A new approach to restoring the Chesapeake Bay that features greater accountability and stronger federal commitment also relies on an old truth-we need your help to succeed.
Chesapeake Bay policy-makers have taken a fresh course of action to accelerate the cleanup, driven by a series of short-term progress goals and a pair of landmark federal initiatives, including an executive order signed by President Obama.
But the active involvement of citizens and local governments throughout the watershed remains a key ingredient in any formula for restoration success.
Take a moment to think about a stream, creek or river that flows near your home, by your neighborhood or through your town. How important is it for the water to be clean?
Thousands of these waterways flow through the Chesapeake Bay region, from southern Virginia to upstate New York, from the Delmarva Peninsula to the panhandle of West Virginia. These are places where people fish, children swim, families enjoy nature and, in many instances, your drinking water is drawn.
Local waterways are economic drivers, shape a place's culture, have historical significance and are vital to the environment. Clean water is one of the most valuable assets to our communities and is an irreplaceable resource for the planet.
This is why the effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay is not just about restoring our nation's largest estuary-it's also about investing in clean water for everyone in the region.
It will take a collective effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay and our local waterways that flow into it.
We will count on the nearly 17 million people, thousands of local governments and hundreds of watershed groups in the Bay's 64,000-square-mile watershed to do their part.
Everything that happens on the land affects the amount of pollution in the water. This ranges from how development occurs and how we construct buildings, to what we do in our backyards and daily lives.
How can you reduce pollution that flows to your local river?
There are several simple steps to take around the home. Skip the lawn fertilizer, which can pollute local waterways when it rains. Plant native trees and shrubs around your property and in the community because they reduce polluted runoff.
And take steps to keep all rainwater on your property instead of allowing it to rush into storm sewers carrying pollutants directly into your rivers and streams. You can start by redirecting downspouts away from hard surfaces and installing rain barrels, and rain gardens to capture runoff.
Find ways to drive your car less-the exhaust from automobiles contains nitrogen, which eventually settles onto land and is a primary pollutant. Make a difference by volunteering for a watershed group. There are many organizations in the region that conduct restoration projects and programs, but they need your help. Also, tell your elected officials that clean water is important.
As a citizen of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, your actions matter. And along with the work of your government leaders, your actions can create change.
Change was the word of the day at the May 12 meeting of the Chesapeake Executive Council-the state and federal policy-making body guiding Bay restoration.
On the grounds of historic Mount Vernon, the council, led by Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, took some first-ever steps to advance restoration and to help ensure that a history of missed goals doesn't repeat itself.
Instead of pursuing a distant deadline, the Chesapeake Bay Program will now focus on short-term goals every two years to increase restoration work and improve accountability. This approach will require many states to intensify their cleanup pace, often doubling the previous rate of progress.
The federal government, meanwhile, has launched two major initiatives to advance restoration - the president's executive order to coordinate and expand federal tools and resources in support of the Bay, and a Baywide set of strict pollution caps backed by state plans and federal consequences to assure progress.
A team of federal agencies is busily working to meet the tight 120-day deadline in the executive order to recommend actions to restore water quality in the Bay, target resources, strengthen stormwater management practices, adapt to climate change, broaden public access to the Bay, expand research and monitoring, and enhance efforts to restore the Bay's living resources.
The order creates a Federal Leadership Committee, chaired by the EPA, which will incorporate the agencies' recommendations into an overall federal strategy. The committee will produce an annual action plan and progress report, and ensure periodic reviews by an independent evaluator.
The EPA is also working with its state partners to develop a Baywide Total Maximum Daily Load by December 2010 that will assign pollution caps to meet the states' existing Chesapeake Bay water quality standards. The TMDL process will involve strong public participation.
At the same time, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and Farm Bill funds are being put to work on priority projects throughout the watershed to deal with sources of Bay pollution.
From the White House to state houses to town halls, commitments are being made to take strong actions to stem pollution impacting the Bay and its tributaries.
It will take a determined effort to move us from a Bay that meets a fraction of its health goals to one that is fulfilling its promise as one of the world's most productive estuaries. We understand that until the public sees more clean water and crabs and fewer dead zones and fish kills, they may remain skeptical of our commitment.
And while restoration will not happen overnight, the leaders gathered at Mount Vernon took important steps to accelerate progress. Said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, "We should be able to look back at this as a turning point-the time when we did what was necessary to fulfill all the promises of action that have been made over the years."
With accountability and performance as hallmarks, our new approach is under way in a watershed and a river near you. It will succeed with your help. Join the fight for clean water.