Approaching the Chesapeake Bay Midpoint Assessment -- Part I

by Mariah Davis

June 20, 2018

The Chesapeake Bay restoration effort is arguably one of the largest conservation endeavors ever undertaken. The Bay watershed is made up of 150 major rivers and streams and contains 100,000 smaller tributaries spread across Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. It supplies drinking water for more than 17 million residents and is one of the most important economic drivers on the East Coast of the United States.

The Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), enacted in 2010 by the Environmental Protect Agency (EPA) in collaboration with the Chesapeake Bay states, is a framework for allocating and eliminating excessive loads of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment polluting the watershed. It was designed to ensure that pollution control measures would reduce persistent dead zones in the Bay and its tidal tributaries by 2025. As part of the TMDL, the states and the District are required to develop Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) – roadmaps for addressing their share of pollution reductions. In theory, the WIPs are supposed to be binding plans, although in practical terms, they are only as binding as EPA is willing to insist that the states live up to their commitments. Each WIP is developed in partnership with input from stakeholders, scientists, nonprofits, and local governments, and each jurisdiction is required to develop WIPs at three distinct phases before the 2025 deadline.

The Phase I and Phase II WIPs were developed and submitted to the EPA in 2010 and 2012, respectively. The Phase I WIP was designed to identify the distribution of nutrient and sediment loads by source, sectors, and areas of drainage. It included "final target loads" to meet water quality standards that are to be achieved by 2025. Phase II WIPs were developed by each of the jurisdictions with the goal of achieving 60 percent of the final pollution-reduction targets by 2017. In the third and final phase, now upon us, jurisdictions are responsible for developing WIPs that account for all remaining pollution reductions before 2025 and that integrate critical policy decisions on growth and climate change, for example.

In this post and a follow-up, I'll take a look at how each of the Bay states characterized and evaluated prior WIPs, remaining challenges for meeting pollution targets, and how the public can engage in the next Phase of the WIP development.

New York

The WIP development in New York has been a collaborative effort between New York State's Department of Agriculture and Markets, the Upper Susquehanna Coalition, and Cornell University. Implementation took place at the county level by the Soil and Water Conservation Districts, which are collectively implementing more than 5,000 conservation projects. Pollution reduction from the agriculture, wastewater, and stormwater sectors has been a main focus in the previous phases of the WIP.

New York's Phase II WIP failed to fully implement its nitrogen and sediment reduction goals. While New York has comprehensive programs, particularly for agriculture, tracking best management practices (BMPs) and sharing that information across projects has been difficult.

Fortunately, some improvements were made to curb phosphorus leaching through wastewater and fertilizers. Through the legislature, several laws were passed to limit these pollutants in commercial use. Reinvestments in wastewater, sewer, and septic upgrades were also made to clean water infrastructure.

For the Phase III WIP, advocates in New York would like to address the future impact of ...

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