In March, the EPA acknowledged that given the current pace of progress, we will be far from reaching the Chesapeake 2000 agreement’s water quality commitments by the 2010 deadline.

Since that announcement, we have seen few signs that the signatories of that agreement are willing to make the critical changes necessary to alter this predictive future. Even with relatively recent projected funding and implementation investments—from Maryland’s 2004 Bay Restoration Fund to Virginia’s 2006 funding of $261 million for Bay water quality improvements—we will still fall short of the 2010 commitments and deadline.

In the immediate wake of the EPA’s announcement and dismal assessment, many state members at the next Principals’ Staff Committee meeting adamantly re-affirmed their dedication to accomplishing the commitments and deadline. (The PSC, which consists of senior state and federal agency officials, advises the Bay Program’s Executive Council.) But a pervasive lack of urgency permeated the dialogue of its subsequent May meeting. Participants seemed more than willing to accept a business-as-usual approach, rather than face the hard questions: What is delaying accomplishment of the 2010 commitments? How should the state and federal political leadership redirect and re-invigorate its efforts to meet the deadline?

Such bureaucratic inertia is, indeed, one of the biggest impediments to meeting the deadline and precludes aggressive regional leadership on Bay restoration. At that May PSC meeting, the state and federal agency discussion on the upcoming Executive Council meeting focused on little of substance. Frustrated by the torpor of both the dialogue and ideas, Dr. Beth McGee, representing the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, presented a challenge to the PSC: Ensure that the Executive Council accelerates dramatically the implementation of the Tributary Strategies—agricultural elements, in particular—to improve water quality and meet the 2010 deadline.

The challenge fell on deaf ears. There was no response, no dialogue, no nothing—only silence after Dr. McGee spoke.

But perhaps there are glimmers of hope that the deafness was partial or temporary, and that the PSC will take the necessary steps to position the council to seize the moment this fall and change the course of the history predicted by EPA. Chesapeake Bay Program documents have recently announced that the theme for the next Executive Council meeting will be the acceleration of the implementation of restoration activities.

Acceleration will require new funding commitments, additional on-the-ground delivery systems and more. The time has come for the PSC to advocate for clear and demonstrative regional action that will accelerate the implementation of Tributary Strategies.

For example, the PSC could:

  • Lay the groundwork for the Executive Council to actually implement a Regional Financing Authority. The establishment of an RFA, one that would include private-public partnerships as well as innovative borrowing and lending practices, is precisely the kind of regional action the Bay needs. The current schedule on this proposal lays out additional study for another 12 months—in spite of the fact that the Financing Authority Committee created by the Executive Council concluded in 2005 that “a regional financing authority could play a vital role in increasing the effectiveness of the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort” and specifically noted that creating the RFA “will require a coordinated effort by the Executive Council and leaders throughout the region.” Real action on such a coordinated effort has yet to be seen.
  • Urge the Executive Council to establish a uniform, dedicated funding source to implement agricultural conservation practices—one that is across-the-board/across-the-states. Whether the funding source takes the form of a residential/commercial (non-agricultural) fertilizer fee, a tax incentive for agricultural conservation practices or some other mechanism that distributes the burden widely across the population, the need for sustainable funding to reduce pollution from agricultural sources and improve water quality in the Bay and its rivers is essential.
  • Craft a proposal for the Executive Council that yields an aggressive regional enforcement program for construction site stormwater permit compliance. The EPA’s recent enforcement cases targeting a development company working in Pennsylvania and “big box” commercial sites elsewhere are only the tip of the iceberg—one can observe polluted runoff spewing from construction sites into Bay rivers and streams across the watershed during nearly any given storm, in any given state.

The Executive Council partnership provides the perfect coalition of state and federal governments for achieving water quality improvement through forceful, uncompromising enforcement: incorporating compliance, which reduces pollution, and significant penalties, which make funds available for other water quality improvement initiatives.

What the council must commit to at its next meeting is strong, definitive and aggressive implementation action. What we do not need are new goals for this or that, more directives or proclamations, or new statements of cooperation and intent. These ring hollow, given the tremendous hurdles we face to meet the existing commitments to water quality already made by the council.

The CBF welcomes the apparent shift of the agenda for the EC meeting from one of inertia to action. We fully support efforts that place a priority on moving forward the implementation of the Tributary Strategies.

But only with bold and creative actions, as yet undemonstrated, will the Executive Council advance closer to meeting the 2010 water quality commitments and deadline. It must do more and it must do it immediately. Should the council fail to do so, the EPA’s predictions will prove true, and we will leave our children not a restored Bay, but a dying one.