Chesapeake Bay Region Governmental Leaders Adopt New Policies To Protect Waterways
Bay region governmental leaders met on Sept. 22 to adopt new measures aimed at improving water quality throughout the watershed by preserving forest lands, reducing nutrients in lawn fertilizer and recognizing the need for increased funding for conservation programs and technical assistance in the 2007 Farm Bill.
Three important policy directives by the executive council: Protecting the Forests of the Chesapeake Watershed; Assisting Farmers: Accelerating Agricultural Implementation of the Chesapeake Bay Tributary Strategies; and The Healthy Lawns and Clean Water Initiative.
"We are proud of our efforts in Maryland to restore the Chesapeake Bay through nutrient reduction, preserving nearly 70,000 acres of land and improvements in air quality. The executive council and our partners in neighboring states are passionate and committed to restoring the Chesapeake Bay. The documents signed today are critical steps in moving Bay restoration efforts beyond their current limits," said Chesapeake Executive Council Chairperson and Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
The executive council is comprised of Ehrlich; Virginia State Sen. Emmett W. Hanger Jr., chairman of the tri-state Chesapeake Bay Commission; EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson, representing the federal government; Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine; Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell; and District of Columbia Mayor Anthony A. Williams. The group meets annually to lead restoration efforts throughout the 64,000-square miles of land that drain into the bay.
The Forest Conservation Directive obligates the signatories to identify where forests are needed most for water quality protection and to establish individual numeric goals for forest conservation in their states and the District of Columbia. In addition, the directive provides guidelines for developing an accompanying framework with milestones to help implement and track progress toward the numeric goal.
"Protecting and expanding our forests reduces polluted storm water runoff and creates a more livable Chesapeake Bay watershed for all to enjoy," Williams said. "The District, which has long been known as the 'City of Trees,' is proud to join our Chesapeake Bay Program partners in this regional approach."
This directive will mark the first time the partners have joined together to support a forestland conservation initiative, formally embracing the vital and often overlooked role forests play in improving water quality. Forests act as "sponges" by capturing rainfall, reducing runoff, maintaining the flow of streams, filtering nutrients and sediment and stabilizing soils.
Coinciding with the signing of Forest Conservation Directive is the release of "The State of Chesapeake Forests." This report paints a clear picture of the values of and threats to the forests in the Chesapeake watershed, and is the first-ever comprehensive look at how retaining and expanding forests in critical areas of the watershed is perhaps the most cost-effective strategy to ensure long-term reductions in nutrient loads to the bay, officials said.
The executive council partnered with the Lawn Care Product Manufacturing Industry to jumpstart another groundbreaking first with the signing of The Healthy Lawns and Clean Water Initiative. This initiative will achieve a 50-percent reduction in pounds of phosphorus applied in lawn care products in the Chesapeake watershed by 2009. It also commits to develop a second initiative addressing nitrogen in fertilizers for the 2007 executive council meeting.
"Our efforts to reduce the flow of nutrients into our local waters that feed the bay should not be limited. If we are to experience a true turnaround of this national treasure, it is critical that we focus on the host of conservation actions we must all take," Kaine said. "This new initiative to dramatically reduce phosphorus coming from our lawns is a great next step toward restoring our Bay. We also look forward to working with the industry during the next year to explore opportunities for reducing the impacts of nitrogen and pesticides on the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries."
In a complementary action, the non-federal members of the council signed an agreement promising to support efforts to have funding included in the 2007 Farm Bill that would provide the watershed's 87,000 farms the ability to institute environmentally sound practices. The directive includes a statement recognizing the importance of technical assistance to conservation program implementation, and lists three state commitments regarding the leveraging of federal funds, the provisioning of adequate technical assistance and the coordination of state efforts with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service.
The executive council used this year's meeting as a chance to celebrate the partnerships that are helping make the dream of bay restoration a reality. A day-long Watershed Restoration Fair was held on Sept. 21 at Sandy Point State Park in Annapolis, Md. The fair included exhibits and presentations by more than 90 conservation and restoration groups from throughout the Chesapeake watershed. Exhibitors ranged from federal, state and local governments to watershed organizations and private sector companies that are all engaged in the broad restoration effort.
"From the high-tech to the common-sense, President Bush and EPA are advancing the strategies that lead to clear results for the Chesapeake Bay," Johnson said. "Environmental responsibility is everyone's responsibility, and I'm pleased each of us is embracing our responsibility for protecting the bay."
The Chesapeake Bay watershed is home to more than 16 million people living in parts of Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. Since 1983, the Chesapeake Bay Program has coordinated the restoration of the bay and its watershed.
For copies of Chesapeake Executive Council documents and additional information on the council's actions, visit http://www.chesapeakebay.net.
This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.