Bay cleanup leaders in June agreed to sweeping goals to improve habitat, reduce pollution, protect land and better engage citizens throughout the region.
Now, they are figuring out how to make that happen.
The first step came in September, as each state and federal agency decided which of the 31 outcomes in the new Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement it would actively work to achieve.
The next step takes place in the coming months, as they write strategies to achieve each outcome.
The largely voluntary agreement is intended to coordinate Bay-related activities throughout the region, and was the fourth one since 1983. It was signed by nine entities: the states of Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia and New York; the District of Columbia; the EPA on behalf of federal agencies; and the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which represents state legislatures.
It was the first agreement to include the headwater states of Delaware, New York and West Virginia.
It set 31 specific outcomes, such as restoring 85,000 acres of wetlands, planting 900 miles of forest stream buffers annually, reducing toxic pollution, protecting 2 million acres of land, meeting Bay nutrient reduction goals and more — all by 2025.
Such goals often went unmet in past agreements, so the new pact called for writing detailed “management strategies” outlining how each outcome would be accomplished, with agreement signatories committing to specific actions in two-year increments.
One controversial part of the agreement was that not all signatories were obligated to work toward each outcome. Environmental groups in particular expressed concern that if states could “opt out” of certain parts, it would jeopardize the ability to achieve goals. For instance, the agreement calls for all students in the Bay region to have an outdoor educational experience related to watersheds before they graduate — but that would require participation by all states. Environmentalists asked that states make decisions about which outcomes they would work on within 90 days
On Sept. 16 — the three month anniversary of the agreement signing — the state-federal Bay Program partnership released a list showing that Maryland, Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay Commission had agreed to work on all 31 outcomes. One or more federal agencies are also working on each strategy.
Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia agreed to work on 26 outcomes, and Delaware 24. For the most part, those jurisdictions are not participating in outcomes related to Bay fisheries or habitats immediately surrounding the Chesapeake.
New York signed up to participate in 15 outcomes and West Virginia, eight.
Nick DiPasquale, director of the EPA Bay Program Office, which coordinates state-federal Bay activities, described the September list as a “first cut” and said he expected participation to grow, especially for headwater states. Until now, their Bay involvement has primarily been limited to environmental agencies working on nutrient reduction goals they are required to achieve under the Chesapeake Total Maximum Daily Load.
Some agreement goals, he said, would need to involve other state departments, such as education, fish and wildlife or land management agencies. Efforts to engage those agencies are ongoing. “I think, over time, we’ll see more participation from a broader range of agencies within each of those jurisdictions,” DiPasquale said.
Issues such as toxics and climate change had been hugely controversial during the writing of the agreement. Early drafts omitted those issues because of opposition by multiple states.
But almost all states have committed to helping write management strategies for those issues — and all committed to working on the toxics reduction outcome.
Now that each state and federal agencies have decided which outcomes they will work on, the job begins to figure out how they will do such things as restore habitat for 100,000 black ducks, open 1,000 miles of river to migratory fish, add 300 public access points or increase participation by minority stakeholder groups.
That will be done by teams that include agreement signatories as well as representatives from stakeholder groups. Strategies are to be completed in March. They will then be submitted for public comment. Final documents to be approved by June 16, 2015.
The strategies will not only identify what actions are needed to accomplish each outcome, but will also identify factors that could hurt the ability to achieve the goals, such as land use change, regulatory obstacles or lack of local support. They also need to suggest ways those problems might be overcome.
The strategies will identify existing programs that can help achieve the goals, and where those programs may need improvements.
They also need to identify how progress will be monitored and how programs can be adapted to address shortfalls in progress or changing conditions.
The strategies will include biennial work plans showing what actions each jurisdiction, agency or other management strategy participant will accomplish in two-year increments. The strategies themselves will be updated every two years.
The specificity required in the strategies is intended to provide more accountability to the public and improve the likelihood of success.
DiPasquale emphasized the first strategies are not the last word — they will be updated, revised or fine-tuned with each new version.
“We are going to see these documents evolve over time,” he said. “We are really scrambling to do an honest job at putting together these management strategies, but they aren’t going to be perfect the first time out, but we will be able to improve them over time.”
Public invited to participate in strategies
The Bay Program is inviting the public to become involved with the development of management strategies aimed to achieving goals of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, as well as to oversee their implementation.
It has launched a new web page that allows individuals, watershed organizations, community groups and others to check the status of each management strategy, identify what Bay Program workgroup is charged with writing it, and what states and agencies are participating in the drafting, and contact information.
Interested parties can participate in a range of ways, from providing information useful to writing the strategies, commenting on drafts or simply checking in to see if the plans are on schedule — and, ultimately, being implemented.
“The new Watershed Agreement brings an unprecedented level of transparency and accountability to the Bay restoration effort,” said Nick DiPasquale, director of the EPA’s Bay Program Office. “Now citizens have easier access to information about partners’ activities, the ability to track our progress toward meeting the agreement’s goals and outcomes and even the opportunity to influence the future.”
The website is www.chesapeakebay.net/managementstrategies.