What is the Role of Federal Facilities in Cleaning Up the Chesapeake Bay?

A July 22, 2015, Bay Journal article reported on recent efforts to better track the efforts of federal facilities in helping to meet the pollution reduction requirements under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL).  The article noted that the federal government owns 5.4 percent of the property located in the Bay watershed, making it one of the watershed’s largest landowners.

The article stated that federal participation in Bay TMDL efforts has both a symbolic and practical value:

On the symbolic side, as Rich Batiuk, associate director for science of the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program office, said, if federal agencies are seen as lagging, “this can pose a big impediment when talking to a farmer in Pennsylvania or a small municipality in New York that might be thinking, ‘Well, if the feds aren’t doing it, why should we?’ ”

On the practical side, state and local governments are working to achieve nutrient reduction goals set in the TMDL. Whether they can meet those goals — especially for those with substantial federal holdings — can depend on whether federal managers are doing their part. Toward that end, the Bay Program, together with local, state and federal managers, are trying to better document what is happening on the watershed’s far-flung and diverse federal lands and facilities, as well as ensure that they are taking actions that will help meet Bay goals.

The dramatic differences among federal facilities, from the U.S. Forest Service’s natural lands to the Department of Defense’s highly developed properties can make program and policy coordination challenging according to the article.  The facilities are also spread throughout the six Bay watershed states and the District of Columbia and have varying degrees of impact on the Bay’s water quality.

The article also noted that federal agencies lack a common reporting and accountability structure:

And, federal agencies that own the facilities aren’t anything like the states, which have a common structure for accountability, management and reporting. If they were, life would be more simple for the federal managers in charge of controlling pollution to achieve the Chesapeake Bay TMDL.

And, it would be easier for Bay Program managers to assess just how well federal facilities and agencies are doing.

While federal facilities are supposed to work with Bay states to achieve their TMDL goals, actual results have been mixed according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):

The EPA’s first evaluation of federal agencies’ progress to include their buildings, installations, structures, land and property in state plans came in 2013. It found that data provided from the federal facilities to the jurisdictions were uneven from state to state and in most cases incomplete. The EPA cited lack of land use data; incomplete inventories of best management practices at federal facilities; and issues with incomplete reporting or reporting in a format that could not be used.

The EPA’s most recent evaluation of federal progress toward the TMDL was released in June and cited successes and areas of improvement, but noted that there has been uneven progress across agencies, and called for “more interaction and coordination related to planning, implementing and reporting best management practices on federal land in particular.”

Besides better reporting, the article stated that some federal agencies need to actually implement water pollution reduction efforts, which can be challenging due to budget challenges:

In addition to providing better data to the states and local governments, federal agencies also need to do the work. …

Even if they did have the budget, it’s not an easy time for any of the agencies. While the Bay Program has gotten adequate funding from Congress, “the other agencies are faring worse in terms of funding,” said Nick DiPasquale, director of the EPA Bay Program offices.

“Many of them do not have the level of resources they need to do what needs to be done — and it’s always difficult when your primary mission is other than what is stated in the Executive Order.”