Since it included a 40 percent nutrient reduction by 2000 goal in its 1987 Bay Agreement, setting quantifiable measures has become a hallmark of the Bay Program.

Subsequent commitments and directives usually pledge to do certain things by certain times. The goals aren’t always met, but they usually serve to drive things forward.

“I get to work in a lot of forums across the country,” said EPA Administrator Carol Browner, “but the reason this one has been as successful as it has been is because we have been willing to set real numeric goals; that we have been willing to say to the public, ‘Here’s where we’re headed, hold us accountable; here is a number that can be measured.’”

By that standard, how does the draft Chesapeake 2000 agreement measure up?

It calls for 74 specific actions. Of those, 32 are essentially unmeasurable, having neither dates for attainment nor goals that can be quantified.

On the other hand, it has seven commitments with action-oriented goals and dates, with an eighth commitment in dispute:

  • Increasing the number of public access points to the Bay, its tributaries and related resource sites by 30 percent by 2010.
  • Expand the number of and availability of waste pumpout facilities for recreational boats by 50 percent by 2010.
  • Achieve a tenfold increase in oysters in the Chesapeake Bay by 2010, measured from a 1994 baseline.
  • Restore 25,000 acres of wetlands by 2010.
  • Correct all nutrient-related problems in the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries by 2010 so they can be removed from the impaired waters list under the Clean Water Act.
  • Rehabilitate 1,050 brownfield sites to productive use by 2010.
  • Increase the number of designated water trails in the watershed by 500 miles by 2005.
  • The draft also calls for reducing the rate of open space development 30 percent by 2010, but that has not been agreed to by all the jurisdictions.

Another dozen commitments have dates, but the goals are for the completion of reports or plans rather than specific actions.

Another handful of commitments only continue existing activities. For example, by 2003, states are to ensure that measures are in place to meet the riparian restoration goal of 2,010 miles of forest buffers by 2010. There is also a recommitment to the goal of restoring 114,000 acres of grasses (with no date), and another goal to achieve a no-net-loss of wetlands in regulatory programs, which is already supposed to be a goal of those programs.

By far, the draft agreement’s most specific commitments are those aimed at managing living resources and improving water quality — areas where the Bay Program has been most active in the past.

Improving water quality was, more or less, forced upon the region when the Bay was listed as an “impaired” waterway, something that would result in an enforceable cleanup program being placed on the watershed in 2011. To prevent that, the new agreement seeks to clean up the Bay by 2010 — in other words, they hope to complete the job before the EPA would otherwise force them to even begin.

In the realm of living resources, the most aggressive goal is a tenfold increase in oysters by 2010, something that could have a significant impact on Bay water quality and ecology. Oysters, whose population in the Bay has been ravaged by disease and overfishing, can filter large amounts of water as they feed, improving overall water quality and clarity as they remove algae and other material. Some scientists believe a healthy oyster population is as important to cleaning up the Bay as pollution controls.

In addition, oyster reefs provide important habitat for a wide range of fish and shellfish. Recent advances in rearing disease-tolerant oysters and the construction of oyster reefs have offered encouragement for recovery efforts. Last year, a team of oyster specialists from universities in Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina signed a consensus document calling for stepped-up restoration efforts.

Also in the living resource realm, the agreement calls for changing the way the blue crab fishery is managed by setting setting harvest targets by 2001 aimed at maintaining a healthy stock, measured in terms of age structure, biomass and size. That would be a more conservative approach than what is used today. Realistically, a bi-state panel of fisheries managers was already moving in that direction, although the agreement does give a nudge from the Executive Council.

In addition, the agreement forges ahead in such areas as multispecies management, directing that future fishery plans take into account such things as predator-prey relationships and the ecological role of species, rather than narrowly focusing on maximizing catches of individual species.

The agreement also calls for adjusting restoration goals by 2002 to reflect the amount of underwater grasses that were in the Bay during the 1930s. The new “clean Bay” goals are to achieve water clarity that would allow grasses to grow in those areas.

It also takes a step forward in exotic species, calling for the identification of non-native species that are harming the aquatic ecosystem by 2002, and the development of management plans for those species by 2004.

But as the agreement moves away from living resources and nutrient-related water quality issues, the firmness of the commitments also fades.

For toxics, the agreement calls for a “zero release” of chemical pollutants using voluntary pollution prevention techniques, but doesn’t say when that should be achieved. That’s not much of a step forward from the Bay Program’s previous goal of a “Bay free of toxics,” which would seem to imply zero discharge.

Similarly, other actions sound fine, but will be hard to measure.

For example, the agreement calls on making “public outreach and citizen interaction a priority,” and to “use the latest communications technologies” to make information available.

It calls on states to “encourage the use” of low impact development designs which minimize runoff, and to “strengthen programs for land acquisition and preservation within each state.”

The new agreement emphasizes working with local governments to promote better land use decisions and encourages watershed-based planning to protect wetlands and other important resources.

But it’s hard to say whether such direction in the new agreement will be more effective than similar guidance in the 1987 agreement. For example, the new document calls for providing “analytical tools to local governments and communities for watershed-based assessment of the impacts of growth, development and transportation decisions.” That doesn’t sound much different from the 1987 agreement, which called for assisting “local governments in evaluating land-use and development decisions.”

The new agreement calls for continued efforts to integrate Chesapeake Bay messages in school curriculums, expanding outreach efforts to citizens, seeking to “enhance funding” for community-based restoration projects and developing a clearinghouse for information about local watershed restoration efforts.

Collectively, many of those commitments could add up to making a big difference for the Bay — if action takes place. But again, many of those less-defined goals echo vaguely from the 1987 agreement. It, too, had unquantifiable goals for such things as “provide curricula and field experiences for students” and promote “noteworthy examples of local government restoration and protection-related programs.”

Mike Hirshfield, vice president for resource protection with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and a former scientist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, gave the draft a mixed review. “If the land conversion language stays in, it is a definite improvement over the 1987 agreement in terms of specificity and concreteness of commitments,” he said.

But, he added, “The number of commitments that don’t have a clear action or a clear date is disappointing. There are still too many ‘promotes’ or ‘encourages’ where you’ll never be able to say something didn’t happen.

“That’s too bad. But I hope in the next few months, we can convince the Bay Program that it has nothing to lose and a lot to gain by actually being concrete and specific, which is what the public wants.”

Worth noting is the near final draft of the 1987 Bay Agreement never contained a 40 percent nutrient reduction — it was added at the last minute to give the document a more concrete objective, and has helped to drive cleanup efforts ever since.