After decades of effort, the voluntary, collaborative approach to restoring the health and vitality of the Chesapeake Bay— the largest estuary in the United States—has not worked and, in fact, is failing. A diverse group of 57 senior scientists and policymakers have joined forces to save the Bay. This is our plan.

Chesapeake Bay’s Future at Stake

Posted by Gerald Winegrad

The recently filed plans by states on how they will meet the pollution diet mandated under the Clean Water Act fall well short of the necessary measures to restore the Bay. Missing are details about how they will fund the platitudes in the plans as well as specific regulatory measures that will be taken to reduce farm pollution and developed land pollution.

Readers need to understand that the Bay Program has seen many solemn promises and written agreements signed by governors and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrators over the last 27 years to meet pollution diets and restore the Bay. The agreed upon limits were missed by wide margins with no sanctions whatsoever. Now, under court orders and with the states in violation of the Clean Water Act as 90% of the Bay’s waters do not meet basic water quality standards, the EPA has been forced to crack down and establish formal enforceable pollution limits. Whether the Bay states and the EPA will have the political courage to take the bold but necessary steps to reduce the nutrients and sediment poisoning the Bay remains to be seen.

Note that the similar reductions agreed upon in writing by the key Bay states and EPA in 2000 that were to be met by 2010 were not met. Now, similar the states have been given until 2017 to meet 60% of similar pollution limits and until 2015 to meet 100%. Note that most all pf the governors agreeing to these limits will no longer be governors by these dates and there will be a new Administration in the White House with new top dogs at the EPA.

Maryland’s plan, called a Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP), to meet the pollution caps, or Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL,) appears better than all other states’ but that’s not saying much. Note, for example, that Maryland’s WIP estimates cost of as much as $10 billion. The plan also notes that for nitrogen pollution, there needs to be a ramping up of current efforts to control farm pollutants by 5 to 7.5 times to meet the pollution cap by 2020 but there are no regulatory or concrete funding proposals to do so. The same is true with urban stormwater where an increase in effort of 3 to 4 times is needed.

Shouldn’t states be required to detail how their pollution reductions will be funded and specify legislative and regulatory actions they will implement? Simply saying they plan to examine cost-effective options with the public and ask the feds to cough up more money won’t get the job done. Maryland is not unique in this regard as other Bay states such asVirginia are much worse, still calling the whole TMDL an unfunded mandate.

Maryland has been the undisputed leader in Bay restoration. It has done more and spent more than any other jurisdiction by far. We need to continue to exert strong leadership. Our Senior Bay leaders group has offered 25 measures to the Bay cabinet and Governor. While there is mention of considering a few of these measures, no really tough decisions are made that would upset any group such as farmers, developers or counties. For example, better regulation of chicken and other animal manure is not being required but will be considered. There is no call for a no net loss of forest policy. The Maryland WIP relies on the failed Smart Growth polices to control sprawl development and more urban runoff. Tough decisions are postponed.

Tim Wheeler’s Baltimore Sun article of December 30 on the adoption of the EPA TMDL and the WIPs notes this about Maryland’s WIP:

“In it, Maryland officials called for spending upwards of $10 billion over the next decade on upgrading dozens of sewage treatment plants, retrofitting storm drains in cities and older suburbs and curbing polluted runoff from the state’s farms. They put off for a year or more, however, critical decisions about how to pay for those efforts and whether to tighten limits on the billion or more pounds of poultry manure applied annually to croplands a major source of the nutrients fouling the bay’s waters.”

Erik Michelsen, executive director of the South River Federation, and one of our 58 signatories had an excellent piece published in The Capital and notes as follows: “When Maryland turned in its road map for cleaning up the Chesapeake to federal government earlier this month, many of us held out considerable hope that it would not only detail strategies for how we, collectively, are going to clean up our portion of the bay’s pollutants, but also clearly articulate the ways that the state would finance this multi-billion dollar initiative. Unfortunately, what was presented to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was more deferral and delay and not the leadership we had hoped for.”

Erik concludes: “In a year of many difficult decisions, starting to get serious about the clean-up of the Chesapeake Bay should be an easy one. Let’s see some leadership. Let’s stop talking about clean water and start fighting for it.”

These observations include the failure to propose any funding mechanism to cover the $530 million gap for upgrades to the 67 largest sewerage treatment plants that are critical in Maryland’s pollution reduction efforts and indicate how tough decisions are being postponed.

This key element of the WIP is a relatively easy step because the law was enacted under the Ehrlich Administration in 2004. So the structure for this major component of Maryland’s WIP was already in place in 2004. The hard part is plugging the major funding gap and that is not being resolved—only studied—despite an awareness of the looming major shortfall for the last two years.

Maryland, under the leadership of Gov. O’Malley, should seize on Bay restoration as a legacy issue for his remaining four years as Governor. A comprehensive set of Bay initiatives along the lines of our group’s suggested 25 measures should be developed and enacted as a Bay package just as Gov. Hughes did in 1984. With Maryland leading the way, the Bay states can and must take the steps we all know are necessary to restore this grossly polluted estuary.

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