There is great anticipation when the Chesapeake Executive Council-the policy group leading the Chesapeake Bay Program-meets annually to evaluate restoration progress and chart the direction of efforts to restore and protect the Chesapeake Bay. This year's meeting was very different, with exciting new results.

On Dec. 5, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley chaired the Executive Council along with fellow members Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine, Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell, District of Columbia Mayor Adrian Fenty, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, and Chesapeake Bay Commission Chair James Hubbard.

All of the Executive Council members attended the meeting, something that hasn't happened in many years.

Delaware Secretary of Agriculture Michael Scuse, U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey, and Bill Brannon, representing West Virginia, also participated.

They began the five-hour meeting with feedback from a variety of people and perspectives.

I gave a brief "State of the Bay" update. Ann Swanson of the Chesapeake Bay Commission described their recent report, Biofuels and the Bay, and the significant impacts of increased corn production in response to a growing appetite for ethanol. The council members were offered guidance from the three Advisory Committee chairs: Scientific and Technical, Local Government and Citizen's.

They also heard a very frank assessment of Bay restoration progress from Will Baker and Keith Campbell, president and chairman of the board of trustees of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, respectively. Inviting input from the region's largest environmental group at their private meeting was another first for the Executive Council.

With this background and advice, the Executive Council spent nearly two hours in a private session discussing actions that could be taken to accelerate restoration efforts. The focus of their discussion centered on efforts to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution from agriculture, wastewater treatment plants and development.

Under the leadership of Chairman O'Malley, the members came together and clearly acknowledged that we are behind in our progress to meet the water quality goals that were set nearly eight years ago.

Another "first" for the Executive Council was demonstrated when each of the participants came willing to "champion" an issue or a cause. Champions committed themselves to tackle an issue on behalf of the partnership, to serve as a model, and to assist each other in implementing similar efforts.

The champion concept specifically addressed accelerating restoration actions as well as increasing concerns about biofuels and development in the Bay watershed. This concept proved to be a catalyst for actions by several of the partners:

  • Governor O'Malley described Maryland's new $50 million Chesapeake Bay "Green Fund" passed during a special session of the legislature in November.
  • Governor Kaine announced that Virginia would meet its point source reduction goals by 2010 by an infusion of new money into the Water Quality Improvement Fund and the addition of a nutrient trading program that will save rate payers $200 million over the next few years. Governor Kaine further committed Virginia to focus on delivering more effective and cost-efficient conservation practices to farmers in an effort to bolster the region's work on agriculture.
  • Mayor Fenty and the EPA jointly announced a landmark agreement to implement new green infrastructure enhancements to protect the Potomac and Anacostia rivers from polluted storm water runoff.
  • Administrator Johnson also announced $6 million in innovative implementation grants that will foster result-oriented approaches to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution.
  • The U.S. Navy announced a pioneering Low Impact Development policy for "no net increase" in polluted stormwater runoff from new or redevelopment projects on Navy and Marine Corps facilities.
  • Governor Rendell and Delegate Hubbard took the lead on exploring ways to promote alternative energy production such as cellulosic ethanol using switchgrass or other crops. They will host a Biofuels Summit in 2008 to further explore ways to reduce the nutrient threat to the Bay from increased corn production while at the same time not harming the region's farmers.
    Governor Rendell also committed Pennsylvania to support funding for a scientific study of another potential threat-the sediment behind Conowingo Dam.
    He also called on the watershed governors and mayor to send a letter to Congress urging the passage of the federal Farm Bill before the year's end.
  • The Chesapeake Bay Commission also committed itself to continue efforts to promote the passage of the Farm Bill as well as to help secure funding for upgrades to the Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant, which receives wastewater from the District and parts of suburban Maryland and Virginia.
  • Through the leadership of USDA's Rey and the U.S. Forest Service, the council adopted a new forest protection goal to permanently protect an additional 695,000 acres of high-value forests throughout the Bay watershed.
  • Secretary Scuse committed Delaware to champion the region's efforts on carbon sequestration.

These new and tangible actions will help to accelerate restoration efforts and move us toward a restored Chesapeake.

We face many challenges in the Chesapeake watershed as a result of the impacts of its 16 million residents. The central problem is too much nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment leaving the land and entering our waters. These pollutants come from three major sources-point sources (mostly wastewater treatment plants), agriculture and development.

Generally, we have a very clear picture of how to address the first two sources.

We need to continue to refine the technologies for reducing nutrients at wastewater facilities-making them cheaper and more efficient-as well as find the financial resources to upgrade all of the major plants in the Bay watershed.

On the agricultural front, we need to ensure that farms remain economically viable and implement good conservation practices to keep nutrients on the land and out of streams. Maintaining economically viable and well-run farms throughout the six-state Bay watershed is one of the best legacies we can leave to our children and the Chesapeake.

The Executive Council discussed the challenge of development, which grows annually with 170,000 new watershed residents. This threat to water quality is growing, and the magic bullet was neither found nor proposed. But the topic was not ignored-and that is a major step in the right direction.

Both Maryland and West Virginia agreed to champion efforts to further engage local governments in efforts to reduce water quality impacts from development.

EPA Administrator Johnson will work with the federal partners to increase actions to accelerate restoration. Part of that commitment resulted in the Navy's announcement for its new LID policy, Meanwhile, the EPA will continue to work with the Department of Defense to apply this policy to the Army and Air Force to help mitigate Base Realignment and Closure-related development.

I am very excited by the leadership that was displayed at this year's Executive Council meeting, as well as the commitment to accelerate restoration progress immediately.

This will be no easy task, but important pieces of the puzzle were put into place on Dec. 5 when our leadership showed up to lead.

As Governor O'Malley commented, our progress will be more transparent and our leadership accountable-we must not let that momentum slow.

The actions of the Executive Council demonstrate a renewed commitment to put the policies, programs and funding in place to restore the Chesapeake Bay...a good step forward.