I was asked recently to present to the Board of Directors of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay what I think are the emerging issues in the Chesapeake Bay Program. It was a heady time; on the day before and at the very same site as the Board meeting, the president and vice president had announced a "Clean Water Action Plan" for the nation. Even more, the action plan is a national blueprint that draws many of its major components from the way we are already doing business here in the Chesapeake.
A number of reasons for this comes to mind. Among them are our proximity and visibility to the nation's capital, the presence of many with "the Chesapeake experience" in key positions in the adminis- tration, and the kind of issues we have been raising.
Four years ago, we told Washington that the current regulations governing animal agriculture under the Clean Water Act were inadequate to the task. Three years ago, we called for a national effort to develop nutrient criteria for states to set standards for the discharge of nitrogen and phosphorous. Two years ago, we began building coalitions with other eastern states to deal with the effects of air pollution on coastal water bodies; and we started to work on bringing local governments and community-based activities into the formula for restoring the Bay. And last year, we faced down pfiesteria and sought a national response to this newly recognized threat to human health from nutrients.
All these efforts are now "going national" as part of the Clean Water Action Plan. And our priority must be to work together to assure we are in the lead on responding to the financial as well as other opportunities which may come from the action plan and any related actions by Congress.
Along those lines, the Bay Program has already set a meeting of top state and federal officials in the Bay states for May in the form of an Agriculture/Environment Summit.
Our highest priority must always be to keep our leaders on the cutting edge. That is why the identification of emerging issues is so important. Of all the issues, animal agriculture promises to keep center stage in the region and nationally. And while there is a great deal in the action plan about what this federal agency or that will accomplish, there are real limits to what existing federal laws can accomplish in this complex sphere.
For the Bay Program this is our leadership opportunity. For us, the emerging issue is how the states can enact laws and develop programs that can be woven with these disparate federal authorities into a workable, creative, compassionate, economically viable and politically acceptable structure to deal with the issues. These state efforts can and should go beyond the quasi-regulatory approaches inherent in the national Clean Water Act, and include tax incentives, other positive encouragement, sound planning, and, where necessary, requirements and compliance provisions.
Most important, this state-managed approach can take good advantage of the substantial proposed increases in federal monetary assistance to agriculture and other sources of runoff. This is one emerging issue area where there are real opportunities for the creative.
Turning to other areas, the Bay Program has been energized for years by our commitment to a 40 percent reduction in nutrient loadings by 2000, and we should be heartened by the number of other areas of the country and the world that have emulated our approach. But the other part of that commitment - to hold nutrient loadings at the reduced level after 2000 - is fast coming due.
We need to start planning now for how this will be done. What will happen when a new sewage treatment plant is needed to serve an expanding population? Will there be nutrient credits or a nutrient bank to sell or lend loading capacity? Who will buy and who will sell? Do they need to be geographically proximate? No one I know has ever dealt with these issues on a watershed basis, although there is a long and generally successful record of trading and crediting schemes under the Clean Air Act. Personally, I believe that figuring this one out is our most critical emerging issue right now.
Another area that deserves attention is how to define our next generation of Bay Program goals. We are world class when it comes to setting clear and measurable goals the public can relate to, but a number of them are coming due, including the most prominent one - our 40 percent nutrient reduction. We already know we will need to do more in some areas, and have begun efforts to target further nutrient reductions, much as we are targeting toxic reductions and habitat restoration areas. But targeting makes it difficult to set overall clear goals, and while we already have numbers that reach into the future - forest buffer miles by 2010, fish passage by 2003, etc. - they cry out for a framework and some overall context. Maybe the answer lies in the work we are undertaking at the small watershed level, or somewhere else where folks are hard at work. It needs some thought.
That local watershed, or small watershed or community-based focus is another emerging area. Starting with the Local Government Participation Action Plan, and now adding the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay's Declaration for Our Rivers, the Bay Program's Community Watershed Initiative and Small Watershed Grant Program, and the growing list of citizen-based restoration activities, we are beginning to get things down to the working level where the changes are on-the-ground and in-the-water.
This is making the recovery of the streams and rivers and the Bay real and doable for the general public. In fact, this area has developed so quickly that there is a general aura of chaos, which may be OK for now, but which will soon call out for some order and direction.
Finally, I believe there is a profound change under way in the Bay cleanup effort. I am referring to a shift in effort from trying to bring about the recovery of this huge ecosystem to trying to manage it as it struggles to come back.
There are signs of this recovery in some of the conflicts that are beginning to arise - conflicts in uses by man, but more important, conflicts among natural forces as they seek to come into some natural balance as a system. Some say, for example, that if there were no fish present there would have been no pfiesteria attacks. Or that perhaps the rockfish are starving for lack of zooplankton to feed the fish they eat. Or that clammers were not perceived as a threat when grass beds covered less area than they do today.
Now, you could disagree with any of these examples, but together they make the point. These kinds of imbalances and conflicts are likely to be characteristic of a recovering system such as we may be beginning to experience. More important, we must question whether we have in place the institutional capability to deal with these conflicts in the time frame they are likely to demand.
We may need to decide what action needs to be taken within days. Yet, too often the existing institutions we depend on are accustomed to acting in months or years - with "legislative study groups" or "fishery management plan amendments" or "changes in regulations."
We need to ask ourselves how long we can afford such "soap box derby" capabilities, when the Chesapeake is calling for someone who can pilot a race car at 150 miles per hour. We need to start training now for the faster world the recovering Bay will thrust upon us, and designing the new institutions we need to manage it. No small task!