The final details have been hammered out and the wheels put into motion. Over the last few months, the Principals’ Staff Committee of the Chesapeake Bay Program has met more than once to come to consensus on several important decisions impacting the future of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup.

These decisions range from the approval of a vastly improved suite of modeling tools to how to account for climate change impacts across the Chesapeake Bay watershed. With the final results of the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load Midpoint Assessment expected by June, and planning for the Phase III Watershed Implementation Plans under way, these decisions will help set the direction forward for restoration actions taking place through 2025 in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

The Bay TMDL, established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2010, calls for an assessment in 2017 to review the progress that watershed jurisdictions — Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia — are making to reduce the amount of pollution from two nutrients, nitrogen and phosphorus, as well as sediment flowing into the Chesapeake Bay and local rivers and streams.

The Bay TMDL calls for all pollution reduction practices to be in place by 2025. 

Under the Bay TMDL, jurisdictions and the EPA have agreed to develop short-term goals, or two-year milestones, to check the progress of efforts to reduce pollution. Two of the things that the Midpoint Assessment will look at are the jurisdictions’ final 2016–2017 milestones and 2017 progress data to determine if they have met the Chesapeake Bay Program’s midpoint goal for the Bay TMDL: having practices in place to achieve 60 percent of the necessary pollution reductions by the end of 2017. These results are expected in June 2018.

Since the Bay TMDL was first established, several scientific and technical enhancements have been made, including improved modeling tools; the development of high-resolution land cover data; an increase in monitoring stations throughout the watershed to give a more complete picture of real-time conditions and trends; and improved data gathered from local agricultural and municipal partners.

Over the last several years, the Bay Program partnership has been reviewing the latest science, tools, data and best management practices — conservation practices implemented by farmers and other individuals or organizations to reduce pollution and restore waterways — to consider all of the lessons learned and to incorporate a much expanded level of local data into the tools that are used by jurisdictions and local partners to develop the Phase III WIPs and guide implementation through 2025.

Let’s take a look at some of the policy decisions made by the Principals’ Staff Committee that will guide the development and implementation of the Phase III WIPs and what they mean to you.

≈ Adopt a new suite of modeling tools: The Bay Program partnership’s new suite of modeling tools has a more simplified structure than the previous version and includes improved nutrient data, cutting-edge, high-resolution land cover data and improved information about the efficiencies of pollution-reducing best management practices. Jurisdictions and their local partners will use these tools to develop and implement the Phase III WIPs and two-year milestones through 2025.
What does this mean for you? This means access to the Chesapeake Bay Assessment and Scenario Tool (CAST) for local planners, organizations across the watershed and you. CAST can help determine what mix of best management practices can help jurisdictions meet the Bay TMDL and local planning goals.

≈ Release draft Phase III WIP planning targets by the Bay Program partnership: To help plan for the Phase III WIPs, the Principals’ Staff Committee released draft 2025 nutrient pollution reduction targets for each jurisdiction. The jurisdictions have a four-month review period to determine if any adjustments to the draft planning targets are needed. This offers jurisdictions the opportunity to work with local partners to ensure they can use these draft targets to help address area water quality restoration needs. The Bay Program will release the final planning targets on May 25, 2018. 
What does this mean for you? There will be new 2025 targets for pollution reduction that each of the six watershed states and the District of Columbia will need to meet to help achieve their goals under the Bay TMDL. We need your input! The jurisdictions are in the process of developing local planning goals to make meeting their pollution reduction targets a more tangible, collaborative process to engage their residents with what’s happening with the rivers and streams in their own backyards.

≈ Develop an implementation plan to address infill caused by the Conowingo Dam: As the Conowingo Dam has reached its capacity for trapping and storing nutrients and sediment, the Principals’ Staff Committee has agreed to the concept of treating the additional loads caused by the dam’s infill as a separate pollution load with its own WIP. A separate Conowingo Steering Committee will be convened, with representatives from each jurisdiction to track progress made and provide technical and contractual support. The steering committee will oversee the development of a financing strategy for the Conowingo WIP, as well as develop the WIP with the assistance of a third party. The  EPA will provide oversight in the development and implementation of the Conowingo WIP. 
What does this mean for you? This means all jurisdictions will have the chance to contribute putting practices into place to help offset the nutrient and sediment pollution loads from the Conowingo infill.

≈ Adopt an approach to factor climate change into the Phase III WIPs: The committee supports a multipronged approach to factor climate change into the WIPs. Components of this approach include:

  • A narrative summary that details plans to address climate change, including local priorities, as well as commits to adopt climate change targets by 2021, using the Bay Program’s modeling tools;
  • Document current scientific understanding and identify research gaps and needs; 
  • Include jurisdiction-specific estimates of nutrient and sediment loads due to 2025 climate change conditions; and
  • Develop a better understanding of what best management practices will most effectively address climate change conditions.

The Bay Program partnership agreed that beginning in March 2021, they will consider results of updated methods, techniques and studies to refine estimated pollution loads resulting from climate change for each jurisdiction. In September 2021, jurisdictions will account for additional nutrient and sediment pollution loads due to 2025 climate change conditions through an addendum to their Phase III WIPs and reflected in their two-year milestones beginning in 2022.
What does this mean for you? You will have additional time to work with the Chesapeake Bay Program and your jurisdiction to develop climate-resilient best management practices and identify those local areas where placement would be most effective. 

≈ Base WIP development on 2025 current zoning conditions: The Phase III WIPs will use 2025 projections to track and account for growth over time. The 2025 growth projections include not only human population, but also animals, crop, housing density and zoning information to help jurisdictions and local partners account for the effects of land use planning and conservation practices to reduce future pollution loads. These projections will be updated every two years with the latest information and data from jurisdictions and local partners.
What does this mean for you? There will be greater opportunities to incentivize and credit conservation efforts throughout the watershed.

The Midpoint Assessment has provided the Bay Program partnership with a chance to step back and assess how the Bay TMDL and WIPs are making a difference in the Bay’s restoration; if they are working as intended; and if there’s a better way to implement priorities and achieve both local water quality and Bay restoration goals.

The ultimate goals of the Midpoint Assessment are to streamline implementation and work to overcome challenges to restoring local and Bay water quality as 2025 approaches as well as to set the jurisdictions up for success in the development and implementation of their Phase III WIPs.

What does this mean for you? It offers an opportunity to engage — or re-engage — local and state governments in the development of the local planning goals and jurisdictions’ WIPs over the next year.

I hope you will take advantage of these opportunities as we continue to make progress on the road to 2025.