Expanded action and increased accountability by the federal government are the focus of a draft strategy for restoring and protecting the Chesapeake Bay required by President Obama’s Executive Order. To accelerate efforts and track progress, federal agencies are committing to meet milestones every two years, leading to all activities needed to restore the Chesapeake Bay and watershed being in place no later than 2025.
The draft strategy, released, 11/9/2009, contains a comprehensive package of federal initiatives to restore clean water, conserve treasured places, protect fish and wildlife, and adapt to the impacts of climate change. These objectives will be accomplished by empowering local efforts, making decisions based on science and forging a new era of federal leadership and accountability. Close collaboration of efforts with the six states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and the District of Columbia will also be critical.
“President Obama has declared that the Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure and committed to a robust cleanup effort. Setting two-year benchmarks for progress will ensure that our actions are getting the results the President and the public expect,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “This is the broadest and most publicly accountable cleanup effort ever seen on the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed. It’s time for a new era of decisive federal leadership, and new partnerships with state government, nonprofits, the private sector and residents who have all been working to create a cleaner Bay.”
Public comment on the draft strategy is important to the federal agencies and will shape the final strategy. The formal public comment period is from November 9, 2009 to January 8, 2010. The draft strategy can be accessed at http://executiveorder.chesapeakebay.net and the public can click on “provide comments” to formally submit feedback through www.regulations.gov. The draft strategy will evolve significantly through public comments, state consultations and agency revisions before the final strategy is published in May 2010.
To restore clean water, EPA will create a framework for performance and accountability to guide federal and state pollution control programs, and expand regulatory tools to reduce pollution from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations and urban and suburban runoff. The U.S. Department of Agriculture will intensively target voluntary conservation incentives at high priority areas. New emphasis is also placed on improving stormwater management on federal land and reducing polluted runoff from transportation infrastructure.
“Maintaining healthy, sustainable farms and forests is an essential component to protecting and restoring the Chesapeake Bay,” said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “Our focus is on increasing economic viability, strengthening markets for local foods, improving water quality and protecting the natural landscape.”
The draft strategy contains numerous initiatives to conserve natural places, animal habitats and fish and wildlife. For example, the Department of the Interior will pursue development of a Chesapeake Treasured Landscapes Initiative to support state and local efforts to conserve and restore the environmental, historic, cultural and recreational value of many of the region’s wetlands, river corridors and open spaces. The department will look for opportunities to expand or create new units of the National Park System, National Wildlife Refuge System, National Wild and Scenic Rivers system and National Historic Trails system.
“Our proposed initiative will build upon the existing partnerships with states, local communities, conservation organizations and other stakeholders to undertake projects that will not only conserve the Chesapeake Bay but will lead to its restoration as one of the great natural wonders of our country,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “We have a big toolbox full of conservation actions and we plan to use it.”
One challenge to restoration is climate change, which scientists project will have a variety of impacts on the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed, including rising sea levels, warmer water and air temperatures, and stronger storms. NOAA and the U.S. Geological Survey are leading the development of the federal strategy for adapting to climate change impacts in the Bay.
“Science shows that Chesapeake Bay habitats and living resources are already being affected by climate change,” said Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator. “We need to adapt to climate change to ensure that the places and things we care about – like wetlands that serve as nurseries for fish and crabs and coastal communities that are vulnerable to sea level rise – can be addressed in our restoration efforts.”
NOAA and the Army Corps of Engineers will also lead a revitalized effort to recover native oyster reefs and establish self-sustaining native oyster reef sanctuaries in key tributaries by 2020.
The draft strategy emphasizes the need to empower local efforts because local governments, watershed organizations and residents have a great interest and ability to restore the environment. Federal agencies will expand technical assistance and resources, and support development of innovative technologies to reduce pollution and economic markets for ecosystem services. A Chesapeake Conservation Corps will be pursued to increase citizen stewardship, and public education will engage people in protecting local waterways.
Federal agencies have also developed a suite of accountability and transparency measures, led by ChesapeakeStat, an online tool that will identify restoration projects, funding and progress, and be publicly accessible. The draft strategy also calls for an annual plan for spending; reporting on environmental health and restoration progress, potentially through the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Bay Barometer; and an independent evaluation of federal efforts.
On May 12, President Obama issued Executive Order 13508 on Chesapeake Bay Restoration and Protection, the first-ever presidential directive on the Bay and the first environmental Executive Order by President Obama. The order established a Federal Leadership Committee, chaired by EPA, and with senior representatives from the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, Interior and Transportation. These agencies generated draft reports in September 2009 with recommendations for addressing issues such as water quality, public access, landscape conservation, climate change, scientific monitoring and the protection of living resources. These draft reports were integrated into the draft strategy, which must be finalized by May 12, 2010.