Pacts Signed to Conserve America's Largest Estuary

ANNAPOLIS, Maryland, January 2, 2002 (ENS) - Three regional pacts that aim to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries were signed late last month to encourage regional planning, storm water management and low impact development in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

A stormwater management agreement, a pact establishing new voluntary site design principles for builders, and the Anacostia Watershed Restoration Agreement were adopted at December's annual meeting of the Chesapeake Executive Council by representatives from environmental groups, trade associations, and local, state and federal governments.

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The Patuxent River in Maryland which feeds into Chesapeake Bay (Photo courtesy NOAA)
The Chesapeake Executive Council includes: District of Columbia Mayor Anthony Williams, Maryland Governor Parris Glendening, Pennsylvania Governor Mark Schweiker, Virginia Governor James Gilmore, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman, and Chesapeake Bay Commission Chair Brian Frosh.

The Chesapeake Bay is North America’s largest and most biologically diverse estuary, home to more than 3,600 species of plants, fish and animals. More than 15.7 million people live in the bay watershed.

The major pollution threats in the Chesapeake Bay region are excess nutrients, sediments, toxic chemical contaminants, air pollution and landscape changes.

The three agreements signed in December are part of a new Chesapeake Bay Program initiative to develop new technologies to reduce storm water pollution and enhance existing storm water management practices on government owned lands.

To cut environmental impacts from residential and commercial development, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, the Center for Watershed Protection and the National Association of Home Builders signed an agreement launching Builders for the Bay. This new partnership encourages the voluntary adoption of site design principles that benefit local waters and the Chesapeake Bay. Over the next two years, the program plans to seek the voluntary adoption of these principles in 12 counties or municipalities in the Bay watershed.

The 2001 Anacostia Watershed Restoration Agreement builds upon earlier regional agreements and sets new, comprehensive goals for restoring water quality and living resources in the Anacostia basin.

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An egret fishing in a Chesapeake Bay tidal pond (Photo by Mary Hollinger courtesy NOAA)
The Anacostia agreement, signed by officials from the District of Columbia, the state of Maryland, and Montgomery and Prince George's counties, commits to 50 restoration targets, including creating additional riparian forest buffers, decreasing impervious surface area through low impact development, and establishing active river advocacy groups in each major Anacostia subwatershed.

The Bay Program's storm water directive, the third pact signed at the December annual meeting, addresses one of the first restoration goals called for in last year's Chesapeake 2000 agreement. Given projected increases in urban and suburban growth, officials said that managing storm water is one of their most important priorities to improve water quality and restore the bay's living resources. The directive focusing on stormwater runoff from government lands is a first step in that process.

In 1983 and 1987, the Chesapeake Bay Program partnership to protect and restore the bay’s ecosystem was created by the states of Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, the Chesapeake Bay Commission and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In 2000, the partners reaffirmed their commitment through a pact known as Chesapeake 2000.

A new analysis conducted by Maryland Governor Glendening's Bay Cabinet and released December 21 has estimated that the cost of protecting and restoring the Chesapeake Bay, and meeting the commitments Maryland made in the Chesapeake 2000 agreement, will be $7 billion.

This comprehensive financial analysis was developed by the state agencies involved with the Bay cleanup as a fiscal planning tool. The agencies examined the more than 100 individual commitments contained in the 2000 Bay Agreement and projected both the $7 billion eight-year cost of full implementation, and identified $4.4 billion funding to get the job done.

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Maryland Governor Parris Glendining (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)
"We have made significant progress in restoring the health of the Chesapeake Bay, but we still face many challenges." said Governor Glendening.

"To build on the momentum we have achieved, it is important that we strengthen our commitment to investing in the protection of the bay's natural and living resources," the governor said. "We must move forward with a sense of urgency, because once another farm is paved over and another forest is cut down, it is lost forever to development and we have lost an opportunity to improve our quality of life."

Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary J. Charles Fox said, "Right now, there are three excellent opportunities for additional funding at the federal level. The current Farm Bill, the upcoming Surface Transportation Bill, and support from the Army Corps of Engineers all could help close the funding gap. Our congressional delegation has demonstrated their commitment to achieving the Chesapeake Bay restoration goals, and we look forward to continuing to work with them in the future."

"The cost of saving the Bay cannot be borne by any single sector or any single region. The Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure and it is going to take a national effort to save it," Secretary Fox said.

"Maryland state agencies, local governments, farmers, and business are working hard to reach our 2010 Bay goals," said Fox. "We have already preserved 15 percent of Maryland's resource lands, the goal is 20 percent of the land preserved. A new stream revitalization program has been established, and we have taken strong measures to preserve the crab fishery and fund oyster recovery. But it's going to take more if we are ever going to see a healthy and sustainable Chesapeake Bay."

"This analysis underscores the urgency of addressing the funding gap necessary to fulfill the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement," said Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) Executive Director Theresa Pierno. "The goals cannot be met with state and federal funds alone. It will take efforts from local governments and the private sector to close the gap. CBF is committed financially and through its resources to Save the Bay. The bay deserves nothing less."

The bay cleanup, began in 1983 with the signing of the first Chesapeake Bay Agreement. Over the past 18 years nitrogen and phosphorus loadings have been reduced, bay grasses are recovering, and striped bass were saved from brink of extinction and restored to record levels.

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Early morning fog over a Port Isobel Island marsh in Virginia (Photo courtesy NOAA)
More than 2,927 farms have been enrolled in the Agland Preservation program, keeping 382,987 acres in prime productive agriculture or woodland.

By next spring, more than 600 miles of riparian forest buffers will have been planted in Maryland, reaching a 2010 goal eight years early, and more than 340 miles of blocked streams and rivers have been opened to allow for fish passage.

Maryland state officials worried about falling blue crab populations will implement regulations that aim to achieve a 15 percent reduction in the blue crab harvest this year - one year early.

Last fall, the Maryland, Virginia and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission agreed to a plan that would reduce the harvest effort over a three year period. But in view of research that has continued to show declining population levels, Glendening said the state is setting "a conservative course in managing the crab population."

DC Mayor Anthony Williams, who chairs the Chesapeake Executive Council, said the region is setting a national standard for ecosystem restoration. "The challenges are significant, but the Chesapeake Bay Program is innovative and comprehensive. I am especially proud that this year the Bay Program established an Environmental Justice Task Force, integrating environmental revitalization with neighborhood revitalization and demonstrating real commitment to sustainable development – that which protects our environment, strengthens our economy and ensures social justice."