So, how are we doing at cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay?
Are the investments we’re making in our communities improving water quality? These are questions that we, the members of the Chesapeake Bay Local Government Advisory Committee, often ask the leaders in the Bay restoration effort. The answers aren’t always straightforward.
There are initiatives we can point to though, that have made a difference. Since 2010, when the first plans were drafted to show how the District of Columbia and six states in the Bay watershed were going to meet nutrient and sediment reduction goals set forth in the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, hundreds of local wastewater treatment plants have been upgraded to meet lower pollutant discharge limits.
From 1985 to 2015, nutrient pollution from the wastewater sector dropped 59 percent according to former Chesapeake Bay Program director, Nick DiPasquale. Among the three primary sources of pollution — agriculture, stormwater and wastewater — wastewater is the only source that has already met its 2025 pollution reduction goal.
Local governments throughout the watershed should celebrate this success but we can’t stop now.
As we begin to consider what else needs to be done by 2025, the date by which 100 percent of the practices required to meet the pollution limits established in the Chesapeake Bay TMDL must be in place, we need to apply the lessons learned the last several years.
For example, the cost to upgrade sewer plants was often shared among federal, state and local governments.
Residents and users of those systems also contributed. While some worried that there wouldn’t be sufficient engineering and construction services available to handle the demand, businesses adapted and the work got done.
What we learned is that if we are committed, whether it be because of regulations or simply that we value clean water, safe communities and healthy soils, we can make a difference if we work together.
Each of the states has begun the process of developing their next watershed implementation plan (Phase III WIP) which outlines remaining actions needed to meet the 2025 goal. Local governments are being invited to participate in the development of these plans and I encourage you to join the conversation.
The Chesapeake Bay Local Government Advisory Committee is organizing roundtables for elected officials to learn more about watershed protection and restoration through peer-to-peer dialogue.
One of the things we want to hear is what are your priorities for the coming years? Will you be investing in new schools? Do you have major transportation plans in the works? What about parks and recreational facilities? Are you doing something to address flooding?
Each of these priorities has the potential to improve water quality by incorporating runoff control practices that reduce pollution.
States need to hear from you. Participating in your state’s watershed implementation plans’ development process will foster a better understanding of the connection between local issues and priorities and the state’s commitments to protecting downstream waters.