The Chesapeake Bay restoration effort gained new partners — and new goals — as leaders approved a multi-state agreement that they insist will hold them, and their successors, more accountable in producing real results.
After nearly a year-and-a-half of negotiations, the Chesapeake Executive Council on June 16 signed its Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, which pledges to restore water quality, improve habitats, conserve more land and expand environmental education, among other goals.
Also committing to the agreement are Delaware, New York and West Virginia, making it the first pact to truly span the entire watershed.
The final agreement also pledges to reduce toxic pollution and begin adapting for impacts from climate change — issues that had sparked enormous public criticism when they were omitted by negotiators in earlier drafts.
It is the fourth agreement since the inception of state-federal restoration efforts in 1983. It lacks some of the soaring commitments of other agreements in favor of what proponents say are more pragmatic goals that are more likely to be attained.
It contains just 29 outcomes — a sharp change from the 102 specific commitments in the previous Chesapeake 2000 agreement. But many commitments in the previous agreement went unmet.
With an eye toward improving performance, the new document calls for writing management strategies within the next year that show how each outcome will be achieved, and outline specific actions that will be taken by states and federal agencies in the following two years.
“Instead of 20-year hopes, we have two-year milestones,” Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, chair of the Executive Council, said at the agreement signing. “Hope doesn’t mean a thing unless you are taking the actions every day to bring the Bay to a healthier tipping point.”
The final agreement includes 10 broad goals — essentially vision statements to do such things as sustain the Bay’s fisheries, protect important habitats, conserve large landscapes, eliminate risks from toxics impacts and improve environmental literacy among watershed students.
Its 29 specific outcomes are intended to help achieve those goals. Most outcomes have measurable objectives and due dates. For instance, it calls for protecting 2 million additional acres of land by 2025; expanding brook trout habitat 8 percent by 2025; restoring oyster populations in 10 tributaries by 2025; and planting 900 miles for stream forest buffers each year.
The agreement is the product not only of lengthy negotiations among the states, but also of more than 2,400 public comments received, many of which were sharply critical of earlier drafts.
That criticism helped spur new goals and outcomes aimed at controlling toxic pollution, increasing minority participation in Bay efforts, promoting citizen stewardship and adapting for climate change.
As a result, the agreement now calls for actions to reduce the impact of known toxins, such as PCBs, as well as a better understanding the impacts of chemicals of “emerging concern,” such as pharmaceuticals, in waterways.
The agreement directs that impacts of climate change become an integral part of Bay planning. That means, for instance, that the partnership will make efforts to ensure that runoff control practices being implemented today are designed to withstand more frequent and severe storms projected in the future.
“There were some deficiencies in the initial draft,” said Nick DiPasquale, director of the EPA Bay Program Office — which helps coordinate the multi-state Chesapeake effort — in an interview. “The public provided a lot of support for making sure that things like climate change and toxics were included.”
Comments also resulted in a new stewardship goal that commits the Bay Program to help build a base of citizen volunteers and local officials who are actively engaged in helping local watersheds. It puts special emphasis on including minority groups, which a number of commenters pointed out were underrepresented in Bay activities.
“We really need to build the grass roots,” said Al Todd, director of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. “In the end, government is not going to do it. The people who live here have to believe in it and take the actions themselves. Everybody has to be a part of it. That recognition was not in the early drafts, and we’re really happy it was in the final.”
All goals in the agreement are voluntary except for those aimed at achieving nutrient and sediment reductions. Those are needed to attain Bay water quality standards and are enforceable under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, or pollution diet.
The voluntary nature of past agreements has often been criticized as ineffective because some commitments fell short of goals and others never went anywhere. For example, a commitment in the 2000 agreement to curb the rate of harmful sprawl by 20 percent floundered when Bay Program participants failed to agree on a definition of “harmful” sprawl, or how it could be measured.
At the same time, the priority placed on certain issues in past agreements has spawned action, providing an important boost for efforts to build fish passages, designate water trails and accelerate land protection efforts. An analysis by the Chesapeake Bay Commission, an advisory group representing state legislatures, counted more than 40 pieces of legislation that were enacted in response to various Bay agreements, from phosphate detergent bans to tax credits for land preservation to restrictions on lawn fertilizers.
The inclusion of New York, West Virginia and Delaware marks the first time that the Bay Program has expanded since its creation in 1983 by the governors of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania; the District of Columbia mayor; the EPA administrator and the chair of the Chesapeake Bay Commission. Collectively, that group, which now includes the governors of the three “headwater states,” makes up the Executive Council, which coordinates Bay-related policy.
