Two-year Milestones Set to Speed Chesapeake Bay Restoration

WASHINGTON, DC, November 24, 2008 (ENS) - To accelerate progress toward cleaning up the nation's largest estuary, the Chesapeake Executive Council agreed at its annual meeting on Thursday to set restoration milestones every two years.

These milestones will focus the partnership on achieving the Chesapeake Bay Program's science-based goals to reduce excess levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment that degrade water quality and damage habitats.

The specific milestones will be calculated in spring 2009, once the most current scientific data becomes available, and will be announced at the next Executive Council meeting, which will also be held in spring 2009.

The decision to set short-term goals comes after the Executive Council confirmed at its 2007 meeting that the Bay Program partnership would not meet its Chesapeake 2000 commitment to clean up the Bay by 2010.

"Setting goals that are a decade out, for example, do not create pressure to produce results," said Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine, the incoming Executive Council chairman. "We're going to change the way goals are set."

The Chesapeake Bay Program Executive Council held its annual meeting at Union Station in Washington, DC. The council consists of the governors of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia; the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; the mayor of the District of Columbia; and the chair of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, a legislative body serving Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

Outside, about 200 activists in black shirts chanted "Don't Delay! Save the Bay!" as they slowly marched through the train station in black caps with pictures of skeletal fish. Their shirts read: "The Bay is Slowly Dying."

The event was organized by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which on October 29 joined with allies in filing a notice of intent to sue the EPA for its failure to enforce the federal Clean Water Act and clean up the Bay by 2010 as it promised in a 2000 agreement.

"This is going to be the biggest fight for clean water that this nation has ever seen," Will Baker, president of the foundation, told a cheering crowd outside Union Station. "We are going to stop the politics of postponement," Baker insisted. "Clean water is a right, not a luxury. And it's a right that we have to fight for."

Ken Smith, president of the Virginia State Waterman's Association, broke into tears as he spoke at the protest, recalling how pollution has fouled the Bay since his childhood.

Back then, he said, the water was so clear you could toss a coin from a boat and see it well enough to dive down and grab it off the bottom. Now, it's far too cloudy for his children to do that. Populations of blue crabs in the Bay have plunged by 70 percent since 1990, so watermen like Smith are having a hard time making a living. he said.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed stretches across more than 64,000 square miles, encompassing parts of six states - Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, and the entire District of Columbia.

After Thursday's annual meeting, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson said that leadership in the development of a Bay-wide pollution cap, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL, will be among EPA's contributions to the new strategy.

The novel process for creating the TMDL - the largest of its kind - was outlined by EPA officials at Thursday's Chesapeake Executive Council meeting at Washington, DC's Union Station.

A TMDL is a tool of the Clean Water Act and sets maximum pollutant loads that waters can accept without exceeding state water quality standards.

The Bay-wide TMDL is scheduled to be completed in December 2010 and will identify pollutant caps by major river basin in the 64,000-square-mile Bay watershed.

The TMDL will allocate "loadings" of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment to all jurisdictions in the watershed, including New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

"This is a major undertaking that will involve substantial public input and close coordination with the states," said Jon Capacasa, director of the Water Protection Division in EPA's Region 3, the lead agency for the TMDL development. "This process will help states implement strategies for accelerated restoration activities."

EPA Region 3 will work closely with modeling and water quality experts at the Chesapeake Bay Program in developing the TMDL and will engage the states in the process through the Bay Program's committee structure.

EPA also will work with state agencies as they develop implementation plans that identify specific actions needed to satisfy the caps. The states will provide commitments every two years for the necessary actions.

"Working together we can turn the tide on a cleaner, healthier Bay," said Johnson. "It will take the federal government and our partners to solve the challenges of the Chesapeake Bay."

To increase the accountability of the partners working to clean up the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the Executive Council has requested the evaluation of the program by a national independent science organization. The evaluator role is designed to identify shortcomings and recommend solutions for improving the effectiveness of the Chesapeake Bay Program.

"The Chesapeake Executive Council is committed to meeting our obligation to restore the Chesapeake Bay watershed," said Governor Kaine. "Our obligation is to provide a clean Bay, rivers and streams for the 17 million people living in the watershed today and to protect this national treasure for future generations."

The Executive Council also announced at its meeting plans to pursue development of next-generation biofuels produced from non-food crops in the Chesapeake Region.

The Executive Council, led this year by outgoing chairman Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley and incoming chairman Governor Kaine, establishes the Bay Program's policy agenda.

"The work of this partnership and the actions taken today reflect our unwavering commitment to restoring the health and beauty of the Chesapeake Bay for the millions of area residents and visitors who enjoy the Bay or make a living from it," said Governor O'Malley.

"Our citizens, in Maryland and across the watershed, are accelerating this progress by embracing a new spirit of stewardship to restore our beloved Bay and create the more sustainable future we all prefer," the governor said.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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