CBF Bay TMDL Midpoint Assessment Highlights Progress Made, Challenges Remaining

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) has released its midpoint assessment on the health and restoration efforts of the Chesapeake Bay.  The assessment finds that the health of the Bay has generally improved and that most Bay watershed states, including Maryland and Virginia, are working towards meeting their 2025 nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment reduction goals under the Bay’s Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). However, the assessment finds that all states have more work to do and that Pennsylvania in particular is falling short of its targets.

Midpoint Milestone Infographic
Source: Chesapeake Bay Foundation

From a CBF press release (2018-05-30) on the issue:

“Water quality is improving. The dead zone is getting smaller, scientists have documented record Bay grass acreage again this year, and the Bay’s oyster population is improving. But the recovery is fragile,” said CBF President William C. Baker. “The midpoint assessment was designed so that course corrections can be made along the way, not to provide excuses for delay. Rest assured, we will use all the advocacy and litigation tools at our disposal to ensure the commitments are met.”

The Blueprint, implemented in 2010, is unlike past state/federal voluntary agreements. It includes pollution limits, state-specific plans to achieve those limits, two-year milestones to evaluate progress, and consequences for failure. In it, the states also committed to implementation of 60 percent of the practices necessary for Bay restoration by 2017 and finishing the job by 2025. CBF’s midpoint assessment examines whether the states achieved the 60 percent goal, and whether they have implemented the programs and policies that were committed to.

[Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia] have exceeded their goals reducing nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from sewage treatment plants, a major reason for the success in Maryland and Virginia. That progress makes up for shortfalls in other pollution-reduction efforts, but will not be sufficient to achieve 2025 goals. All the states fell short in implementing practices to reduce nitrogen pollution from agriculture, urban runoff, and septic systems.

“At the end of the first half, it’s clear that Maryland and Virginia are carrying the team and mostly by tackling wastewater. As the clock counts down to 2025, we know the second half is going to be tougher,” Baker said. “Unless the states and their federal partners expand their playbooks and push harder, the Bay and its rivers and streams may never be saved.”

Watershed wide, the states achieved the 60 percent goal for phosphorus and sediment. The region fell far short of meeting its nitrogen goal, largely as a result of shortfalls in Pennsylvania’s efforts to reduce pollution from agriculture.

“The Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint beats out all previous failed attempts because it has teeth. But if EPA remains unwilling to impose consequences on states that are lagging, the potential for sanctions will be no more than empty threats. At the very least EPA needs to exert its authority in Pennsylvania, while also putting Maryland and Virginia on notice. Pollution from rural and urban runoff must be addressed now, not pushed down the road yet again,” Baker said.

As the next step in the Blueprint, the Bay jurisdictions are starting to work on plans that will describe actions to take between now and 2025—the deadline for full implementation. In addition, a separate plan will be developed to address mitigating the additional pollution coming across the Conowingo Dam and, starting in 2022, the jurisdictions will factor in the additional pollution reduction needed to offset climate change.

While we are seeing some positive trends, we will not have a clean Bay unless we also address the additional pollution due to the lost capacity at Conowingo Dam and the effects of climate change,” said Chante Coleman, Director of the Choose Clean Water Coalition. “The current clean-up goals do not take the impact of Conowingo and climate change into account, which is why the coalition will continue working with our members, like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, to ensure that the plans developed to address these challenges are sufficient to do the job to restore the rivers and streams that flow to the Bay.”

These plans must be detailed and comprehensive, with attention given to addressing existing shortfalls. Local engagement will be key to successful implementation. Developing local pollution-reduction goals and ensuring robust outreach efforts involving the full array of local, regional, and federal stakeholders will be critical.

The new plans must also account for, and offset, new sources of pollution as required by the federal Clean Water Act. Additional sources include more septic systems, forest or farmland converting to developed land with more impervious surfaces, increased vehicle emissions, and livestock and poultry industry growth.

The assessment also looked at the progress being made in each Bay state. A summary of Maryland’s progress was included in the press release:

Maryland Practices

Maryland achieved its overall mid-point 2017 goals for phosphorus and sediment, but still fell short on its nitrogen-reduction goal. Significant reductions from wastewater produced overall progress. But nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from urban and suburban areas continued to increase, as did nitrogen from septic systems. Nitrogen reductions from agriculture also were off-track.

“Thanks to Marylanders who paid for upgrades at nearly 60 major sewage plants, the state is on track to meet its commitments to clean up the Bay. But this progress masks problems,” said CBF Maryland Executive Director Alison Prost. Polluted runoff from cities and suburbs is increasing. We also are making insufficient headway in reducing pollution from rural areas. Further, much of our progress could be at risk if we don’t account for continued sprawl growth, forest loss from development, increased vehicle emissions, and an expanding poultry industry.”

Maryland Programs

While seeing success in reducing pollution from wastewater treatment plants, Maryland is significantly behind in reducing polluted runoff from urban and suburban areas. None of the state’s most populated counties or Baltimore City has met goals for reducing this type of pollution. The goals are established in regulatory permits. To get back on track, Maryland must strengthen the next round of permits and Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs), adhere to deadlines and requirements in approving individual jurisdictions’ Financial Assurance Plans, and reduce forest loss from development.

To improve progress in agriculture, Maryland should focus its cost-share investment dollars in targeted areas, and restrict such dollars for new or expanding poultry operations. Maryland also needs to better account and plan for pollution increases from sprawl growth in rural areas and an expanding poultry industry.

Useful Links

CBF Chesapeake Bay Midpoint Assessment Web Page

Learn more about the Bay’s current health and restoration efforts, and the remaining work for Maryland and its local governments at the 2018 MACo Summer Conference. The Conference will be held August 15-18 at the Roland Powell Convention Center in Ocean City, Maryland. This year’s theme is “Water, Water Everywhere.”

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference: