Approaching the Chesapeake Bay Midpoint Assessment -- Part II

by Mariah Davis

June 21, 2018

Yesterday in this space, I took a look at the progress that three Chesapeake Bay watershed states – New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia – have made in implementing their Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs), on their way – perhaps – to meeting the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) pollution reduction targets for 2025. In this post, I'll take a look at Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC.

Delaware

The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) is leading the WIP implementation effort in the state. The department has convened a Chesapeake Bay Interagency Workgroup made up of representatives from each DNREC Division, the Department of Agriculture, Department of Transportation, Office of State Planning Coordination, County Conservation Districts, and other stakeholders. The workgroup will focus on two selected sectors: agriculture and developed. They are responsible for recommending and reviewing sub-allocating methodologies to the various nonpoint sources within the basins, assessing current data tracking and reporting systems, and determining maximum implementation goals and methods to fill program funding gaps.

Prior to the Phase III WIP development, progress had been made to increase the acreage of forest and grass buffer best management practices, which have played a role in reducing nitrogen and phosphorus from the agriculture sector. While this process has been extremely slow, Delaware has made or exceeded BMP goals for tillage, wetlands, and bioretention.

One of the flaws of the Phase II WIP was lack of public engagement. All in all, citizens had little to no understanding of what the plans actually meant. Going into the next Phase of the WIP development, Delaware is planning to host public workshops in an effort to increase awareness around what watershed implementation plans mean. Once a plan for the Phase III WIP has been established, local government engagement initiatives may include working with municipalities on the stormwater infrastructure improvements, innovative landscape design, and living shoreline developments.

Moving forward, targeted local partners and contractors will need to be involved with public forums and discussions. DNREC has expressed a need for additional resources from the EPA to achieve expectations for milestones. Delaware is on track for Phase III WIP planning targets for phosphorus but is lagging on its nitrogen targets. Future stressors, such as population growth and climate change, must be analyzed to ensure permissible nutrient loads are not exceeded. During the development of the Phase III WIP, Delaware needs to ensure strong state best management practice verification plans and local government engagement in the WIP development to create clear numeric goals for localities.

Maryland

The state of Maryland has been actively engaged in the WIP development process. Every county in Maryland submitted a Phase II WIP addressing nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment reductions with a focus on the agriculture, forests, atmospheric deposition, septic, stormwater, and wastewater sectors. Past WIP processes have provided invaluable information about local conditions and capacity to reduce pollution. The plans submitted by the counties have identified specific opportunities to increase the rate of progress toward cleanup goals.

Advocates in Maryland would like to see a gap analysis from the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) clarifying where the state stands on meeting its goals for 2025. In order to meet Bay TMDL goals, MDE and local jurisdictions need to accelerate the pace of projects, as well as provide proper verification of well-maintained best management practices. In addition, Maryland needs to improve enforcement, adaptive management, and funding for execution of long-term improvements to water quality.

In an effort to increase awareness and engage the public during the next Phase of the WIP, the state has been hosting a series of regional workshops. These meetings are intended to inform participants about the Phase III WIP process, provide opportunities for questions and feedback, and promote interaction between local partners and state agencies. Presentations will be made by staff of the Maryland Departments of Agriculture, Environment, Natural Resources, and Planning on topics such as the Conowingo Dam, wastewater, agriculture, funding, and more.

During the Phase III WIP development, advocates would like to see MDE request that counties undertake a program assessment that builds on their local Phase II WIP as the first step in local Phase III WIP planning. Planning should include county planning targets to close the gap. Additional tools and technical assistance could also provide more guidance and assistance to counties during the development of the Phase III WIP. In addition, there is a need to fill vacancies within the MDE and other agencies involved in pollution reduction efforts. Funding constraints continue to be a barrier within the state and at the county level to achieve water quality goals.

Virginia

Localities in Virginia have lacked direction on how to best implement the WIPs and have expressed concerns to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). The appointment of Ann Jennings, a long-time advocate for the Chesapeake and the former Chesapeake Bay Commission Virginia Director, to be Deputy Secretary of Natural Resources for DEQ has given advocates in Virginia reason to be optimistic about the future of WIP development in the state. Nonprofits in Virginia remain optimistic that the future of WIP development in the state will be successful with the new state leadership. Stakeholder groups have now convened under the new administration to prepare for local area planning goals.

This summer, the Local Government Advisory Committee to the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council is hosting a series of roundtables to hear from local elected officials. Each roundtable will include a facilitated discussion about the challenges, successes, and opportunities communities across the Commonwealth face in protecting and restoring waterways. The information provided will be shared with Virginia's leaders in order to foster a better understanding of the connection between local issues and priorities and the state's commitments to protecting downstream waters.

During the development of the Phase III WIP, Virginians are looking for more incentives and support from the state to guide and bolster implementation. A key goal for Phase III is to create local strategies rather than focusing on statewide goals. The conservation community will push to enforce non-regulatory goals that will ultimately be effective in guiding efforts to achieve water quality standards. Local area efforts could ultimately be seen as a tool to improve accountability and help guide financial investment for cost-share programs. Overall, connecting the WIP to local water quality is critically important.

Washington, DC

Unlike the other Chesapeake Bay jurisdictions, the District has limited space for farmland and green space. Much of the District is comprised of impervious surfaces from parking lots, large buildings, and sidewalks. Due to this, stormwater runoff continues to be the largest contributor to poor water quality entering DC's combined sewer system. Luckily, stormwater runoff is being mitigated through a variety of efforts to include new municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) permits, multi-sector general permits, federal facility stormwater compliance, wastewater treatment plant upgrades, and the stormwater reduction credit trading program. The District also has several outreach programs for residents designed to reduce stormwater contamination such as Canopy 3,000. This program was designed to expand the number of trees planted on private property and public spaces with a goal to cover 40 percent of the District with tree canopy by 2032. Each year, the District and its partners have continued to exceed annual planting goals of Canopy 3,000.

The nation's capital has a stringent MS4 permit issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which contains requirements for conversion of impervious surfaces to pervious surfaces through green infrastructure. This program is critical since federal facilities make up a large portion of impervious surface in the area. Federal facility compliance with stormwater requirements is a huge challenge in DC, Maryland, and Virginia (DMV), and their combined efforts will be essential to enable DC to meet its pollution goals by 2025. The lack of DC authority to compel the development of effective stormwater control plans by the agencies or enforce them presents an important opportunity to help hold those agencies accountable. Keeping track of contaminated stormwater runoff from new commercial facilities and dwelling units will be a focus of the upcoming WIP development.

Looking forward: Phase III WIP

The Chesapeake Bay TMDL midpoint assessment is expected to be released at any moment and will be a reflection of how far the Bay community has come in meeting our cleanup requirements. Continued support from local elected officials, members of Congress, businesses, nonprofits, and local communities is vital to achieving cleanup goals and to restoring the watershed to health. The region's economy and its people depend on these efforts to clean up its thousands of rivers and streams.

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Also from Mariah Davis

Mariah Davis is Field Manager of the Choose Clean Water Coalition. A Virginia native, she has led and executed clean water and climate action strategies to engage elected officials on the importance of protecting and sustaining programs most viable to the Chesapeake Bay. She strives to promote environmental justice to ensure overburdened communities share equitably in the benefits of clean water.

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