The Next Generation for Our Lands and Waters Starts Now

Environmental Commentary by Nicholas DiPasquale, Director, Chesapeake Bay Program

The environmental ethic we have today is still relatively young, brought into being by such clarion calls as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, published in 1962.

It was only a few years later that the first Chesapeake Bay advocacy groups formed. The Environmental Protection Agency was created in 1970, followed by the Chesapeake Bay Commission in 1980 and the Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP) partnership in 1983. Over the last 30 years, much has been done to identify the types and sources of pollution as well as restore the Bay and its watershed.

Since 1950, the Chesapeake Bay watershed’s human population has more than doubled with 17.7 million people now living here. Experts believe this number will continue to rise, reaching 20 million by 2030. With growth in population comes more rooftops and parking lots, more roads, more car exhaust, more contaminated runoff from urban and rural areas and more need for land and resources.

Our collective and individual environmental footprint grew at an even greater rate in terms of the impact that our patterns of living were having on the physical landscape and water quality. All things considered, I believe the ever-evolving Chesapeake restoration effort has addressed many of the impacts associated with growth and development and we are just now starting to witness the rebuilding of nature’s resilience. But we are truly at a tipping point with new challenges on the horizon.

As of last week, there is a renewed accord for the 64,000-square-mile Bay region—one designed to face these challenges and move us into the future of restoration for our lands and waters. The new Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement was signed on June 16 by the governors of the six watershed states, the mayor of the District of Columbia, the EPA administrator (on behalf of the federal government), and the chair of the Chesapeake Bay Commission. It represents a “next generation” agreement, providing new tools and more effective approaches for achieving and maintaining a restored Chesapeake Bay watershed ecosystem.

It is also a commitment to principles of collaboration and openness across the region as the partnership operates with transparency, represents the interests of people throughout the watershed, uses science-based decision-making, promotes environmental justice and acknowledges, supports and embraces local governments and communities.

The signing of this agreement marks the first time that all six states and the District of Columbia—including Delaware, New York and West Virginia, the headwaters states—along with other signatories, are participating as full members in the Chesapeake Bay Program partnership. This means the entire watershed ecosystem is represented and all parties with a stake in the restoration are committing themselves to a renewed set of clearer and well-defined goals that establish our collective aspirations for sustainable fisheries, vital habitats, water quality, healthy watersheds, stewardship, public access, environmental literacy, climate resiliency, toxics and land conservation.

Perhaps more importantly, all of the signatories stand behind the Watershed Agreement’s 29 outcomes that are more specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound (or SMART) than we have had in past. These will help us focus our energy and resources on the highest priority areas for achieving and maintaining the restoration of the Bay watershed.

The Chesapeake Bay Program signatories have also committed to develop and implement a set of management strategies that, for the first time, invite the public to participate as partners in creating and implementing them. Citizens and local governments will now be part of the discussion, understanding the factors influencing restoration (such as climate change) and offering their perspectives to the CBP partnership’s diverse expert teams as they monitor, assess and report on our progress every two years.

These final management strategies will guide our collective work and be the barometers of our progress, serving to hold us accountable for achieving the goals and outcomes we have established.

Just as public input and engagement was critical to creating the Watershed Agreement, it is essential as we plan our management strategies as well.

We have made considerable progress over the last 30 years despite the many pressures we have put on the ecosystem. I believe we are witnessing a watershed in recovery as well rebuilding its natural resilience.

The degradation of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem took place more than two centuries; it will take more than three decades to reverse. The newly signed Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement—with its clear, well-defined and achievable goals and outcomes, its flexibility to respond and adapt to changing conditions and its public engagement—sets the course and provides the watershedwide commitment to get us there.

Nicholas DiPasquale is director of the Chesapeake Bay Program. Distributed by Bay Journal News Service.

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