Transparency and accountability key for Bay restoration success
ANNAPOLIS, Md. – An analysis of selected milestones, conducted by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and the Choose Clean Water Coalition (CCWC), found that pollution is being reduced. However, many jurisdictions fell short in implementing practices that reduce pollution from agricultural sources and urban and suburban polluted runoff.
The milestones, two-year commitments made by the Bay states and District of Columbia to reduce pollution, are a key part of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. In addition, the Blueprint includes pollution limits that will result in a restored Bay and long-term state plans designed to have practices in place by 2017 to achieve 60 percent of water quality improvements, and complete the process by 2025.
The report evaluates the states’ progress toward the 2012-13 milestone commitments. Significant progress has been made in reducing pollution from sewage treatment plants. While those efforts are to be applauded, reducing pollution from agriculture and urban and suburban runoff needs to be accelerated. All pollution sources must do their fair share.
In 2010, the Bay states and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set pollution limits that would restore water quality in local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay, and each state developed its own plan to meet those limits. In addition, the states made two-year milestone commitments to take specific actions to ensure progress was being made to achieve the necessary pollution reductions.
“For the first time in the history of Bay restoration, we can measure, evaluate and hold states accountable for short-term commitments. These milestones enable the states and EPA to identify shortcomings and take corrective action before we reach the 2017 and 2025 deadlines,” said CBF President William C. Baker.
“The Clean Water Blueprint is working so far, but there are danger signs ahead. States need to plan now for how they will ramp up implementation to address agricultural and urban polluted runoff, not kick the can down the road. And they need to be transparent about those plans.”
While reducing pollution from sewage treatment plants exceeded 2013 goals, watershed wide, the analysis shows that implementation of some important practices like forested buffers and urban stream restoration lag behind what is necessary to achieve long-term goals.
“The coalition recognizes the hard work and financial commitments the Bay states have made to achieve pollution reductions so far,” said Choose Clean Water Coalition Director Jill Witkowski.
“Coalition members are looking to the states to develop and implement programs needed to address the difficult pollution reduction challenges that lie ahead and are poised to help.”
The EPA is also reviewing the results of the 2012-13 milestones, and it will look at the states’ 2014-15 milestones. It is essential that EPA holds the states accountable so that the next two-year milestones correct deficiencies and make up for the shortfalls. CBF and CCWC have made specific recommendations on actions the states can take moving forward to make up for lack of progress in 2012-13.
Restoring local rivers and streams, and saving the Chesapeake Bay are important. A clean environment will provide benefits today and for future generations. Threats to human health will be reduced, jobs will be created, and recreational opportunities will be improved. If progress is not made we will continue to have polluted water, human health hazards, and lost jobs—at a huge cost to society.
State Specific Findings:
Pennsylvania exceeded its phosphorus goal and fell short in reaching its overall nitrogen pollution reduction goal. Of the eight practices evaluated, the Commonwealth met or exceeded its goals for four practices: barnyard runoff controls, stormwater infiltration practices, wastewater treatment plants and conservation plans. It fell short in four areas: forest buffers, conservation tillage, nutrient application management and erosion and sediment control.
“As the largest contributor of nitrogen pollution damaging the Chesapeake Bay, Pennsylvania has an important responsibility to meet its pollution reduction goals,” said CBF’s Pennsylvania Executive Director Harry Campbell.
“This effort is bigger than one community or one industry. The effort begins in our own backyards and in Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams. Investments made here have benefits here—protecting drinking water and human health, improving the quality of life in local communities and improving agricultural production.”
While Pennsylvania farmers have made significant strides since 1985 in pollution reduction, some practices are falling short of achieving commitments. To help attain this essential goal, improved investment in cost-share and technical assistance programs that to help farms develop and implement required erosion and nutrient plans is necessary. Because these plans have been required by law for decades, adequate enforcement to ensure that all farms not only have them but are following them correctly is imperative.
“We are very concerned Pennsylvania will not meet its 2017 pollution reduction goals. The gap between what has been done and what needs to be done is substantial,” said PennFuture’s Central Pennsylvania Outreach Coordinator Jennifer Quinn.
“Reducing water pollution benefits all citizens of the Commonwealth by protecting drinking water quality, improving aquatic habitat, and ensuring we have numerous places to fish and swim.”
Pennsylvania also needs to continue to expand innovative approaches that maximize environmental benefits, such as CBF’s buffer bonus program. The program rewards farmers who establish riparian forested buffers with vouchers to cover additional pollution-reduction practices needed on the farm.
Virginia met its overall pollution reduction goals for 2013. Of the eight practices assessed, the Commonwealth met or exceeded its goals for fencing cattle out of streams and urban stream restoration, and was very close to meeting the goal for agricultural practices such as nutrient management, pasture management, and cover crops. Virginia fell short of its goals for forest buffers, conservation tillage, stormwater practices, urban nutrient management and composite urban practices.
Virginia has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade wastewater treatment plants and expand farm conservation practices. Virginia can celebrate overall pollution reductions, cleaner rivers and streams, and promising signs of Chesapeake Bay recovery.
“To meet the state’s 2017 and 2025 clean water goals for the Bay, however, Virginia must accelerate efforts to increase conservation practices on farmland and to reduce polluted runoff in urban and suburban areas,” said CBF Virginia Executive Director Ann Jennings.
