Chesapeake Bay restoration is slow going, analysts say
RICHMOND, Va. -- Washington, D.C., and states within the Chesapeake Bay watershed are making progress to reduce pollution flowing into the hobbled estuary but none is on track to meet cleanup commitments set this year, an analysis by environmental groups concludes.
The mixed assessment released Monday is based on an analysis of benchmarks each state and the district are aiming to meet by year's end to help measure progress to restore the bay and keep the cleanup on track.
By 2017, they are expected to reach 60 percent of their pollution-reduction goals in hopes of achieving the Chesapeake's restoration by 2025.
The multibillion-dollar restoration plan overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency was devised to ensure a commitment to cleaning up the nation's largest estuary after decades of broken promises and neglect. Advocates for the bay say the measured carrot-and-stick approach is intended to ensure past failures are not repeated.
"This interim analysis is important because it celebrates the areas where states are exceeding the goals, but also shines a light on areas needing improving," said William C. Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
The foundation and the Choose Clean Water Coalition conducted the analysis.
The states within or part of the 64,000-square-mile watershed are Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York. About 17 million people live in the crowded corridor. A detailed analysis of New York was not conducted because the authors of the assessments did not have a partner group in that state, but it also likely would not meet all its pollution goals in 2013.
The restoration plan has various elements to keep the bay on a strict "pollution diet." They range from planting buffer zones of trees around streams, keeping livestock out of them so they don't foul waters that flow to the bay, and upgrading wastewater treatment plants, among many other practices.
The goal is to sharply reduce sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus that enter the bay from agricultural runoff, urban and suburban sprawl and wastewaters. A steady dose of those pollutants over the decades has taken a toll on the bay's health, harming marine life such as shellfish and coveted game fish, snuffing grasses that crabs and other species need and creating vast "dead zones" that are absent of life.
The state-by-state and District analysis looked at pollution-control practices that are intended to restore the bay and help the bay jurisdictions make adjustments where they are lagging.
In Pennsylvania, for instance, the state is on track or exceeded goals for three practices but was falling short on five. The state was doing well in barnyard runoff control but lagging in forest buffers and the number of farm acres with pollution management plans.
Maryland is on track or besting six of seven goals, while Virginia is on pace with five and behind on three; West Virginia is behind on one of five goals; the District should achieve all but one of six goals; and Delaware has evenly divided results on eight goals.
The advocacy groups declined to make comparisons among the states and the district or if they shared common roadblocks to achieving their goals, such as funding. They said it's important to continue to monitor each state's progress and adjust plans when needed.
"If we're not going to learn from the milestones we're doomed to fail," said Ann Jennings, the Bay Foundation's Virginia executive director.
The EPA can take steps to nudge states that are failing to achieve their pollution diet goals, she said.