Local governments throughout the Chesapeake Bay region stand ready to help restore the region’s water quality, an advisory committee told Bay cleanup leaders last year. But they also need help — particularly financial.

“We support the vision of healthy local watersheds that has the added benefit of improving the health of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed,” Ann Simonetti, chair of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Local Government Advisory Committee, said in a letter to Bay restoration leaders.

Green roof, PA

A “green roof” helps trap and absorb stormwater in Lancaster, PA. (Steve Droter/Chesapeake Bay Program)

But the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected the budgets of local governments, she noted, highlighting the need for more assistance if they are to participate “more fully in protecting and restoring water resources in our communities.”

The 64,000-square-mile Bay drainage basin, or watershed, includes more than 1,800 local governments scattered across six states, as well as the District of Columbia.

They play a critical role in helping to restore the watershed. Local government investments have played a big part in the Bay cleanup by upgrading wastewater treatment plants, which have been the greatest source of Chesapeake pollution reductions to date.

The Bay Program

The Chesapeake Bay Program was created in 1983 by an agreement signed by the governors of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania; the mayor of the District of Columbia; the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; and the chair of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, a group comprised largely of state legislators from across the region.

The Bay Program has since been expanded to include Delaware, West Virginia and New York, so all of the states that drain into the Bay are represented.

Their goal is to restore the health of the nation’s largest estuary and the watershed that drains into it. The Bay Program helps to implement clean water policies, including the region’s 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement. “It calls for a variety of actions that will not only help restore the Bay but improve local waterways as well.”

Early on, the Bay Program created a Local Government Advisory Committee to offer advice on restoration efforts. Each year, the committee reports to the Chesapeake Executive Council — the governors, Bay Commission chair, DC mayor and EPA administrator — to make recommendations.

Local government recommendations

In its most recent report, the Local Government Advisory Committee affirmed that localities are concerned about a multitude of issues affecting local waterways and the Bay, such as flooding, infrastructure maintenance, economic health and climate resiliency.

But, it added, “without additional state and federal support … we will continue to fall short of our collective vision for an environmentally and economically sustainable Chesapeake Bay Watershed.”

The letter made three specific recommendations.

1. Draw on the experience of the Bay Program’s advisory committees. The LGAC and other advisory committees can play important roles in providing input on restoration challenges and opportunities that arise in the wake of the pandemic, the letter said, “to maintain and continue progress toward an environmentally and economically sustainable Bay with clean water and abundant life, conserved lands and access to the water, a vibrant cultural heritage, and a diversity of engaged citizens and stakeholders.”

2. Replicate and expand on a workforce development program modeled on the Civilian Conservation Corps. The region is struggling with economic impacts and job losses stemming from the pandemic. The existing Chesapeake Conservation Corp, funded through the Chesapeake Bay Trust, places young adults in conservation positions with government agencies and nonprofits to help them gain leadership experience for “green” careers. The letter calls for greatly expanding that program to make it more like the Depression era Citizen Conservation Corps, which once employed 3.4 million people nationwide, planting trees, building parks and wildlife refuges, and completing trails and roads.

“An expanded Conservation Corps would offer the greatest, most straightforward path to encourage and ensure diversity in our ranks and future minority leadership in the Bay effort,” the letter said.

3. Develop, guide and support policies and programs that advance environmental justice. The letter addresses the need, and the Bay Program goal, to incorporate diverse voices in decision-making equality and improve the environmental well-being of vulnerable communities.

“Policy-making decisions must ensure that the voices of each and every community throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed are valued, respected and heard; and, that vulnerabilities are considered and protected,” the letter said.

Policies need to address the problems that are especially faced by vulnerable communities. Issues include addressing climate-related flooding; improving community engagement when siting or permitting development using planning and zoning to prevent the siting of polluting facilities or infrastructure in environmentally burdened neighborhoods; and targeting environmental amenities, such as green spaces, to help communities that have not received equal investments in such efforts.

The letter said the Bay Program could provide standardized policies for local

governments to help address these issues.

Learn about the Local Government Advisory Committee at chesapeakebay.net/who/group/lgac.

Karl Blankenship is editor-at-large of the Bay Journal. You can reach him at kblankenship@bayjournal.com.

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