The early hours of May 12, 2010, in Washington, D.C. began with ominous overcast skies and patches of fog. But by midmorning, when people gathered on a large wooden platform over the Anacostia River, the sky was blue and the sun shined brightly.
This shift in weather felt like an appropriate reflection of the hope and opportunity brought by President Barack Obama's Chesapeake Bay Executive Order issued one year earlier. That morning, with the waters of the Anacostia passing below, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson unveiled the Strategy for Protecting and Restoring the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
"It's a new era for our work on the Chesapeake Bay," Jackson declared. "This strategy outlines the broadest partnerships, the strongest protections and the most accountability we've seen in decades."
While this issue of Bay Journal describes many of the initiatives and the entire strategy is found at http://executiveorder.chesapeakebay.net,?we all need to understand the focus that agencies on the Federal Leadership Committee took in developing the strategy.
This strategy is about much more than just the Chesapeake Bay-it provides a road map to the restoration and protection needed in communities across the landscape and in thousands of streams, creeks and rivers throughout the 64,000-square-mile watershed.
Federal agencies recognize that the natural resources of the Chesapeake region are important to the lives and livelihood of 17 million people, and that local communities have the greatest impact on their local environment. The strategy directly supports the restoration activities of local governments, watershed groups, county conservation districts, landowners and citizens.
Many of the federal actions will provide economic benefits for communities, citizens and the region, including conserving working farms and forests, expanding oyster aquaculture, supporting conservation corps programs and green jobs, and the developing an innovative environmental marketplace for selling, buying and trading credits for pollution reductions.
The strategy also reflects the unprecedented depth and breadth of federal commitment actions and resources dedicated to the Chesapeake region. Agencies will be aggressively targeting resources where they can have the most impact-areas with the most pollution and potential for runoff, with the highest potential for restoring fish and wildlife, and with habitats and lands most in need of protection.
As one of the largest landowners in the region-owning 5.3 percent of land in the watershed, the federal government will lead by example by restoring water quality, habitats, fish and wildlife; conserving lands; and increasing public access on its properties.
What makes this strategy different from plans of the past is accountability. Federal agencies are establishing several systems that provide transparent, public reporting of activities, funding and progress toward goals.
Federal agencies will join the states in establishing two-year milestones with many federal efforts designed to support the states and District of Columbia in meeting their current and future water quality milestones. But federal agencies will also develop appropriate two-year milestones for the outcomes outlined in the strategy beyond those for water quality.
Each year, an annual action plan will identify the protection and restoration activities that federal agencies will implement to move toward achieving the strategy's goals, and will describe in detail the funding and projects for the year ahead.
Stakeholders across the watershed will have the opportunity to review and provide input to the action plan, with the first year's version, to be published by Sept. 30, 2010.
An annual progress report will assess the success of the federal agencies' efforts in implementing the actions identified in the preceding year's action plan. There will also be a thorough and ongoing independent evaluation of the implementation of the strategy's actions, including progress toward environmental goals.
Over next year, the Federal Leadership Committee will work with the Chesapeake Bay Program partners to appropriately integrate the Executive Order strategy into the Bay Program's structure and work with state partners to ensure long-term coordination and accountability in restoring the Bay watershed.
The Executive Order strategy recognizes the urgent need for a renewed commitment to restoration. Many of the necessary conditions for success are already in place in the form of leadership, science and public support. Restoring clean water and protecting nature throughout the Bay watershed region is a duty we have to the people who call this place home and those who will come after us.
We all need to be actively involved so that those in future generations can point to this time as the defining moment for reviving the integrity and splendor of the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed.