Last week’s meeting of the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council at Mount Vernon generated a lot of interest, especially when it was announced that President Obama had signed an Executive Order earlier in the day that will coordinate and expand federal tools and resources in support of the Bay.
The Presidential Executive Order on Chesapeake Bay Restoration and Protection pledges a “new era” for governmental actions in the 25-year effort to restore the estuary.
Once called “a great protein factory,” and still an essential economic resource for the region, the Chesapeake Bay has suffered vast declines of native crabs and shellfish. Challenges include nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from agricultural run-off and some wastewater treatment plants. Sediments affect the clarity and quality of the water resource. Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, who chairs the Council this year, said that new, two-year, short-term goals, called milestones, for each state in the 64,000 square mile Bay watershed can make steady and measurable progress. The milestones were developed by and for Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia, the primary Bay jurisdictions, as well as Delaware, New York, and West Virginia, which have smaller portions of land in the watershed.
Among Virginia’s milestone goals for 2011 are 119,000 acres in cover crops (run-off is reduced when fallow fields are planted in grasses, etc); 89,500 acres of off-stream watering with fencing (keeping cows out of the streams); 10,000 acres of forest buffers; and stormwater or erosion and sediment control on nearly 250,000 urban/suburban acreage. In response to a question about why the goals aren’t greater, Governor Kaine said that “the new course…will succeed because it includes …goals necessary to make steady progress…” Governor Kaine also noted that local governments have a significant role in achieving the milestones, and the federal/state/local partnership will be important to “investing in clean water for communities today and future generations.”
Governor Kaine, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, and other members of the Executive Council held a private session in the morning with University of Maryland professor Doug Lipton, chairman of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee; attorney Jim Elliott, chairman of the Citizens Advisory Committee; and me, as immediate past chairman of the Local Government Advisory Committee, substituting for D.C. Councilmember Tommie Wells, current LGAC chairman. This was my third presentation to the Council in as many years. In previous meetings, the advisory committee comments were shoehorned in at the end of the morning council session, just before lunch! This time, we were at the beginning of the agenda, allowing a full hour of discussion between the chairmen and Council members. It was a robust give-and-take session, and the governors, especially, were fully engaged in the discussion. Later in the day, at both the public Council session and the afternoon press conference, Governor Kaine referred several times to the comments and requests from the advisory committees. One I remember, in particular, was my plea regarding stormwater regulations that will be part of the EPA discharge permits for local governments. “Please,” I had told the Governors, “don’t set us up for failure with regulations that are simply too expensive or unrealistic.”
In his comments, Governor Kaine acknowledged that support from local governments and their 17 million residents is critical. The public can help reduce pollution by taking simple actions, such as not fertilizing lawns, installing rain barrels and rain gardens, planting native trees, picking up after pets, and volunteering for watershed groups. More information may be found on-line at www.chesapeakebay.net.