A group of 38 longtime Bay policy makers, scientists and other advocates say "bold, new and aggressive actions" are needed to restore the Bay, and expressed skepticism that plans recently outlined by the EPA could accomplish the job.

In a joint statement, they called for two dozen actions that would increase the regulation of farmers, development, wastewater treatment plants, new development and septic systems.

"We must act quickly to transition from the voluntary collaborative approach that has failed, to a comprehensive regulatory program that addresses the prime sources of nutrient and sediment pollution, especially from farm and development pollution, or watch the Bay die a death of 1,000 cuts," said William Dennison, vice president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. "Drastic change is called for."

The group said the EPA did not go far enough in the draft restoration strategy under development in response to President Barack Obama's May 2009 executive order on the Chesapeake Bay.

That plan described the agency's thinking about how to develop and implement a new cleanup plan, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load. The plan, which sets an absolute cap on the amount of nutrients and sediment pollution that can reach the Bay as of 2010, is to be completed by the end of the year.

But the EPA plan did not "add sufficient new and different tools, regulations, penalties and enforcement strategies to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay," the critics' statement said.

Among those who signed the statement were former Maryland Govs. Harry Hughes and Parris Glendening; former Maryland U.S. Rep. Wayne Gilchrest; former Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Tayloe Murphy and former Maryland Natural Resources Secretary Torrey Brown.

Former Maryland State Sen. Gerald Winegrad, who organized the statement, said the need for action, and a new direction, was urgent. He described a Bay in which the blue crab fishery has been declared a disaster; oysters, shad, eels, soft clams and sturgeon are at or near record lows; swimmers are often advised to avoid the water; striped bass are contaminated with mercury; and male bass in the Potomac contain female eggs.

"If we had thought of a doomsday scenario for the Bay when we began restoration efforts in 1983, the current state of the Bay would be it," Winegrad said. "Sadly, it has become a nightmarish reality. We need to act boldly and decisively now or the Bay will die ecologically."

Steps the EPA should take to beef up pollution control efforts included:

  • Actions reported as taken to control polluted runoff from farms and other sources should be verified by independent third parties to ensure their effectiveness and proper implementation.
  • If stormwater or agricultural sectors are not achieving goals, the group suggested that federal transportation or agricultural cost-share and subsidy payments should be reduced.

The group said the EPA should expand its regulatory authority over "all but the smallest" animal feedlots. They said the application of manure from feedlots should be regulated to ensure it is not overapplied, and that planting nutrient-absorbing cover crops be required on any fields receiving manure.

Their statement said new development should be designed to yield no additional runoff except from severe storms that generally occur no more frequently than once every five years.

The group said the EPA should require a no-net-loss of forests within the Bay watershed, and that 85 percent of all rivers, streams and Bay shoreline be protected with forested buffers.

All new and replaced septic systems should incorporate technologies that reduce the amount of nitrogen released, and municipalities should be required to have mandatory septic inspection programs.

Also, it said nutrient discharge limits for most wastewater treatment plants in the watershed should be further reduced.

"We must act now and implement strong measures to control the main source of Bay pollution - farm fertilizers, manure and sediment - as well as control the increasing pollutants from development," Murphy said. "We simply cannot afford any more postponements of the necessary actions detailed in our joint statement. We are squandering our natural heritage and the measures detailed in our statements are critical to turn this around."

Chuck Fox, the EPA's senior adviser on the Chesapeake Bay, attended the news conference releasing the statement, and said the agency agrees that the job of controlling pollution entering the nation's largest estuary needs to be done better.

But, he said the EPA cannot restrict highway funding; the federal Clean Water Act does not have authority over septic systems; and its authority over agricultural operations is not clearly defined.

"So, there are some of these recommendations that are probably better implemented at the state or local level, and then there are other recommendations that will likely require new legislative activity from Congress," Fox said.