Bay Needs Data Flow
How are we doing at cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay? Are the investments in our communities improving water quality? These are questions that we, the members of the Chesapeake Bay Local Government Advisory Committee, often ask the leaders in the bay restoration effort. Their answers aren’t always straightforward. There are initiatives we can point to, though, that have made a difference. The first plans for how bay watershed states, counties and municipalities were going to meet nutrient and sediment reduction goals set forth in the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load were drafted in 2010. And since then hundreds of wastewater treatment plants have been upgraded. From 1985 to 2015, nutrient pollution from the wastewater sector dropped 59 percent, according to Nick DiPasquale, former director of the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program. Among the three primary sources of pollution — agriculture, stormwater and wastewater — the latter is the only source that has already met its 2025 pollution reduction goal. Local governments should celebrate this success, but we can’t stop now. As we begin to consider what else needs to be done by 2025, the year by which 100 percent of the practices required to meet the pollution limits established in the TMDL must be in place, we need to apply the lessons learned the last several years. For example, the cost to upgrade sewer plants was often shared among federal, state and local governments. Residents and commercial users also contributed. While some worried that there wouldn’t be sufficient engineering and construction services available to handle the demand, businesses adapted and got the job done. If we are committed, whether because of regulations or simply that we value clean water, safe communities and healthy soils, we can work together and make a difference. Each of the states has begun the process of developing the third phase of its federally mandated Watershed Implementation Plan, which lays out what actions are needed to meet the 2025 goal. Cities, towns and counties are being invited to participate in the development of these plans, and I encourage you to join the conversation. The Chesapeake Bay Local Government Advisory Committee is organizing roundtables for elected officials to learn more about watershed protection and restoration through peer-to-peer dialogue. One of the things we want to hear is what are your priorities for the coming years? Will you be investing in new schools? Do you have major transportation plans? What about parks and recreational facilities? Are you doing something to address flooding? Each of these priorities has the potential to improve water quality by incorporating runoff control practices that reduce pollution. States need to hear from you. Participating in your state’s watershed implementation plans’ development process will foster a better understanding of the connection between local priorities and the state’s commitments to protecting downstream waters.