Federal agencies reported progress toward meeting many of their Chesapeake restoration goals last year, including their cornerstone commitment to reduce pollution to Bay waters, while also accelerating oyster restoration efforts and opening rivers to migratory fish.
The new report, which highlights actions taken during 2012, is required under President Obama's 2009 Chesapeake Executive Order, which promised new federal leadership on Bay restoration.
The order called for federal agencies to develop a Chesapeake Bay restoration strategy, which was completed in 2010. The order also called for agencies to develop annual plans outlining their planned Bay-related activities for the coming year and to report annually on their actual progress.
"The federal agencies and our partner jurisdictions are accountable to the citizens living near the local rivers and streams that also stand to benefit from this critical restoration work," said Nick DiPasquale, director of the EPA Bay Program Office.
The federal strategy set broad goals to restore clean water, recover habitat, sustain fish and wildlife populations, and to conserve land and improve public access. It established numerous specific objectives to help achieve each goal, such as restoring 30,000 acres of wetlands and protecting 2 million acres of open space by 2025.
Outside of water quality, where goals are enforceable under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, most of the federal goals are not binding on the states, although they require heavy involvement by all jurisdictions — and nonprofit organizations — to achieve.
The report shows that some initiatives, notably the nutrient reduction efforts, appear to be moving ahead of schedule. While the report does not have 2012 data for nutrient reduction, it said states were well ahead of the pace needed to meet their 2025 goals based on figures from 2011.
Among other water quality issues, the report said the EPA completed 30 inspections of concentrated animal feeding operations, and 39 stormwater inspections last year that resulted in more than $1.16 million in penalties.
The Department of Defense, the largest federal landowner along the Bay and its tidal rivers, completed an assessment of where its installations have the greatest opportunities to implement stormwater controls.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service said it provided nearly $62.9 million in financial assistance to help farmers take conservation actions that will help improve water quality and wildlife habitat. Some form of conservation practices were implemented on more than 342,000 acres of farmland in the watershed.
But some significant objectives are off pace, perhaps most notable is the goal of planting 900 miles of streamside forests annually. Just 285 miles were planted in 2012.
Some of the progress consists of reports, rather than on-the-ground actions, but officials say these are needed steps for meeting upcoming goals.
For instance, last year agencies completed a forest restoration strategy outlining actions and areas where efforts to replant forests may be most effective; a public access plan was completed that identified sites where improved access to the Bay and its tributaries is most needed; and a report was completed characterizing the extent of toxic contamination in fish and wildlife around the region, which could set the stage for new toxic reduction goals later this year.
But the report also highlighted more tangible actions taking place on the ground — or in the water.
It said 33.6 miles of stream habitat were opened for migratory fish in 2012. That, combined with the 132 miles opened the previous year, is on pace to meet the overall goal of opening 1,000 miles of rivers to migratory fish by 2025. And more rivers are en route to being reopened: The report noted that plans were completed last year for the removal of Harvell Dam on the Appomattox River in Petersburg, VA, which will reopen 127 miles of spawning and nursery habitat.
Oyster restoration work started in Harris Creek, the first of 20 tributaries to be targeted for large-scale oyster restoration projects by 2025. Last year, 97 acres of spat on shell were planted in Harris Creek, out of the 377 acres identified for restoration work.
Sixteen public access sites were opened in 2012, slightly below the 20-a-year pace needed to meet the goal of 300 new access sites by 2025, but a number of projects were funded, which should result in more access sites opening this year.
The report said the black duck population increased to 52,177 over the past three years, moving toward the 2025 target of 100,000 birds.
The full, 45-page 2012 Progress Report is available on the executive order website: executiveorder.chesapeakebay.net.