The new federal strategy for the Chesapeake region released May 12 focuses on protecting and restoring the environment in communities throughout the 64,000-square-mile watershed and in its thousands of streams, creeks and rivers. The strategy includes using rigorous regulations to restore clean water, implementing new conservation practices on 4 million acres of farms, conserving 2 million acres of undeveloped land and rebuilding oysters in 20 tributaries of the bay. To increase accountability, federal agencies will establish milestones every two years for actions to make progress toward measurable environmental goals. These will support and complement the states’ two-year milestones.
The “Strategy for Protecting and Restoring the Chesapeake Bay Watershed” was developed under the executive order issued by President Barack Obama in May 2009, which declared the Chesapeake Bay a national treasure and ushered in a new era of shared federal leadership, action and accountability.
The strategy deepens the federal commitment to the Chesapeake region, with agencies dedicating unprecedented resources, targeting actions where they can have the most impact, ensuring that federal lands and facilities lead by example in environmental stewardship and taking a comprehensive, ecosystem-wide approach to restoration. Many of the federal actions will directly support restoration efforts of local governments, nonprofit groups and citizens and provide economic benefits across the Chesapeake region.
To restore clean water, EPA will implement the Chesapeake total maximum daily load (a pollution diet for the Chesapeake Bay and local waterways), expand regulation of urban and suburban stormwater and concentrated animal feeding operations and increase enforcement activities and funding for state regulatory programs.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will provide farmers and forest owners throughout the bay watershed with the resources to prevent soil erosion and keep nitrogen and phosphorous out of local waterways. USDA will target federal funding to the places where it will have the greatest water-quality impact and ensure that agricultural producers’ conservation efforts are accurately reported. USDA will also lead a federal initiative to develop a watershed-wide environmental services market that would allow producers to generate tradable water quality credits in return for installing effective conservation practices.
Conserving 2 million acres of natural areas, forests and farmland preserves the environmental, recreational, cultural and economic benefits these lands provide. To protect priority lands, the Department of the Interior will launch a collaborative Chesapeake Treasured Landscape Initiative and expand land conservation by coordinating federal funding and providing community assistance. Interior will also develop a plan for increasing public access to the bay and its rivers.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will launch a bay-wide oyster restoration strategy in close collaboration with Maryland and Virginia that focuses on priority tributaries, expands commercial aquaculture and bolsters research on oyster stock, habitat and restoration progress. Oysters are among the bay’s most struggling species and restoration in 20 tributaries will yield great environmental and economic benefits.
Several overarching approaches in the strategy are also important:
Short-term action: To accelerate the pace of restoration and protection, many actions occur in the next few years, and many of the actions are “on-the-ground” and “in-the-water” all around the Chesapeake watershed.
Supporting local efforts: The strategy is designed to directly support the restoration activities of local governments, watershed groups, county conservation districts, landowners and citizens.
Benefiting economies and jobs: Many actions will provide economic benefits, including conservation of working farms, expanded oyster aquaculture, support for conservation corps programs and green jobs, and development of an environmental marketplace for selling, buying and trading credits for pollution reductions.
Targeting of resources: Agencies will be aggressively targeting resources where they can have the most impact – areas with the most pollution and potential for runoff, with the highest potential for restoring fish and wildlife, and with habitats and lands most in need of protection.