The Chesapeake at the Midpoint

The Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort has become an example for other watersheds in the country, due to the collective efforts of the regional partnership. For the past two decades, federal, state and local agencies, nonprofit organizations, academic institutions and citizens have come together to secure a bright future for the health of the Bay and the millions of people and wildlife that depend on it.

Midpoint Assessment

The Chesapeake Bay TMDL calls for a Midpoint Assessment, where the jurisdictions will review their progress towards meeting nutrient and sediment pollution load reductions. As one can imagine, each state possess its own set of hurdles. Some jurisdictions have challenges related to stabilizing funding needs for projects like agricultural best management practices and innovative stormwater retrofits, which have proven to be some of the best solutions to address excess loads. Investing in these practices have been very beneficial to jurisdictions in the watershed, but can be tough to implement by state legislatures.

As our population continues to grow there is also a need to account for growth and climate change impacts. To make matters worse, pollution loads from nonpoint sources continue to be a growing issue in the watershed that has been difficult to manage. Lastly, there is a need to address the sediment and nutrient pollution coming over the Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River, which provides the Chesapeake with 70 percent of its freshwater. These demands must be met in order to achieve our water quality goals.

As part of the TMDL, the states and the District are required to develop Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) – roadmaps for addressing their share of pollution reductions. In theory, the WIPs are supposed to be binding plans, although in practical terms, they are only as binding as EPA is willing to insist that the states live up to their commitments. Each WIP is developed in partnership with 

input from stakeholders, scientists, nonprofits, and local governments, and each jurisdiction is required to develop WIPs at three distinct phases before the 2025 deadline. Understanding where challenges lie within each of the respective jurisdictions will allow the Chesapeake Bay Program partnership to streamline implementation. Once released, the Midpoint Assessment can be used to better assess constraints that currently present themselves in the cleanup plan. Until then, let’s take a look at how each of the Bay states have characterized and evaluated prior WIPs, remaining challenges for meeting pollution targets, and how the public can engage in the next Phase of the WIP development. 

New York

 Photo Courtesy of Otsego Land Trust

Photo Courtesy of Otsego Land Trust

The WIP development in New York has been a collaborative effort between New York State’s Department of Agriculture and Markets, the Upper Susquehanna Coalition and Cornell University. Implementation took place at the county level by the Soil and Water Conservation Districts who share more than 5,000 conservation projects. Pollution reduction from the agriculture, wastewater, and stormwater sectors have been a main focus in the previous phases of the WIP.

During the Phase II WIP, New York failed to fully implement its nitrogen and sediment reduction goals. While New York has comprehensive programs, particularly for agriculture, tracking best management practices (BMPs) and sharing that information across projects has been difficult.  Fortunately, some improvements were made to curb phosphorus leaching through wastewater and fertilizers. Through the legislature, several laws were passed to limit these pollutants in commercial use. Reinvestments in wastewater, sewer, and septic upgrades were also made to clean water infrastructure. For the Phase III WIP, advocates in New York would like to address the future impact of climate change and improve data tracking. The Upper Susquehanna Coalition is currently developing the National Environmental Information Exchange Network (NEIN) for future data reporting on the Chesapeake Bay Program. The data will be used for WIP III planning and specific data needs. 

Pennsylvania

Prior to the Phase III WIP development, Pennsylvania’s Phase II WIP had little teeth to enforce county targets leading to the state falling short of meeting its goals. Future improvements such as a county level scale and enforceable local TMDL efforts could prove beneficial for the Phase III WIP development. Pennsylvania faces a number of challenges to meeting its commitment to achieving pollution reduction. Insufficient funding resources continue to put a strain on common sense practices that benefit clean water in Pennsylvania. The state lacks a dedicated funding source to implement best management practices and clean water programs. Establishing a dedicated clean water fund, such as the proposed HB20 would be crucial. Along with this, state resource agencies have not received adequate funding over the last several years. Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has been slashed by roughly 40% over the past 14 years, which has increased wait times on permits and decreased and their ability to provide oversight. There is a dire need to revamp the agriculture cost share program and nutrient credit trading programs.