“Our analysis of the 2012/13 milestones indicates that reductions from wastewater treatment plants will not carry us across the goal line. The McAuliffe Administration has a unique and important opportunity to put Virginia on course for success by taking more aggressive steps to confront agricultural and urban pollution.”
“If you look at the progress we’ve made in Virginia addressing rural and urban runoff issues and compare that to what we still have left to accomplish its clear that retreading the same old strategies won’t cut it,” said Virginia Conservation Network Executive Director, Jacob Powell.
“We’ve been steadily increasing the implementation of practices for years now. That’s good, but it’s not enough. We need Governor McAuliffe to increase the rate of implementation; that’ll take new strategies and a serious commitment to achieving them.”
Specifically, the Commonwealth should fully and consistently fund the Natural Resources Commitment Fund and take steps to expand the effectiveness of agriculture cost share programs. Virginia also should finalize new permits for our urban centers by the end of 2014 and invest $50 million a year in the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund to help Virginia localities better manage polluted runoff.
West Virginia achieved its overall pollution-reduction goals for 2013. It met or exceeded milestone goals for wastewater treatment plants, animal waste management systems, and forest buffers, but fell short on agricultural nutrient management and fencing cattle out of streams.
“On the heels of the massive drinking water contamination event this year, West Virginians are very aware of the vulnerability and value of our rivers and streams. We know what is at stake in protecting our water, and that we must hold the state accountable in meeting its clean-up commitments,” said West Virginia Rivers Coalition Executive Director, Angie Rosser.
“It’s encouraging to see the progress being made toward West Virginia’s overall pollution reduction goals for the Chesapeake watershed. Knowing there are so many challenges to be reckoned with in this region from industrial agriculture waste in rural areas to stormwater runoff in urban areas, this progress shows that we are committed to cleaner, safer water.”
Nitrogen pollution from urban and suburban areas continues to grow. Investment in more ambitious practices and programming in urban and suburban areas is needed to reverse this trend.
The District of Columbia met both nitrogen and phosphorus pollution reduction goals for 2013. Of the six practices assessed, the District exceeded its goals for urban tree planting, stormwater infiltration practices, reducing impervious surfaces, and urban stream restoration. It nearly met its goal for stormwater ponds, but fell significantly short on street sweeping.
“Washington, D.C. has proven to be an exemplary leader in the regional effort to restore Chesapeake Bay, the Potomac River, and local streams,” said Amanda John, policy manager at Potomac Conservancy.
“Its commitment to sustainability and pioneering innovative pollution reduction strategies earn it a distinction among American cities worthy of the nation’s Capitol. But, significant threats to local waterways remain. We call on the Mayor-elect to formally champion D.C.’s continued path to a clean water future.”
While the District met its short-term goals, reducing polluted runoff from urban sources is not on track to meet the long-term goals.
Maryland met its pollution-reduction goals for 2013. Of the seven milestones assessed, Maryland exceeded its goal in animal waste management systems, forest buffers, grass buffers, urban/suburban polluted runoff management, urban forest buffers, and improving pollution from septic systems.
Maryland missed the mark on planting trees outside of buffer zones and did not set a 2013 goal for urban forest buffers, despite committing to significant levels of implementation by 2025. CBF and CCWC believe the milestones were set way too low for this important water quality practice.
“Clearly, Maryland should be proud of its progress. Marylanders are reducing pollution to the Chesapeake from farm fields, sewage plants, septic systems and other sources,” said CBF Maryland Executive Director Alison Prost.
“But the state is neglecting common sense, cost-effective, and pollution reducing tools such as planting trees. To reach our ultimate goal of water safe enough for swimming and fishing, we will have to set our interim goals higher, and step up our pace.”
“While our analysis shows Maryland meeting its milestones for many important pollution practices, a closer look at the data reveals there is a long way to go to meet the 2017 and 2025 goals. We suggest that Maryland take a look at many of these goals with an eye on 2017. Some highly efficient practices where the state is doing well should have more ambitious targets in the future,” said Maryland League of Conservation Voters’ Brent Bolin.
Maryland has to get serious about planting trees in both the urban and agricultural sectors. Maryland is not on pace to meet 2017 and 2025 goals and therefore needs to accelerate efforts immediately on this valuable practice. This means changing its Forest Conservation Act to increase the required amount of trees that have to be planted during development, emphasizing forested buffers over grassed buffers on agricultural land, and encouraging farmers to plant trees on farms beyond buffer areas.
CBF and CCWC are also concerned about the underlying data for Maryland’s calculations on retrofitting stormwater management. There is a lack of transparency concerning both the numbers being reported to the state, as well as how the reductions are calculated.
Delaware missed both its nitrogen and phosphorus reduction goals for 2013. Of the seven practices evaluated it met or exceeded the goals for wetland restoration, cover crops, urban tree planting and acres of bioretention. It missed its goals for animal waste management systems, grass buffers, and connecting septic systems to wastewater treatment plants.
“Delaware has made steady progress in several key areas, including wetland restoration, cover crops and urban tree planting. However, it did not meet all if it’s 2013 reduction goals and should continue and increase its effort to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution,” said Delaware Nature Society’s Brenna Goggin.
“This increases the importance and urgency in passing Governor Markell’s funding proposal.”
To meet its long-term goals, Delaware will need to increase efforts and funding on reducing urban/suburban runoff and implement additional agricultural practices.
Copies of the state-specific milestone analyses can be found at cbf.org/milestones.