Historic Agreement Aims To Restore, Protect Chesapeake Bay Watershed
A cleaner Chesapeake Bay watershed. That's the goal of a multi-state agreement written to focus on restoring and protecting the bay and its feeder streams. If it succeeds, it would benefit a good number of National Park System units, foremost, perhaps, the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail that touches parts of Virginia, Delaware, Maryland and the District of Columbia.
The agreement was signed earlier this week by the Chesapeake Executive Council, a group that represents the seven watershed jurisdictions, a tri-state policy group, and federal agencies including the Department of the Interior. Called the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, the agreement commits Chesapeake Bay Program partners to a set of interrelated goals to advance the restoration, conservation and protection of the Bay, its tributaries and the lands that surround them, according to an Interior Department release.
Agreement signatories include the governors of Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia; the mayor of the District of Columbia; the chair of the Chesapeake Bay Commission; and the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on behalf of the Federal Leadership Committee for the Chesapeake Bay. This marks the first time that the Bay’s headwater states of Delaware, New York and West Virginia have pledged to work toward restoration goals that reach beyond water quality, making them full partners in the Bay Program and its watershed-wide work. The signing of this collaborative accord took place Monday on the Annapolis, Maryland, waterfront, at the Executive Council’s annual meeting.
“Today we celebrate the most inclusive, collaborative, goal-oriented agreement the Chesapeake Bay watershed has ever seen, highlighted by unprecedented participation from the headwater states and the public,” said Chesapeake Executive Council Chair and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. “This agreement not only addresses our continuing water quality and land use challenges, it also confronts critical emerging issues—environmental literacy, toxic contaminants and climate change. Finally, it builds upon the strength of our diverse citizenry, calling to action the nearly 18 million people that call our watershed home. Together, we can and will achieve our united vision of a healthy Bay and a productive watershed, cared for by engaged citizens at every level.”
The agreement contains ten goals and 29 measurable, time-bound outcomes that will help create a healthy watershed: they will lower nutrient and sediment pollution; ensure the bay's waters are free of toxic contaminants; sustain blue crabs, oysters and forage fish; restore wetlands, underwater grass beds and other habitats; conserve farmland and forests; boost public access to and education about the Bay and its tributaries; and increase the climate resiliency of the watershed’s resources, habitats and communities.
Years in the making, this landmark set of goals and outcomes has been mutually agreed upon by Bay Program partners. By accomplishing these goals, partners will restore clean water, abundant wildlife and a vibrant cultural heritage to the Bay, where citizens and stakeholders will have access to waterways and open space and be engaged in conservation and stewardship.
“I am pleased to see that this Agreement aligns closely with strategies developed by federal agencies in response to President Obama’s Executive Order on Bay protection and restoration,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, who also chairs the Federal Leadership Committee for the Chesapeake Bay and signed on behalf of federal agencies. “When there is consensus and commitment toward a common goal, our effectiveness is that much stronger. Together, we demonstrate our commitment toward a common goal—a restored, healthy and economically vibrant watershed.”
The Agreement was developed with input from citizens and stakeholders, who submitted thousands of comments during two public review periods. Public input had a direct impact on the content of the Agreement—influencing partners to add goals related to environmental stewardship, toxic contaminants and climate change—and will continue to contribute to how the Agreement is achieved. Moving forward, Bay Program partners will collaborate with academic institutions, local governments, non-governmental organizations, businesses and citizens in developing and implementing the management strategies that will define how we will accomplish the Agreement’s goals and outcomes.
“The agreement has been the product of countless hours of work by partnering states; many other partners, such as the District of Columbia and the Chesapeake Bay Commission; and many federal agencies. The National Park Service looks forward to working with all these partners and others to continue this important effort of improving the bay and watershed,” said Chuck Hunt, Superintendent of the Chesapeake Bay Program for the National Park Service. “The Chesapeake Bay and its rivers are American treasures. Through this agreement, we are committing to restore and protect these treasures for many generations to come.”
The signing of the agreement was hailed by Pamela Goddard, senior manager of the Chesapeake and Virginia Program for the National Parks Conservation Association.
"The ecological health of our national parks is directly linked to the quality and quantity of water that flows through and around them. With 55 of the 401 parks in the National Park System located in the Chesapeake watershed, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement is a critical component of restoring and protecting our national parks," she told the Traveler in an email. "The Watershed Agreement includes pollution limit goals; tackles toxic pollution; and addresses climate change resiliency – actions that will benefit the wildlife and ecosystems of the parks of the Chesapeake and their more than 54 million yearly visitors.
Under the agreement, benchmarks and outcomes established for each state are self-enforced, she said.
"Management teams develop strategies to meet these goals and these strategies are open to input from government officials and the public to improve them. Independent of the Bay Agreement, the states have legal requirements required by the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load under the Clean Water Act to write and implement clean water plans. So the Bay Agreement is a supplemental tool to the Clean Water Act requirements," said Ms. Goddard.
"The great thing about the Chesapeake Bay Commission is the realization that water connects us all and that each state must work cooperatively for the good of everyone. The Chesapeake Bay Agreement raises the bar for states to demonstrate their commitment to this cooperative cause by making concrete progress on their goals and outcomes."