In addition to addressing these shortfalls, advocates are pushing for a comprehensive plan outlining public engagement to garner buy-in from the community and stakeholders for the Phase III WIP in four pilot counties (Lancaster, York, Adams, and Franklin County). Through this process, the state is hoping to better engage individuals from a variety of backgrounds to develop BMP's to help meet the TMDL. The DEP and the state are doing this from a local level, they want to make sure they allow the counties and their local governments are able to set forth goals that are quantifiably reachable for their region.  The state has developed a steering committee dedicated to restoring its rivers and streams via the WIP process, and the public is encouraged to engage in steering committee meetings to provide input on the WIP, which focuses on local government engagement. For any of that to succeed, however, it is imperative that EPA exerts its authority to implement backstops for pollution reduction goals at the state level, so that goals will be met even if the state’s efforts falter.

West Virginia

The implementation process of WIP II implementation in the state has been steered by the West Virginia Chesapeake Bay Tributaries Strategies Team, a partnership of agencies and non profits working with local governments, utilities, land owners, and the public. Coordinated by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) with support from the from the Conservation Agency, Division of Forestry, Division of Agriculture, and the Eastern Panhandle Regional Planning 

Development Council (Region 9). This effort has been primarily focused on finding connections among the goals and mandates of local governments with the goals of the Chesapeake Bay Program partnership. Pollutions reductions from the agriculture and stormwater sectors remain a particular focus in West Virginia. 

 Photo courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation 

Photo courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation 

The Eastern Panhandle Regional Planning and Development Council (Region 9) staffs the Region 9 Chesapeake Bay Program Coordinator, to work with local governments and utilities to develop projects across multiple sectors to include agriculture and stormwater, This role key is to identify critical matching funds for projects to meet the goals of the TMDL. Two projects in the City of Charles Town and the Town of Bath exemplify how the local governments leveraged existing funds for projects that reduce wastewater discharge and provide solutions to stormwater management through green infrastructure practices. While these projects have helped to mitigate pollution entering the watershed success lies in helping local government solve their identified problems by tapping into the Chesapeake Bay Program effort.

Inadequate funding for conservation practices continues to be an impediment in West Virginia.  For the Phase III WIP development, advocates in West Virginia aspire to see more capacity for local governments to enhance on the ground project coordination.  Planning for green infrastructure and innovative land conservation planning have funding needs, but would be ideal to consider in the development of WIP III. Additionally, there is a need for more robust public awareness throughout the state. Much of the focus on the WIP has been technical without a clear vision as to why these practices benefit local waterways which benefit public health and prosperity for the state.  

 

Delaware

The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) is leading the effort for WIP implementation in Delaware. The department has convened the Chesapeake Bay Interagency Workgroup made up of representatives from each DNREC Division, Department of Agriculture, Department of Transportation, Office of State Planning Coordination, County Conservation Districts, and other stakeholders. The Workgroups will focus on two selected sectors: agriculture and developed. They are responsible for recommending and reviewing sub-allocating methodologies 

to the various nonpoint sources within the basins, assessing current data tracking and reporting systems, determining maximum implementation goals and methods to fill program funding gaps.

Moving forward, targeted local partners and contractors will need to be involved with public forums and discussions as needed. During the next Phase of the WIP, targeted local partners and contactors will need to be involved with public forms and discussions as needed. DNREC has expressed a need for additional resources from the EPA to achieve expectations for milestones. Delaware is on track for Phase III WIP planning targets for phosphorus, but needs work on their targets for nitrogen. Accounting for future stressors, such as population growth and climate change, must be analyzed to ensure nutrients loads are met. During the development of the Phase III WIP, Delaware needs to ensure strong state best management practice verification plans and local government engagement in the WIP development to create clear numeric goals for localities.

Maryland

The state of Maryland has been actively engaged during the WIP development process. Every county in Maryland submitted a Phase II WIP focusing on nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment reductions with a focus on agriculture, forests, atmospheric deposition, septic, stormwater, and wastewater sectors. Past WIP processes have provided invaluable information about local conditions and capacity to reduce pollution. The plans submitted by the counties have identified specific opportunities to increase the rate of progress towards cleanup goals.

