Maryland officials estimate it will cost almost $1 billion a year from now to the end of the decade for the state to reach its goals under the Chesapeake 2000 agreement.
In a recently completed analysis, state officials concluded that efforts to control nutrients, restore habitat, improve stormwater management and other actions required under the agreement would cost about $7 billion, just for Maryland.
Current levels of state, federal, local government and private funding — if maintained — would cover about two-thirds of that expense, leaving a funding gap of about $2.6 billion.
That shortfall could shrink because officials believe they may have undercounted some current spending, especially that of local governments. “The gap will probably be smaller,” said Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary Chuck Fox.
Nonetheless, the analysis suggests the actual cost of meeting the 105 commitments put forth in the agreement will be substantially higher than the estimate of $8.5 billion for the entire watershed that was made by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation last year.
That estimate, made by Fox when he worked for the nonprofit organization, covered only some big-ticket items in the Chesapeake 2000 agreement: nutrient reduction, wetland restoration, land preservation and oyster recovery.
The new Maryland estimate is a more thorough look at all commitments. These cover a huge range of activities, from improving public outreach to having government “lead by example” on things like stormwater control to the widespread development of local watershed plan.
Despite the greater price tag, Gov. Parris Glendening said the state was committed to implementing the agreement. “We have made significant progress in restoring the health of the Chesapeake Bay, but we still face many challenges,” he said. “To build on the momentum we have achieved, it is important that we strengthen our commitment to investing in the protection of the Bay’s natural and living resources.”
If current spending patterns remain the same, the analysis shows Maryland would spend $2.9 billion from now through 2010 on programs that would help meet Chesapeake 2000 agreement goals. The federal government would spend about $800 million, local governments $400 million and the private sector and others about $300 million, either through permit fees and regulatory requirements placed on business, or restoration actions undertaken by nonprofit groups.
That $4.4 billion in projected spending would leave a $2.6 billion gap. Not all of the gap would have to be covered by state spending, officials stressed. Some could come from the federal government, local governments and private enterprise, which might have to pay more to install and maintain stormwater controls at development sites.
“The cost of saving the Bay cannot be borne by any single sector or any single region,” Fox said. “The Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure and it is going to take a national effort to save it.”
Fox, a former EPA assistant administrator for water in the Clinton administration, singled out the federal government as a likely source of additional funding.
“The state of Maryland is outspending the feds 3-to-1,” Fox said. “One of the messages from this is that we have an opportunity to try to increase the federal presence in the Chesapeake effort.”
The Bay region has become increasingly aggressive in seeking added federal support, citing other big-dollar restoration programs such as the Everglades as a precedent. The Chesapeake Bay Commission, which represents the legislatures of the three states, has led an effort to identify federal programs that may be tapped for Bay-related efforts. Most recently, that has resulted in a push for Bay region support in the Farm Bill.
And, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation last year took the lead in pushing legislation that would offer grants to wastewater treatment plants in the watershed that upgrade to state-of-the-art nutrient removal technologies.
Both the Farm Bill and wastewater measure are pending in Congress.
Another area where the Bay region could more aggressively seek federal money is the Surface Transportation Act, which is to be rewritten in 2002. The trend has been for transportation bills to make increasing amounts of money available to address environmental problems created by roads.
Fox said it was possible that some funds in the next version of the bill could be steered to the Bay region to address issues such as stormwater control — an area where the state analysis identified a $900 million funding gap. “I personally think we can make a pretty strong connection between roads, streams and stormwater pollution,” Fox said.
He said the Bay states could seek money in the Army Corps of Engineers’ budget to address such problems as dealing with the sediments stored between Susquehanna River dams, which — if not addressed — could eventually could lead to massive increases in the amount of sediment and nutrients reaching the Chesapeake.
Fox described the analysis primarily as a “planning document” aimed at identifying specific areas with major funding gaps, or areas where programs do not exist to meet a commitment.
For example, the biggest shortfall in the analysis was the additional $1 billion which the state estimates is needed to upgrade and replace aging septic systems to better control nutrients. Right now, no program is focused specifically on septic systems. Fox said a new program that provides money in grants or low-interest loans, like those available to wastewater treatment plants, may be needed for homeowners. In addition, he said, it may be possible to get federal rules changed to permit the use of other clean water funds for septic systems.
Another area with a sizable shortfall is wetland restoration, which could face a funding gap of about $400 million in meeting the state’s share of Chesapeake 2000’s 25,000-acre goal, Fox said.
But the analysis found the state was generally in good shape for many key commitments, especially those related to improving the management of “living resources” such as fish, crabs and oysters, as well as goals to preserve open space and reduce sprawl.
The Maryland estimate dwarfed rough figures made by Virginia officials last fall of their Bay cleanup costs.
Virginia officials estimated the state would need to spend between $328 million and $3.9 billion to meet major Bay goals. The main costs examined were for land preservation and funding river cleanups — both of which had widely varying cost estimates.
Some of the most expensive items in Maryland’s projection — stormwater and septic systems — were not included in the Virginia figures. If the same assumptions were made for both states, Fox said the Virginia cost would be closer to $9 billion.
Ron Hamm, Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources, was skeptical about such estimates. He expressed doubt that the state’s costs would even reach its own high estimate of $3.9 billion — a figure that assumes hundreds of millions of dollars would have to be spent to meet land preservation goals.
“We preserved 28,000 acres in Virginia last year with conservation easements at a cost of less than $2 million,” Hamm said. “And that is far more acres than either of the other states preserved last year.”
He added that “it would cost quite a lot” if the state had to replace septic systems.
The Chesapeake 2000 agreement calls on states to work with local governments to promote nutrient-reducing septic systems, but does not explicitly call for replacing them. But it is possible that this could be necessary in some areas to meet yet-to-be-established nutrient reduction goals for the Bay.
If Maryland’s assumptions prove correct, it could mean that when Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia expenses were factored in, the cost of the Chesapeake 2000 agreement could top $20 billion for the whole watershed.
Fox didn’t predict a total cost, but acknowledged the numbers were “certainly moving in that direction.”
He also noted that expenses do not end in 2010. For example, the Chesapeake 2000 agreement anticipates widespread stream restoration efforts, many of which would not take place until after 2010. Stream restoration costs about $1.2 million a mile, Fox said, and the total tab for Maryland could be $2.5 billion to $3 billion — figures not included in the $7 billion estimate.