Of the new states, only Delaware Gov. Jack Markell attended the June meeting. He said he was “thrilled to be a signatory” of the agreement and praised the value of such partnerships. “One state cannot do it alone,” he said.
While they did not attend the signing ceremony, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin issued statements supportive of the agreement.
One issue sure to get scrutiny is the extent to which various jurisdictions commit to participating in writing and implementing management strategies aimed at achieving various agreement outcomes.
By signing the agreement, states are not necessarily bound toward achieving all of its goals and outcomes. Part of the rationale is that some states have no role to play in certain outcomes. For instance, New York and West Virginia have no real connection to outcomes for blue crabs or oysters.
But many environmental groups have been critical of what they call the “opt out” provision and fear that states will choose not to participate in goals that require widespread participation, such as toxics reduction.
“Each and every jurisdiction in the Bay has to do their share,” said Betsy Nicholas, executive director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake, a coalition of 19 Riverkeepers around the watershed. “We need a Bay agreement with enforceable terms, not one that provides loopholes.”
Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William Baker called the signing a “historic moment” but added, “while this agreement is an important step, the next step — developing management strategies and making firm commitments on how to implement those strategies — is just as important, and the devil is always in the details.”
Environmental groups had pressed Executive Council members to commit to which management strategies they would help develop within three months of signing the agreement.
Such a firm commitment was not made, but O’Malley said there was “broad consensus” among signatories to determine what strategies they would participate in within 90 days.
DiPasquale said he considered the management strategies one of the major accomplishments of the new agreement. They will outline what needs to happen to fully achieve the outcomes and identify the specific actions states and federal agencies will take in two-year increments.
“The management strategies really do provide a vehicle for increased transparency and accountability,” DiPasquale said.
Further, he said, the strategies will be made available for public comment. Although meetings are public, people often have no easy way to follow the numerous meetings of Bay Program committees — known as Goal Implementation Teams — which work to accomplish various objectives. Taking comments on strategies will allow the public to interact, and provide input, in a way not previously available.
“There are skeptics out there, but I think once we get these strategies developed using the process that’s been laid out, people will understand that they can have an effect,” DiPasquale said. “If they have a concern, their concerns can be voiced and addressed. In the end, we will have management strategies that we truly believe will be effective in achieving the outcomes.”
Highlights of Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement Goals & Outcomes
Goal: Protect, restore and enhance finfish, shellfish and other living resources, their habitats and ecological relationships to sustain all fisheries and provide for a balanced ecosystem in the watershed and the Bay.
- Blue Crab Abundance: Maintain a target of 215 million adult females. Refine targets based on best available science.
- Blue Crab Management: By 2018, work with watermen, recreational crabbers and other stakeholders to evaluate a Baywide, allocation-based, management framework with annual levels set by the jurisdictions for the purpose of accounting for and adjusting harvest by each jurisdiction.
- Oysters: Restore native oyster populations in 10 tributaries by 2025.
- Forage Fish: Develop a strategy by 2015 for assessing the forage fish base available as food for predatory species in the Bay.
- Fish Habitat: Identify critical spawning, nursery and forage areas within the Bay and its tributaries for important fish and shellfish to guide restoration and conservation efforts.
Goal: Restore, enhance and protect a network of land and water habitats to support fish and wildlife and to afford other public benefits, including water quality, recreational uses and scenic value across the watershed.
- Wetlands: Create or re-establish 85,000 acres of tidal and nontidal wetlands and enhance the function of an additional 150,000 acres of degraded wetlands by 2025.
- Black Duck: Restore and conserve wetland habitats by 2025 that support a wintering population of 100,000 black ducks.
- Stream Health: Improve health and function of 10 percent of stream miles in the watershed above the 2008 baseline.
- Brook Trout: Restore and sustain naturally reproducing brook trout populations in headwater streams with an 8 percent increase in occupied habitat by 2025.
- Fish Passage: Open 1,000 additional stream miles to migratory fish by 2025, with success indicated by the consistent presence of alewife, blueback herring, American shad, hickory shad, American eel or brook trout.
- Submerged Aquatic Vegetation (SAV): Achieve 185,000 acres of SAV Baywide with interim targets of 90,000 acres by 2017 and 130,000 acres by 2025.
- Forest Buffer: Restore 900 miles of riparian forest buffer per year and conserve existing buffers until at least 70 percent of riparian areas are forested.
- Tree Canopy: Expand urban tree canopy by 2,400 acres by 2025.