 Photo courtsy of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay

Photo courtsy of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay

Advocates in Maryland would like to see a gap analysis from the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) on where in fact the state stands on meeting its goals for 2025. In order to meet Bay TMDL goals, MDE and local jurisdictions need to accelerate the pace of projects, as well as provide proper verification of well-maintained best management practices. In order to truly reach and maintain our 2025 goals, Maryland needs to improve enforcement, adaptive management, and funding for execution long term improvements to water quality. In an effort to increase awareness and engage the public during the next Phase of the WIP, the state has been hosting a series of regional workshops. These meetings are intended to inform participants about the Phase III WIP process, provide opportunities for questions and feedback, and promote interaction between local partners 

and state agencies. Presentations will be made by staff of Maryland Departments of Agriculture, Environment, Natural Resources, and Planning on topics such as the Conowingo Dam, wastewater, agriculture, funding, and more.

During the Phase III WIP development, advocates would like to see MDE request that counties undertake a program assessment that builds on their local Phase II WIP as the first step in local Phase III WIP planning. Planning should include county planning targets to close the gap. Additional tools and technical assistance could also provide more guidance and assistance to counties during the development of the Phase III WIP. In addition, there is a need to fill vacancies within the MDE and other agencies involved in pollution reduction efforts. Funding constraints continue to be a barrier within the state and at the county level to achieve water quality goals.  

Virginia

Localities in Virginia have lacked direction on how to best implement the WIPs and have expressed concerns to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). A recent statewide election cycle positioned Ann Jennings, an established advocate for the Chesapeake and the former Chesapeake Bay Commission Virginia Director, as the Deputy Secretary of Natural Resources for DEQ. Nonprofits in Virginia remain optimistic that the future of WIP development in the state will be successful with the new state leadership. Stakeholder groups have now convened under the new administration to prepare for local area planning goals.  

 Photo courtesy of the James River Association

Photo courtesy of the James River Association

This summer the Local Government Advisory Committee to the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council is hosting a series of roundtables to hear from local elected officials. Each roundtable will include a facilitated discussion about the challenges, successes, and opportunities communities across the Commonwealth face in protecting and restoring waterways. The information provided will be shared with Virginia’s leaders in order to foster a better understanding of the connection between local issues and priorities and the state’s commitments to protecting downstream waters.

During the development of the Phase III WIP, Virginians are looking for more incentives and support from the state to guide and bolster implementation. A big goal for Phase III is to create local strategies rather than focusing on statewide goals. The conservation community will be making a push to enforce non-regulatory goals that will ultimately be effective in guiding efforts to achieve 

water quality standards. Local area efforts could ultimately be seen as a tool to improve accountability and help guide financial investment for cost-share programs. Overall, connecting the WIP to local water is critically important.   

Washington, DC

Unlike the other Chesapeake Bay jurisdictions, the District has limited space for farmland and green space. Much of the District is comprised of imperious surfaces from parking lots, large buildings, and sidewalks. Due to this, stormwater runoff continues to be the largest contributor to poor water quality entering DC’s combined sewer system. Luckily, stormwater runoff is being mitigated through a variety of efforts to include new municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) permits, multi-sector general permits, federal facility stormwater compliance, wastewater treatments plant upgrades, and the stormwater reduction credit trading program. The District also has several outreach programs for residents designed to reduce stormwater contamination such as Canopy 3,000. This program was designed to expand the number of trees planted on private property and public spaces with a goal to cover 40% of the District with tree canopy by 2032. Each year, the District and its partners have continued to exceed annual planting goals of Canopy 3,000.

The nation’s capital has stringent MS4 permit issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which contains requirements for conversion of impervious surfaces to pervious surfaces through green infrastructure. This program is critical since federal facilities make up a large portion of impervious surface in the area. Federal facility compliance with stormwater requirements is a huge challenge in DC, Maryland, and Virginia (DMV) and their combined efforts with be essential to enable DC to meet its pollution goals by 2025. The lack of DC authority to compel the development of effective stormwater control plans by the agencies or enforce them presents and important opportunity to help hold those agencies accountable. Keeping tracking of contaminated stormwater runoff from new commercial facilities and dwelling units will be a focus of the upcoming WIP developments.

Looking forward: Phase III WIP

The Chesapeake Bay TMDL Midpoint Assessment is expected to be released at any moment, and will be a reflection of how far the Bay community has come to meet our clean up requirements. Continued support from local elected officials, members of Congress, businesses, nonprofits and local communities is vital to achieving cleanup goals and to restoring the watershed to health. The region’s economy and its people depend on these efforts to clean up the thousands of rivers and streams.

 

Mariah Davis is the Field Manager at Choose Clean Water.