As one of the largest landowners in the Chesapeake watershed, the federal government wants to set a stewardship example through its actions, both on the land and in the Bay.

To emphasize that point, senior officials from a score of agencies and departments signed the “Federal Agencies Chesapeake Ecosystem Unified Plan” committing them to 50 specific actions to improve the Bay, from restoring wetlands to bringing space-age technology to the cleanup effort.

“Today’s announcement renews the Clinton administration’s commitment to protecting public health and the environment throughout the Chesapeake Bay and its many tributaries,” EPA Administrator Carol Browner said at a Nov. 5 signing ceremony at Fort McNair in the District of Columbia. “This is a significant cooperative effort aimed at preserving one of our greatest national treasures.”

Combined, federal agencies control nearly 2.2 million acres of the the Bay watershed — nearly 5 percent of all the land in the drainage basin. Most of that is owned by the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service and the Department of Defense.

On those lands, agencies promised to take specific actions to reduce nutrient runoff, plant streamside forest buffers and restore at least 100 acres of wetlands a year, beginning in 2000.

But the agreement recognizes that even federal agencies that don’t manage land can play a role in protecting the Bay.

“I came here today in an electric vehicle,” said David Barram, administrator of the General Services Administration. Barram went on to say his agency was working to improve the energy efficiency of government buildings, championing telecommuting for employees and promoting the use of alternative fuels.

Under the agreement, the GSA pledged to minimize the loss of natural areas at new and rehabilitated federal facilities, use low-impact development techniques that minimize runoff and reduce impervious surfaces, and promote environmentally friendly landscaping, such as BayScapes, at government buildings.

The agreement follows up a 1994 document that committed many federal agencies to try to incorporate restoration and protection efforts in their management, but contained few specific tasks. It also stems from the Clinton administration’s Clean Water Action Plan, released earlier this year, which directs federal agencies to work together to improve watershed management around the country.

Most of the commitments in the new agreement have dates by which they are to be achieved and charge a specific agency with responsibility to oversee the activity.

Several agencies are, for the first time, charged with specific actions. The Federal Highway Administration will study the impacts of road construction on growth and development within the Bay watershed. The review will look at how roads influence storm water flows, increase nutrient and toxic runoff, spur land use changes and affect air pollution.

In some cases, the commitments are already projects agreed to in other Bay Program commitments, such as restoring 200 miles of streamside forest buffers on federal land, or in other federal documents, such as the Clean Water Action Plan.

But the agreement, signed by agency and department heads, will help give projects within the Bay watershed a higher priority, said Bill Matuszeski, director of the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program Office.

“Most of the agencies have limited budgets for habitat, wetlands, fish passages and these kinds of restoration efforts,” Matuszeski said. “This helps to get on-the-ground projects higher priorities within all these agencies, because it is part of an overall interagency effort.”

A Federal Commitment to the Bay

Here are some of the commitments made by federal agencies to protect the Chesapeake Bay:

  • Restore 100 acres of wetlands a year on federal land within the watershed beginning in 2000.
  • Complete two habitat restoration projects a year on federal lands within the watershed beginning in 2000.
  • Identify blockages to fish migration on federal lands by the end of 1999, and open at least 50 miles of those streams to migration by the end of 2003.
  • Identify four areas for aquatic reef siting in locations adjacent to federal facilities by the end of 1999.
  • Complete a conservation landscaping and BayScapes guide for federal land managers by the beginning of 2000, and integrate conservation landscaping into federal agency design criteria by July 31, 2001.
  • Develop nutrient management plans for federal lands within the watershed by the end of 2000.
  • Implement comprehensive integrated pest management programs, which help reduce the use of pesticides, on 75 percent of all federally owned lands in the watershed by the end of 2000.
  • Compile and provide information on the occurrence of toxics in wildlife in the Bay ecosystem by the beginning of 2003.
  • Increase federal support to the states for pfiesteria research, monitoring and response.
  • Open at least 200 additional miles of federally owned shoreline and tidal waters to new, or enhanced, public access opportunities by 2005.