(Posted by Brenton McCloskey)
It takes the dedication and hard work of communities, businesses, individuals and – most of all, committed partnerships – to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. With the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) prescribed “pollution diet” mandating new reductions in the Bay watershed, partnerships are essential now more than ever. In order to meet the EPA’s target date to improve the Bay by 2025, the combined efforts of these concerned citizens and organizations is essential to successfully fulfilling these goals.
Local governments have been asked by the State, via federal mandates, to submit individual Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) to meet local water quality goals. With the EPA requirements on a fast-track, it is important that Maryland maximize its available resources to ensure the Bay is healthy and economically viable now and into the future.
However, there has been much angst among local governments, to which the restoration effort falls, on how exactly they will be able to secure the financial and technical resources necessary to meet the pollution reduction requirements. The financial resources needed to meet these requirements will reach into the hundred of millions, and the technical assistance needed in prioritizing efforts will most certainly be unmet with such limited staff resources. While neither the state nor the locals can carry this burden alone, there is hope – the Watershed Assistance Collaborative.
The Watershed Assistance Collaborative is a partnership that includes the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Chesapeake Bay Trust, the Center for Smart Growth and Environmental Finance Center, the University of Maryland SeaGrant Extension, the Maryland Department of Environment, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the EPA. Since its inception three years ago, the Collaborative has been assisting local communities through planning and partnership building and determining the necessary design work required to speed-up implementation of Bay and coastal restoration projects.
Services offered by the Watershed Assistance Collaborative
- Watershed Assistance Grant Program – Led by Chesapeake Bay Trust, the WAGP provides planning and design grants which are needed before large scale restoration can begin.
- Financing Strategies and Stakeholder Development – The University of Maryland’s Environmental Finance Center and other consultants provide watershed planning, financing and stakeholder development to prepare groups for project implementation.
- Regional Watershed Restoration Specialists – Working with the University of Maryland’s SeaGrant Extension, this service provides “on-the-ground” personnel to local and county governments and their partners to accelerate nonpoint source pollution reduction efforts.
- (New!) Stormwater Financing and Outreach Unit – Led by the University of Maryland Environmental Finance Center, and sponsored by DNR, this Unit is helping local governments create strategies for financing stormwater management (check out a spotlight on this program here). The unit provides direct technical assistance and combines it with several outreach activities that help to engage and educate residents and businesses on stormwater issues within their community. The unit will provide each community with detailed recommendations on how to pay for sustainable stormwater management program.
The Collaborative, with its dedicated staff of regional watershed restoration specialists, has given more than $1 million in hands-on technical assistance and has helped more than 35 communities in the identification, design and engineering of shovel-ready restoration projects. It identified more than 75 acres of necessary forested buffer plantings and also assisted several communities with innovative financing strategies and new stormwater utilities.
The Collaborative is not the end all be all by any means, but it has proven to be successful thus far in providing locals with relevant and timely assistance. The Collaborative is planning a grand re-opening of sorts with a meeting in late Spring 2012 that will be open to local government and non-profit representatives responsible for meeting the pollution reduction targets set forth in their respective WIPs.
Brenton McCloskey is Assistant Director of Restoration Financing and Policy with the Maryland Department of Natural Resource’s Chesapeake and Coastal Service.