.
"At EPA, when he co-authored the 1987 Agreement, he didn't realize the governor in 1995 would say, 'Now that you've set the standards and goals, meet them,'" Ridge said. He acknowledged that the state's draft tributary strategy fails to achieve the 40 percent reduction, but said, "we won't give up until we get there."
Returning to the council was District of Columbia Mayor Marion Barry, the only current member who had signed either the 1983 Bay Agreement, which created the cooperative cleanup effort, or the 1987 Bay Agreement, which set the nutrient reduction goal.
Barry recalled that when he signed the 1983 document, the Potomac River was so polluted, "you couldn't hardly find a fish in it, and once you caught one you shouldn't eat it. But here we are in 1995, and the Potomac is cleaner. The fish have come back."
EPA Administrator Carol Browner was selected as the Council's new chairman. She called the Bay Program "a very important effort for us at EPA" and praised it as a model of bipartisan cooperation.
While Congress had proposed an overall 22 percent budget cut in the agency, lawmakers planned to fully fund the Bay Program, and she credited the governors for working with the EPA to help protect the Bay cleanup effort.
"I want to praise all of my colleagues on the council," Browner said. "We have worked in a strong, bipartisan manner to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay through an obviously difficult budget time."