The Chesapeake Bay and communities throughout the region got a significant boost when key stakeholders agreed to major changes in the way we approach pollution reduction in our waters. By trading in traditional 10-year deadlines for two-year goals and regular assessments, members of the Chesapeake Executive Council have made a dramatic shift that promises to ensure accountability and real improvements in the Bay and local waterways.
No one is arguing the task will be simple. More than 25 years of well-?intentioned but failed efforts are proof positive that the road to the restoration of the Bay is a steep one.
With the Chesapeake watershed spanning 64,000 square miles, the health of the Bay and the waterways that feed into it has an impact on countless residents who fish, swim and benefit from industries related to the water.
At the same time, the nearly 17 million people living in the watershed and the actions they take on land affect the amount of pollution in our waters. The only way we will be able to address pollution is through participation by leaders at every level of government-and the region's citizens.
One thing is clear: It's time for results.
The Chesapeake Bay Program has charted a new course for the Bay's recovery that will accelerate the cleanup of the Bay, increase government accountability and provide clean water in our communities. Announced at a landmark meeting at Mount Vernon on May 12, the partners of the program-including the EPA, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, West Virginia, the District of Columbia and the Chesapeake Bay Commission-have agreed to focus on aggressive, short-term goals for reducing pollution.
Unlike lofty past efforts, these "milestones" will be set every two years with the intent that elected and regulatory leaders will remain present and accountable when it's time to assess the progress made toward restoring the Bay's overall health.
As pollution is steadily reduced in the years ahead, the amount of clean water and healthy waterways should see a corresponding increase. We've set our first milestone for Dec. 31, 2011, which will accelerate the rate of progress in reducing nitrogen Baywide by 77 percent, for a reduction of 15.8 million pounds of this primary pollutant.
The rate of progress in reducing phosphorus will increase by 79 percent, for a reduction of 1.1 million pounds. We expect that by setting biennial milestones, all measures needed to restore the Chesapeake Bay will be in place by no later than 2025.
To further drive the cleanup, the EPA is creating the Chesapeake Bay TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load), a regulatory tool that functions like a pollution "diet" for the Bay. All states throughout the Chesapeake Bay region and the District of Columbia will be required to reduce pollution to meet their share of the diet.
As we continue to tackle the challenges of restoring the Chesapeake Bay, we are encouraged by the deep commitment from state-and federal-leadership to protect the environment. In addition to recent moves within the EPA that raise the priority of the Bay within the agency, President Barack Obama's May 12 executive order declaring the Chesapeake Bay a national treasure signals a new era and a new way of thinking about one of our country's greatest natural resources.
As part of the presidential executive order-the first to regard the Chesapeake Bay-the EPA will be increasing strategies to ensure compliance and enforcement of pollution laws throughout the watershed. The executive order is a model for what coordinated federal action can do with other critical bodies of water and should help to speed cleanup efforts in the Bay.
Accountability for our work will be essential to the success of the Chesapeake Bay Program. In addition to tracking progress through the two-year milestones and the TMDL, we are developing additional options for reducing pollution, and have enlisted the National Academy of Sciences to provide an independent evaluation of the program.
At the same time, the EPA retains the ability to impose more severe consequences if there is inadequate progress toward meeting the TMDL.
We all agree that we have big challenges to overcome before moving forward. But as we continue to implement the changes needed, we also have an incredible opportunity. The Chesapeake Bay Program is confident that our efforts-combined with the help of individuals and families-will create the clean water we want today while putting us on a path to a healthier Bay for generations to come.