A diverse group of Bay scientists, former policy leaders, authors and others issued a joint statement in December calling for more aggressive-and enforceable-actions to clean up the Chesapeake.
At a news Dec. 8 news conference- the day before the 25th anniversary of the signing of the original Chesapeake Bay Agreement-the group argued that the voluntary, collaborative approach that has been the hallmark of the state-federal Bay Program for the last quarter century was "fatally flawed."
"I think something is seriously broken, and we need to do better," said Walter Boynton, a professor at the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory of the University of Maryland's Center for Environmental Science.
He said many areas of the Bay are no better than they were two decades ago, and some have gotten worse. "We are failing to accomplish what we set out to do 25 years ago," Boynton said.
Voluntary programs aimed at farmers, homeowners and others are falling short of objectives, he and others said.
Even in the Corsica River, which Maryland has made a cleanup priority, the state has had a difficult time getting people to participate in cleanup programs, such as septic tank upgrades-even when the state foots the bill. "People are not buying into it," Boynton said. "They are not doing the right thing."
The statement, signed by 16 individuals long-associated with Bay issues, said that despite the work of many individuals, organizations and agencies, population growth and development were overwhelming their efforts.
The original Chesapeake Bay Agreement was signed in December 1983, and simply committed the states and federal agencies to cooperate on Bay issues. Additional agreements in 1987 and 2000 set more specific cleanup goals, which have been repeatedly missed.
The statement said the region now needed to transition to a "more comprehensive regulatory program" that would set mandatory enforceable limits on nutrient, sediment and toxic pollution that would remove the Bay from the EPA's impaired waters list.
"The Bay is on death row, and we're trying to get it off," said Gerald Winegrad, a former Maryland state legislator who attended the 1983 Bay Agreement signing, and who brought together the group that drafted the statement.
The statement said new regulations should contain substantive sanctions for noncompliance, that clean water is a right of all citizens and that "polluters should pay."
The statement outlined six actions to clean the Bay:
- Reducing individuals' pollution throughout the watershed;
- Changing development patterns through state and local land use legislation, and establishing a policy of no net loss of forests and wetlands;
- Requiring mandatory controls and increased accountability to reduce pollution from agriculture;
- Requiring stronger protection and management of Bay fisheries to promote a healthy ecosystem;
- Requiring pollution reductions on a river-by-river basis to fully implement tributary strategies; and
- Assuring that the EPA and other federal agencies give Bay restoration the highest priority for funding, enforcement, new regulatory actions, and in forming a "new and effective approach and organizational structure" to oversee state and federal actions.
Winegrad acknowledged that the group did not have an specific alternative management structure developed, but said one would be forthcoming. "The present structure does not work, it has failed us," he said.
EPA Bay Program Director Jeff Lape, who also attended the news conference, told the group that their concerns were widespread, noting that the Chesapeake Executive Council "absolutely shares the frustration that you folks have."
At its November meeting, the Executive Council-the governors of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia; the EPA administration; District of Columbia mayor; and chair of the Chesapeake Bay Commission-pledged to begin setting two-year goals to force more accountability for cleanup efforts.
"Despite the good work, the Bay's health is nowhere near where we need it to be," Lape said. "We're committed to working with you in partnership to find the new tools and new authorities and the new approaches we need to get the job done."
Realistically, significant changes are inevitable. Because of the failure to restore Bay water quality, the EPA is under a court order to draft a new cleanup plan, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load, by May 2011, although officials intend to complete the plan by the end of 2010.
The TMDL will set nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment limits for each Bay tributary. All wastewater treatment plants, industries, and other facilities with water discharge permits will have enforceable limits that comply with the TMDL.
The EPA does not have direct authority to require pollution controls from sources that don't have permits, such as farms, but the TMDL will bring new leverage to push pollution reductions. If cleanup goals are not being met, for example, it could require further-and hugely expensive-reductions from dischargers.
Such an action could result in states deciding to more strictly regulate sources of runoff, or ensure that adequate funds are available to fully implement voluntary pollution control programs.
A range of other measures that could be included in the TMDL to help ensure pollution control actions take place are under discussion by state and federal officials.
In addition to Boynton and Winegrad, other signatories of the statement included Thomas Simpson, William Dennison, Thomas Fisher, Gerrit-Jan Knaap and John Frece, all of the University of Maryland; Bay authors Tom Horton and Howard Ernst; Robert Etgen, executive director of the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy; John "Ned" Gerber, director of Chesapeake Wildlife Heritage; Daniel Colhoun, owner of Sportsmen Hall Farm; Richard Pritzlaff, president of the Biophilia Foundation; Charlie Stek, a retired congressional staffer who specialized in Bay issues; former Maryland U.S. Sen. Joseph Tydings; and former Maryland State Sen. Bernie Fowler.