I joined 26 other Chesapeake Bay environmental leaders calling for substantial changes in the Jan. 29 draft of the new Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement that is supposed to guide Bay restoration efforts.
Our group found serious shortcomings in the draft of the first Bay agreement in 14 years, the first after the mandatory adoption of the pollution diet under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load and state watershed implementation plans. We fear the current draft may undermine, not advance, Bay cleanup efforts. The draft does little to augment and improve on the current mandatory TMDL and WIPs and could negate the existing comprehensive commitments under the Chesapeake 2000 agreement.
The signatories urging that the draft agreement be substantially upgraded or dropped include longtime Bay leaders, some of whom were at the signing of the first Bay agreement in 1983.
On March 13, at the Bay Management Board public comment meeting, I joined other representatives of the group in urging the board, EPA and states to adopt 28 action items in our Citizen’s Bay Agreement to restore the Chesapeake Bay. We believe that without these major changes, the agreement should be sent back to the drawing board.
It appears that the politics of gaining the signatures of watershed states never before party to past agreements —West Virginia, Delaware and New York — and the less than stellar commitment of certain Bay states has led to a very weak proposal.
Those submitting the Citizen’s Bay Agreement include: a former Maryland governor who once chaired the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council; a former U.S. senator and congressman (one from each political party); former state senators, delegates, and county council members as well as a former Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources; Ph.Ds; a current county council member; conservation group leaders such as for the Sierra Club and Environment Maryland; Riverkeepers; and other Bay leaders.
The original Chesapeake Bay Agreement — a pledge to restore the health of the Bay and its living resources — was signed in 1983. Subsequent agreements in 1987 and then in 2000 had specific measurable commitments, including caps on nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment that were the precursor to the Bay TMDL. The Chesapeake 2000 agreement had more than 100 specific commitments by the Bay states which would seemingly be abrogated by the adoption of the current draft Bay Agreement put forth by the Bay Program.
Howard Ernst, political scientist and author of several books about the Chesapeake Bay, helped to craft the Citizen’s Bay Agreement. He recently stated: “If this new draft is the best the Bay Program, the states and EPA can do for the Bay, then the Bay recovery may be doomed. We sincerely hope that the suggested changes we are submitting will be incorporated.”
Some of the major problems in the draft agreement include:
≈ There are no references to agricultural pollution or reductions, which means there are not any new commitments nor a sense of urgency in addressing the Bay’s largest pollution source and the one most cost-effectively reduced. The only mention of agriculture is the necessity to preserve agricultural land.
≈ The draft omits any reference to population growth, referring simply to “population changes.”
≈ Regarding land development, the draft only requires setting up metrics to measure new impervious surfaces and the conversion of farm and forest land by 2017, with an evaluation of options after that time. There are no direct actions to deal with such development.
≈ There are no references to managing polluted stormwater runoff, a major Bay pollution source.
≈ There is a dangerous opt-out clause in the agreement that could allow the Bay states and Washington, DC, to choose not to comply or initiate any actions in the Bay cleanup.
≈ Any mention of toxic chemicals is omitted.
As a member of the Maryland Senate and of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, I witnessed the signing of the first Bay agreement in 1983 along with 700 attendees who gathered in common cause with great optimism that this great estuary would be restored. The flame of hope and expectations has flickered since, despite subsequent Bay agreements, as many commitments were not met and most of the Bay’s waters remained severely degraded.
Thirty years after that first Bay Agreement, none of the governors of the Executive Council attended the December meeting on the 30th anniversary except for Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. Nor did the EPA administrator — also a member of the Executive Council. The other council members who attended were DC Mayor Vincent Gray and Maryland Del. Maggie McIntosh, chair of the Chesapeake Bay Commission.
The council planned to have a new Bay agreement ready for this 30th anniversary meeting but because of increasing opposition by the states to any meaningful terms, there was no new agreement until the emaciated draft before us.
The real consequence of the failure to honor previous commitments and aggressively address nonpoint sources of nutrients and sediment from agriculture and developed areas will be a Chesapeake that remains severely degraded. The Bay’s water is so polluted that more than 70 percent of its waters violate Clean Water Act requirements. We are left with collapsed fisheries, including oysters, shad and soft clams. In 2012, nearly 15,000 acres of underwater grasses disappeared and acreage approached lows last reported in 1986.
We have so poisoned our waters that reports abound of serious infections in humans who come in contact with Bay water that threaten life and limb. Skin infections also are common in dogs that come into contact with Bay waters. I learned recently that my car mechanic, an avid fisherman, had contracted a serious infection while fishing the South River this summer and was hospitalized with a chronic wasting disease eating his leg away. This is not an isolated case as others have had these life-threatening infections.
If in 1983 we were to create a nightmare scenario for the Bay, this would be it—we are living that nightmare! The cause of this decline is attributable to the failure to properly address pollutants from developed land — stormwater runoff — and agricultural operations.
As Fred Tutman, the Patuxent Riverkeeper, said: “The time for half-measures is over. We have drafted a real Bay agreement —a Citizen’s Bay Agreement — that would put us on the right path to restoring the Chesapeake Bay by 2025. We call on the Bay Management Board, the governors of the Bay watershed states and the EPA to adopt our recommendations or withdraw the current draft agreement.”
It really is a low in Bay restoration when the first Bay agreement in 14 years omits any mention of or action for polluted runoff from farms; fails to address stormwater runoff; and alarmingly fails to even mention the major threat of population growth and sprawling development. Together, agriculture and developed lands contribute 60 percent of the Bay’s nitrogen, 75 percent of the phosphorus and 82 percent of the sediment.
We know what needs to be done to restore our treasured Chesapeake Bay. We can get it done but not with the current attitudes, near-sighted leadership, and half-measures.
The Citizen’s Bay Agreement lays out 28 specific measures to restore the Bay that should be included in any new agreement and can be found at www.bayactionplan.com/bay-agreement/