Offering the promise of a future in which sprawl is reigned in, the Chesapeake is cleaned up and oysters are on the rebound, Bay leaders have signed off on a strengthened agreement to guide restoration efforts for at least the next decade.
The agreement not only sets measurable limits on sprawl, it carries those efforts across states lines — a first in the nation. In addition, it pledges to preserve one in five acres as permanent open space within the next decade. “This new agreement is historic, without a doubt,” said EPA Administrator Carol Browner.
Besides growth, the new Chesapeake 2000 Agreement calls for stepped-up efforts to control nutrient and sediment pollution so that the Bay can be removed from the EPA’s list of impaired waters by 2010.
It calls for setting new catch targets for blue crabs by next year to bring the Bay’s most valuable fishery back from the brink of overfishing. And, it seeks an increase in educational efforts to help people throughout the watershed understand their role as stewards, including a commitment that every student has a Bay or stream experience before graduation.
The agreement lays out more than 80 actions aimed at achieving a Bay filled with “abundant, diverse populations of living resources, fed by healthy streams and rivers, sustaining strong local and regional economies and our unique quality of life.”
Members of the Executive Council — 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 — acknowledged that the document sets an ambitious agenda.
“Taken altogether, all of these actions represent big steps into the 21st century, and big steps in the Chesapeake cleanup,” said Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening.
Writing the new cleanup plan took more than a year and a half of sometimes contentious meetings, especially over the sprawl goal. But by the time it was unveiled at a June 28 Bayside ceremony — on a day where the weather turned from hazy to drizzle — officials were uniformly upbeat in describing the future Bay that the pact will help bring about. Virginia Natural Resources Secretary John Paul Woodley even noted the weather was something to cheer about.: “After two years of drought in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, I’m not in a position to complain.”
While the agreement was hailed as “landmark” and “historic,” two of the six council members were no-shows: Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge. Ridge’s absence was known in advance, but Gilmore’s absence was a last-minute decision blamed on end-of-the-year budget issues. Woodley insisted the governor was “100 percent behind the agreement.”
There is no penalty if the jurisdictions fail to meet their stated objectives. Indeed, the states have yet to fully achieve the cornerstone goal of the 1987 Bay Agreement — a 40 percent nutrient reduction. While the phosphorus goal was met, attainment of the nitrogen goal is about two years away.
Nonetheless, just as the 40 percent goal has pushed nutrient reduction efforts for the past decade, officials are hoping the new goals will drive a myriad of activities — from finishing the job of nutrient reduction, to grappling with emerging issues of sprawl, threats by nonnative species and “multispecies” fisheries management.
“The Bay will only get cleaner if the commitments in this agreement are actually kept,” said Will Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “We call on the signatories to develop the programs needed to convert the words in the Bay agreement to improvements in the Bay ecosystem.”
One goal does carry a penalty if the Bay jurisdictions fail: the goal of correcting nutrient– and sediment-related water quality problems by 2010 so the Bay and its tidal tributaries can be removed from the EPA’s list of impaired waters. If that goal is missed, the region will need a cleanup plan known as a Total Maximum Daily Load, which could force costly regulatory mandates.
With 15 million people already living in the watershed and another 3 million expected in the next 20 years, growth threatens to eclipse cleanup progress. The new agreement calls for reducing the rate that farms and forests are developed by 30 percent over the next 12 years. “This is the first-ever agreement between state, local and federal governments recognizing the need to do something about smart growth,” Browner said.
The sprawl goal would be measured using data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Inventory, which is conducted every five years. Preliminary estimates indicate about 110,000 acres of land are developed annually in the Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania part of the watershed. If that figure holds, the new agreement would, in effect, limit development to 77,000 acres a year beginning in 2012.
Exactly how the Bay jurisdictions will accomplish that is unclear. But the agreement spells out several actions to head in that direction. For example, states are to review tax policies that could encourage sprawl by 2002, work with communities to encourage sound use planning and provide them with information about designs that reduce environmental impacts.
Besides slowing development, the agreement seeks to preserve open space by guaranteeing that one-fifth of the watershed is permanently protected through easements, land trusts or public ownership. About 16.4 percent of the watershed is now preserved. The Bay Program estimates that between 1.2 million and 1.6 million additional acres must be protected to meet the 2010 goal. A refined estimate is expected next year.
The agreement calls for a tenfold increase in oysters, measured from their low point of 1994. Oysters are not only a commercial species, but an important water filterer. If their population increases, they will help improve the Bay’s water clarity.
While water quality programs historically have focused on chemical pollution, concern has grown in recent years about “biological pollution” — the introduction of nonnative species that can permanently alter an ecosystem. The new agreement directs the Bay Program to begin identifying problematic species and developing control plans. In addition, it will work to reduce the release of ballast water from international freighters — a major source of foreign invaders.
Concern has been growing about food chain interactions in the Bay, and whether there are enough menhaden for striped bass, or whether the blue crab population is affected by striped bass predation. The agreement calls for developing “multispecies” fisheries plans by 2005 that begin to take those interactions into account in management decisions.
