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.

National Research Council Report Echoes Bay Action Plan Recommendations

(Posted by Gerald Winegrad.)

The National Research Council has just released its evaluation of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s pollution reduction program this week. The report, Achieving Nutrient and Sediment Reduction Goals in the Chesapeake Bay: An Evaluation of Program Strategies and Implementation, the culmination of a study begun in 2009 and sponsored by the U.S. EPA, fully supports the measures outlined in the Bay Action Plan.

The NRC found significant shortcomings in the current two-year milestone framework used by the states and EPA for tracking nutrient and sediment reductions. Most of the NRC’s recommendations for improvements to assure meeting the nutrient and sediment reduction goals are right in line with those proposed by our group of Bay leaders. Now it’s past time for the states and EPA to adopt these measures we have been proposing for several years and end the politics of postponement.

The prestigious NRC concluded that:

“Reaching the long-term nutrient and sediment reduction goals will require substantial commitment from each of the Bay jurisdictions and likely some level of sacrifice from those who live and work in the watershed. Jurisdictions are required not only to significantly reduce current loads, but they will need to take additional actions to address future growth and development over the next 15 years…. Recovery of the Chesapeake Bay from excessive nutrient and sediment loads will require profound changes in the Bay watershed. These changes include a greater awareness of each watershed inhabitant’s contribution to the Bay nutrient load, extensive adoption of urban and agricultural nutrient control practices, and widespread willingness to balance the cost of restoration programs with the quality of life values provided by the Bay and its land uses.”

We fully support this call by the NRC for these substantial commitments, profound changes, and sacrifices necessary to assure a healthy Chesapeake. The report also notes the difficulties in achieving water quality goals given the massive amount of legacy nutrients and sediment already in the Bay.

Let’s briefly examine key elements of the shortcomings that the NRC found in their two-year study and how these are neatly covered by our 25 measures to restore the Bay in the Bay Action Plan:

1) Better evaluation of progress in reducing nutrient pollution with much better monitoring and assessment by indepednent third-parties of bmps on farms and urban areas and intensive use of small-watershed monitoring. See numbers 1, 3, 7 and 8 of the Bay Action Plan in which our scientists were quite adamant about these needs. Thus, we completely concur with the NRC and the need for such accountability and third-party field monitoring.

2) The two-year milestone strategy, in and of itself, does not guarantee that implementation goals will be met, and consequences for nonattainment remain unclear. We concur. See numbers 1 and 2 calling for mandatory sanctions for failure to meet targeted deadlines.

3) Improved and innovative manure management with expanded concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) permitting programs, regulations to control the timing and rates of manure application, and limits on the extent of animal operations based on the nutrient carrying capacity of the watershed. We completely concur and have detailed how this can be accomplished in numbers 4, 5, and 6.

4) Incentive-based and regulatory mechanisms to increase the use of agricultural BMPs for the purpose of improving water quality. We again concur. See our suggestions in #’s 1, 2, and 3.

5) Regulations to address stormwater growth and development including stormwater utilities, and restrictions on nitrogen and phosphorus residential fertilizer application. We concur and adopted specific measures to accomplish this and assure a no net increase in pollutant loads from development in numbers 9-14.

6) Additional air pollution controls on nitrogen emissions from all sources, including nox and agricultural ammonia emissions. We concur and numbers 5, 6, 20, and 21 in our Bay Action Plan specifically cover this recommendation.

While the NRC recommendations add more support for the implementation of the 25 measures in the Bay Action Plan, the question remains: Do the Bay states and EPA have the political will to take these bold steps and overcome the special interests resisting the necessary changes?

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