Bay Journal Articles Discuss Growth and TMDL Challenges

The October issue of the Chesapeake Bay Journal contains three articles that highlight the challenges posed to the Chesapeake Bay by growth and to the Bay states and counties in implementing the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL).

GAO Criticizes Lack of Common Restoration Goals Between Federal Government and States

As previously reported on Conduit Street, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report in September, criticizing the lack of common Chesapeake Bay restoration goals between federal and state agencies.  The first Journal article summarizes the findings of the report, explaining that while the federal government has formulated new restoration goals under President Barack Obama’s 2009 Chesapeake Bay Executive Order, many Bay states are still using the goals contained in the federal-state Chesapeake 2000 agreement even though many of the Chesapeake 2000 goals expired in 2010.  The report did view the Bay TMDL as an exception.

“It is important for all partners in the restoration effort to be working toward the same goals,” the GAO report said, adding that “identifying common goals is a key characteristic of successful collaborative efforts.”  …

But the GAO noted that the federal strategy was hindered because states view it as just that – a strategy for federal agencies, which is not binding on states. The one exception was the water quality portion of the strategy, which incorporates the legally binding Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load established by the EPA last December that set limits for nutrient and sediment pollution.

The report said that states still consider the overarching goals established by Chesapeake 2000 as their guide for other restoration areas, such as rebuilding fish populations, protecting lands and restoring wetlands and other habitats.

But while the broad goals of Chesapeake 2000 have many similarities to those in the federal strategy, many of the specific objectives and actions are different.

Report Criticizing Bay Model Disputed

The Agricultural Nutrient Policy Council is an umbrella organization formed by various agricultural stakeholder groups in response to the Bay TMDL.  The Council contracted with the environmental consulting firm LimnoTech to analyze agricultural pollutant runoff loads between the EPA’s Bay model and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates.

The LimnoTech report was released in December of 2010 and found substantial discrepancies between EPA and USDA on  agricultural runoff estimates, land use classifications, hydrology classifications, and model assumptions.   The LimnoTech report called for a halt to the Bay TMDL implementation until the agency differences could be addressed.

The second  Bay Journal article details that the LimnoTech report was critically reviewed by the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC), which issued its own report.  The STAC report challenged the findings of the LimnoTech report.

But a panel convened by the Bay Program’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee said in a sharply worded report that LimnoTech’s review was “flawed and does not provide sufficient evidence to suspend implementation of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL.”

The panel said LimnoTech’s report had “poor scientific merit” and misinterpreted some model results, which had resulted in the appearance of greater differences between the EPA and USDA models than was actually the case.

The EPA, with support from the USDA, requested the review. It hailed the conclusion. “We’re pleased this independent panel has confirmed what we have said all along,” the agency said in a statement. “Now it’s time to continue moving forward in supporting the Chesapeake Bay Watershed states’ efforts to restore the Bay.”  …

The STAC report did say that the USDA’s model included information that could improve the Bay Watershed Model and urged modelers from the two agencies to work together, something that is already happening.

It also said the EPA Bay Program should move to a modeling framework that uses multiple models, instead of relying on single models to produce results.

In a statement, the Agricultural Nutrients Policy Council said it would review the STAC report and hoped to meet with the review team, but contended that while STAC’s wording was “harsh,” its actual conclusions were consistent with corrective actions recommended by LimnoTech.

“We disagree with the STAC that these findings did not justify delaying the finalization of the TMDL,” it said. It said it would issue more detailed comments after it had a chance to thoroughly review the report.

Growth and the Bay

The final article, the first in planned series, argues that the Chesapeake Bay cannot survive under the existing growth paradigm.  Instead, the article questions whether our current growth model is sustainable in the long-term and explores alternatives.

Are continued economic expansion and the population increase needed to fill more jobs and consume more products compatible with a restored and sustainable Bay?  …

But after decades of unprecedented economic growth, and even before the current recession, compelling doubts have been emerging about growth’s ability to deliver in a world getting more polluted and peopled.  …

In this series we’ll also look at redefining our current measures of economic progress, which count as positive the asphalt purchased to pave a wetland, while failing to subtract the valuable work the wetland did in filtering pollution. Maryland and a few other states are experimenting with ways to value nature better in economic terms.

We’ll examine whether growth actually correlates with individual incomes and people’s feelings of well-being in many parts of the United States.

It might seem the worst time to question growth, in the depths of what many are calling the Great Recession, with unemployment at high levels and stock markets gyrating downward. In the short term, government has little choice but to try and rev the current economy and get people working again.

But it is also a fertile time for questioning whether the economic growth model conceived more than 60 years ago may have run its useful course; whether its benefits, which we measure and publish in exquisite detail, may no longer outweigh its costs, to nature and to social well-being, which are not nearly so well-accounted for.

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