Underwater Bay grasses are one of the most important habitats in the Bay for juvenile fish, waterfowl, blue crabs and other species, but the amount of grass beds has declined dramatically over the years as algae blooms and sediment cut off critical sunlight for the plants. By piecing together Depression Era aerial photos, the agreement calls for setting a grass restoration goal based on what was present in the 1930s.
To bolster important natural water quality buffers, the agreement calls for restoring 25,000 acres of wetlands by 2010, and setting a new goal for planting streamside forest buffers — which are highly effective at filtering runoff — by 2003. That will go beyond the present goal of planting 2,010 miles of forest buffers by 2010. It also calls for conserving existing forests along streams.
Only about 2 percent of the Bay is now open to public access. To give more people an opportunity to experience the Bay and its tributaries, the agreement calls for increasing the number of public access points by 30 percent by 2010. It also calls for designating 500 miles of water trails in the Bay and its tributaries by 2005 to make them more accessible for canoeists, kayakers and other boaters.
The agreement calls for engaging local communities in cleanup actions and building partnerships with local governments and grassroots watershed organizations. Working with local governments and community groups, it calls for the development and implementation of local watershed management plans for two-thirds of the Bay basin by 2010. The plans are to address such issues as the protection and restoration of stream corridors, wetlands, stream flow and water supply. By 2004, the Bay Program is to issue reports about the health of stream corridors.
Ultimately, individual stewardship actions will determine how successful Bay restoration activities will be. The agreement calls for stepped-up outreach efforts — including targeted actions aimed at minority populations — to spread information about the Bay. Students and teachers are to be provided with opportunities to participate in local restoration and protection projects, and to support stewardship efforts in schools. By 2005, programs are to be in place ensuring that every student will have a meaningful Bay or stream outdoor experience before graduation.
The first steps toward implementing the agreement will be overseen by District Mayor Anthony Williams, who was named as the new chair of the Executive Council, replacing Glendening. It is the first time a District mayor has held the position. Williams pledged to promote environmental justice in the watershed to make the Bay a “great place for all — a-l-l — of our citizens.” The agreement has a commitment, pushed by Williams, calling for jurisdictions to identify by 2005, communities where historically poor water quality or environmental problems have contributed to disproportional health, economic or social impacts.
Copies of the agreement are available on the internet at www.chesapeakebay.net, or by calling by the Bay Program, 1-800-968-7229
Milestones on the Patch to a Cleaner Bay
Here are time frames set in the new Chesapeake 2000 Agreement for reaching some of its goals:
- Establish a task force to help establish and implement a national program designed to reduce or eliminate the introduction of non-native species carried in ships’ ballast water.
- Revise the Chesapeake Bay Basinwide Toxics Reduction and Prevention Strategy.
- Establish harvest targets for the blue crab fishery and begin implementing Baywide fisheries management strategies.
- Determine water quality conditions needed to protect living aquatic resources and use them to assign nutrient and sediment reductions to each major tributary.
- Revise restoration goals for underwater grass beds to reflect the historic abundance of the 1930s.
- Each Bay jurisdiction will expand the use of clean vehicle technologies and fuels so that a greater percentage of their vehicle fleets use some form of clean technology.
- Assess the effects of airborne nitrogen compounds and chemical contaminants on the Bay ecosystem and establish reduction goals.
- Establish appropriate areas within the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries as “no discharge zones” for treated human waste from boats.
- Complete fish passages that reopen 1,357 miles of rivers to migratory fish.
- Develop and implement management plans for those exotic species posing the greatest threat to the restoration and integrity of the Bay’s ecosystem.
- Adopt and implement strategies to maintain the sediment retention capabilities of the lower Susquehanna River dams.
- Jurisdictions with tidal waters will revise or adopt new water quality standards which will be the basis for determining a “clean Bay” that can be removed from the EPA’s impaired water list.
- Develop stream corridor restoration goals based on local watershed management planning in each jurisdiction.
- Assess the effects of different population sizes of filter feeders on Bay water quality and habitat.
- Provide a meaningful Bay or stream outdoor experience for every school student in the watershed.
- Achieve and maintain an average wetlands restoration rate of 2,500 acres per year.
o Develop ecosystem-based multispecies management plans for targeted species.
- Increase the number of designated water trails in the Chesapeake Bay region by 500 miles.
- Achieve a tenfold increase in native oysters in the Bay, measured from a 1994 baseline.
- Develop and implement locally supported watershed management plans in two-thirds of the Bay watershed.
- Achieve a net gain in wetlands by restoring 25,000 acres of tidal or nontidal wetlands.
- Complete restoration of 2,010 miles of forest buffer along streams.
- Achieve a clean Chesapeake by correcting the nutrient and sediment water quality problems and removing the Bay from the EPA’s list of impaired waters.
- Eliminate mixing zones, through voluntary means, for persistent or bioaccumulative chemicals.
- Permanently preserve from development 20 percent of the land area in the Bay watershed portions of Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia.
- Rehabilitate and restore 1,050 brownfield sites to productive use.
- Expand the number and availability of waste pump-out facilities or boats by 50 percent.
- Expand the number of public access points to the Bay and its tributaries and related resource sites by 30 percent.
- Reduce the rate of harmful sprawl development of forest and agricultural land in the watershed by 30 percent.