Bay cleanup leaders continue to move forward on developing a new Bay agreement, but now say it will not be ready for signature until December.
Officials earlier hoped to ink the document in October, but after a two-day meeting in July and the receipt of dozens of comments from states, organizations, agencies and some individuals, there was broad consensus that too little time had been allowed for public review.
A revised draft of the document, which is intended to guide restoration actions taken by the state-federal Bay Program partnership through 2025, is expected near the end of September, and will be available for a formal monthlong public comment period.
It would be the first new agreement since Chesapeake 2000 was signed 13 years ago, and the fourth in the 30-year history of the state-federal Bay Program partnership.
The new agreement, like earlier ones, will be voluntary, unlike the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load adopted at the end of 2010, which set enforceable limits on the amount on nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment that enter the Bay.
But it will deal with a broader host of issues than the TMDL, such as fisheries, habitats and land protection.
Those making comments on an initial draft during the summer generally endorsed the idea of a new agreement, though many offered greatly different perspectives.
A number of comments noted that the goals in first draft of the agreement were largely drawn from a federal Chesapeake Bay strategy released in 2010, and largely reflected continuation of current trajectories. For instance, its goal of permanently preserving an additional 2 million acres of land from development by 2025 essentially extends recent protection rates into the future. They called for bolder commitments.
Other commenters, though, expressed wariness about potential new costs that could be associated with new commitments stemming from any agreement.
Some outcomes will almost certainly change; the federal strategy called for restoring oyster populations in 20 tributaries by 2025 — a goal considered nearly impossible because of costs and the lack of suitable substrate with which to construct reef habitat. The goal is expected to be revised to 10 tributaries.
The goal of restoring 30,000 acres of wetlands, though, is likely to increase. And the agreement will likely contain new goals not included in the federal strategy. One suggestion has been to establish a forage fish baseline to help protect small fish that play important roles in the ecosystem.
The revised draft is expected to contain provisions to promote environmental education. The original draft was sharply criticized by a number of those making comments for not having any language to promote environmental literacy among students, with one calling it a “huge omission.”
Several issues have had sharp diversities of opinions, such as whether to establish a new toxics reductions goal, which was strongly supported by many comments, but has met with resistance from some states. Other flash points have been figuring out how to deal with land use and climate change.
Past Bay agreements have often had a poor track record of meeting goals. The new agreement hopes to change that by requiring the development of management strategies that would describe the actions to be taken by agencies, jurisdictions and others to achieve each measurable outcome. The strategies would be developed within a year of the agreement’s signing and be re-evaluated every two years after that. Several comments, though, said the document was still vague as to how it would ensure goals are met.
The new agreement would be signed by the Executive Council, the top policy-making body that guides Bay restoration efforts. But for the first time, it would expand the council to include representation from all of the states in the watershed.
Since 1983, the council has included the governors of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania; the mayor of the District of Columbia; the administrator of the EPA; and the chair of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which represents the legislators of the three states. It is anticipated that the new agreement will also be signed by the governors from the headwater states of New York, West Virginia and Delaware.
A revised draft of the new Chesapeake Bay agreement is expected to be available in late September. Check the Bay Program’s website www.chesapeakebay.net for details.