Virginia officials expect to complete by early July an analysis of nutrient reduction efforts being implemented throughout the state's portion of the Potomac drainage, a step that will clear the way for the completion of a final nutrient control strategy for that river.
The upcoming report will include a compilation of nutrient reduction activities under way in the Potomac basin and the degree to which - if any - they fall short of the nutrient reduction target.
"We won't know until we compile all the information how far we have to go to fill the gap," said Kathleen Lawrence, director of the state Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance Department. "Depending what that information shows us, the final document wi ll show us how to fill the gap."
Development of the tributary strategies is a central part of the Bay restoration effort. Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and the District of Columbia agreed in 1987 to reduce the amount of nutrients entering the Bay 40 percent from 1985 levels by the year 2000.
In 1992, the states agreed to reach that goal by achieving specific nutrient reductions for each major Bay tributary. The states agreed to write "tributary strategies" to guide those nutrient reduction efforts. So far, only Maryland has final tri butary strategies written.
As part of a "bottom up" approach being used to develop the Potomac strategy, Virginia Natural Resources Secretary Becky Norton Dunlop has met with representatives from all 93 local governments located in Virginia's portion of the Potomac drainage, as well as with conservation district officials, chambers of commerce, citizens groups and others "to engage them in the process," Lawrence said.
Specifically, Lawrence said the state is trying to gather information about nutrient control actions that are in place or planned, but are not required by law.
"We can add up all the things that are required," Lawrence said, "but it's not so easy to add up all the volunteer stuff, and the things that towns and cities and counties have done over and above what they're required to do."
When officials determine the amount of nutrient reductions being achieved by those actions, they will develop options that can be implemented to "close the gap" between existing activities and what needs to be done to achieve the reduction target.
The options contained in the final strategy - and ways to pay for them - will be developed after another round of consultations with local governments, Lawrence said.
"One of our concerns is that we don't want to come up with a wonderful strategy that nobody can pay for, because it's never going to get implemented," she said. "The idea is to have a strategy that is implementable because people can afford it, o r there are options for affording it."
Though no time frame is set for the development of the final strategy, Lawrence said she hoped there would be a "very short turnaround" between the upcoming report and the final document.
The completed Potomac strategy will also serve as a blueprint for the development of tributary strategies on Virginia's other major rivers, she said.
The nutrient reductions in the strategies are intended to reduce the amount of the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus that enter the Bay. Excess amounts of those nutrients cause large algae blooms to form in the Bay. The blooms block sunlight needed by important Bay grasses. When the algae dies, it sinks to the bottom and decomposes in a process that depletes the water of oxygen needed by other organisms.
Computer models indicate that a 40 percent nutrient reduction would reduce algae production, and thereby improve water quality - and habitat conditions - in the Bay.