Goal: Reduce pollutants to achieve the water quality necessary to support the aquatic living resources of the Bay and its tributaries and protect human health.
- 2017 Watershed Implementation Plans (WIP): Have practices and controls in place by 2017 that are expected to achieve 60 percent of the nutrient and sediment pollution reductions necessary to achieve water quality standards compared with 2009 levels.
- 2025 Watershed Implementation Plans (WIP): Have all practices and controls installed by 2025 to achieve the Bay’s dissolved oxygen, water clarity/submerged aquatic vegetation and chlorophyll a standards.
- Water Quality Standards Attainment & Monitoring: Improve water quality monitoring and report results annually to the public.
Goal: Increase the number and diversity of local citizen stewards and local governments that actively support and carry out conservation and restoration activities that achieve healthy local streams, rivers and a vibrant Chesapeake Bay.
- Citizen Stewardship: Increase the number and diversity of citizen volunteers with the knowledge and skills needed to enhance the health of their local watersheds.
- Local Leadership: Increase the knowledge of local officials on issues related to water resources and the implementation of economic and policy incentives that will support local conservation actions.
- Diversity: Identify minority stakeholder groups not currently represented in the leadership, decision-making and implementation of current conservation and restoration activities and engage them in the partnership’s efforts.
Goal: Ensure that the Bay and its rivers are free of the effects of toxic contaminants on living resources and human health.
- Toxic Contaminants Research: Characterize the occurrence, concentrations, sources and effects of mercury, PCBs and other contaminants of emerging concern. Identify management practices that provide multiple benefits of reducing toxic, nutrient and sediment pollution.
- Toxic Contaminants Policy & Prevention: Reduce the effects of toxic contaminants that harm aquatic systems and humans. Build on existing programs to reduce PCBs in the Bay and its watershed. Use research findings to evaluate additional policies for other contaminants that need to be further reduced or eliminated.
Goal: Sustain state-identified healthy waters and watersheds, recognized for their high quality and/or high ecological value.
- Healthy Watersheds: One-hundred percent of state-identified currently healthy waters and watersheds remain healthy.
Goal: Expand public access to the Bay and its tributaries through existing and new local, state and federal parks, refuges, reserves, trails and partner sites.
- Public Access Site Development: Add 300 new public access sites by 2026, with an emphasis on providing opportunities for boating, swimming and fishing.
Goal: Conserve landscapes treasured by citizens to maintain water quality and habitat; sustain working forests, farms and maritime communities; and conserve lands of cultural, indigenous and community value.
- Protected Lands: Protect an additional 2 million acres of land throughout the watershed, including 225,000 acres of wetlands and 695,000 acres of forests with a high value for maintaining water quality by 2025.
- Land Use Methods & Metrics Development: By 2016, develop a watershedwide methodology for characterizing the rate of farmland, forest and wetland conversion, and quantify the potential impacts of increased impervious cover to water quality, healthy watersheds and communities. Share this information with local governments, elected officials and stakeholders.
- Land Use Options Evaluation: By the end of 2017, with the involvement of local governments, evaluate policy options that could help reduce the rate of conversion of agricultural lands, forests and wetlands while protecting natural lands that soak up pollutants.
Goal: Enable students in the region to graduate with the knowledge and skills to act responsibly to protect and restore their local watershed.
- Student: Increase students’ understanding of the watershed through participation with a target of at least one meaningful watershed educational experience in elementary, middle and high school depending on available resources.
- Sustainable Schools: Continually increase the number of schools in the region that reduce the impact of their buildings and grounds on their local watershed, environment and human health through best practices, including student-led protection and restoration projects.
- Environmental Literacy Planning: Each Bay jurisdiction should develop a comprehensive approach to environmental literacy for all students in the region that includes policies, practices and voluntary metrics that support the environmental literacy goals and outcomes of this agreement.
Goal: Increase the resiliency of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, including its living resources, habitats, public infrastructure and communities, to withstand adverse impacts from changing environmental and climate conditions.
- Monitoring & Assessment: Assess the likely impacts of changing climatic and sealevel conditions on the Bay ecosystem, including the effectiveness of restoration and protection policies, programs and projects.
- Adaptation: Design and construct restoration projects to enhance the resiliency of Bay and aquatic ecosystems from the impacts of coastal erosion, flooding, more intense and more frequent storms and sealevel rise.
For full text of the agreement, goals and outcomes visit www.chesapeakebay.net/chesapeakebaywatershedagreement/