New Bay Goals May Include Projected Growth & Land Use Changes

Bay Journal article (2017-12-03) reported that the state-federal Bay Program is considering whether to incorporate 2025 growth projections for  both humans and farm animals into the pending water pollution goals of the third and final phase of the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). The new TMDL targets for nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment will also take into account projected land use changes.

The article noted that the population within the Bay watershed is projected to grow to 19.4 million (an 11.5% increase from 2010) by 2025. From the agricultural side, farm animal populations (especially chickens) and cultivated cropland are also expected to increase. From the article:

Now, Bay Program participants have tentatively agreed on techniques to forecast county-level trends in population, land use and agriculture into the future. Those projections can be used to predict what the landscape will look like in 2025 — and the amount of nutrient reductions that will be needed to meet Bay cleanup goals under those conditions.

Any reductions needed to offset that growth can be assigned to each state next year when they develop new watershed implementation plans — or WIPs — which will guide cleanup efforts through the 2025 deadline. Those growth projections would then be updated every two years. …

It’s not yet clear exactly how much that will alter the estimates of nutrient reductions that are needed to meet cleanup goals. “We’re not talking about huge increases,” said Peter Claggett, a research geographer with the U.S. Geological Survey who has been working to develop the land use projections. “Probably a couple percent.”

The article explained, however, that the burden for growth would not be evenly spread and some regions in Maryland may have higher targets than others. For example, the Eastern Shore and parts of Pennsylvania would have to address pollution generated by growth in poultry production while the Interstate 95 and I-81 corridors would have to offset new growth replacing forested land.

In the article, Claggett advocated that the growth projections could help states and local governments make better long-term land use and water pollution decisions. However, Chesapeake Bay Senior Water Quality Scientist Beth McGee expressed concern that the growth projections could also become a self-fulfilling prophecy and shift the pollution reduction burden from developers to governments:

“Our issue with building the WIPs on the forecasts is you are sort of baking development growth into the process,” [McGee] said. “It is just a given that this new development is going to occur.” …

Instead of placing the burden of offsetting new pollution loads on developers, she said, it shifts the responsibility of planning for the impact of growth to state and local governments.

The article also discussed the opportunities to create incentives and educate the public on the importance of land and forest conservation. The issue about whether to use growth targets will be decided by a group of state and federal officials in December of 2017.