2021 State of the Blueprint

21 SOTBP Web Hero Main Heather Rees

Heather Rees

Time is running out. A healthy Bay, clean streams, and resilient rivers are at risk without a major acceleration in pollution reduction.

Less than four years remain to the 2025 implementation deadline for the historic Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint—our last, best chance to save the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams. Its success is critical to our region’s health, economy, outdoor heritage, and quality of life. Make no mistake, the Blueprint is working, but much work remains in a short amount of time.

Our State of the Blueprint report looks at one question: Are the Bay states on track to reduce pollution by the Blueprint’s 2025 deadline? 

Based on our assessment of progress in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, which together account for roughly 90 percent of the Bay's pollution, the answer collectively is ‘no.’ If progress continues at its current pace, the Bay partnership will not achieve the Blueprint by 2025. 

Individually, Maryland and Virginia are mostly on track to meet their pollution-reduction commitments overall. But their progress to date is largely due to wastewater treatment upgrades, which, while important, are not enough to finish the job. To do so, they need a major acceleration of efforts to address agricultural pollution and a concerning rise in pollution from urban and suburban development.  

Pennsylvania remains far off track, threatening the Blueprint’s success, and equally as important, the ability to restore its local waterways. Getting the Commonwealth on track is essential and will require a massive influx of technical and financial assistance to provide farmers the resources to implement conservation practices. 

The Blueprint is working. Over the long term, nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in many areas is decreasing, along with summer dead zones. But the road to finishing the job is steep. Climate change and the continuing loss of forests and farms to development are serious threats for which the states are not adequately accounting.

Time is running out. The states—and the federal government—must take aggressive, urgent action if we are to leave a legacy of clean water to future generations. 

About the Blueprint

The Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint is the historic federal/state plan established in 2010 to restore the Bay’s water quality and, in doing so, also improve the many streams and rivers that feed it. It outlines four very important requirements:

  1. Pollution limits for nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), known as a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL).
  2. Plans to meet those limits developed by each of the six Bay states and the District of Columbia, known as Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs, referred to here as state Clean Water Blueprints).
  3. Milestones—two-year, incremental goals to keep progress on track.
  4. Accountability measures by which EPA must hold all states accountable for developing and implementing adequate plans to meet the pollution limits.

The Blueprint calls for all Bay states and the District of Columbia to have in place, by 2025, the practices and policies necessary to meet the Bay's pollution limits. The jurisdictions are currently implementing their final, state Clean Water Blueprints (Phase III WIPs) to achieve the remaining pollution reductions.

What We Found

We assessed progress in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, the three states that account for roughly 90 percent of Bay pollution. To do so, we looked at two measures.

First, we used the Chesapeake Bay Program's scientific model to estimate pollution reductions made between 2009 and 2020. For each state, we assessed both the total pollution reductions made statewide, as well as the reductions made by each sector (i.e., agriculture, wastewater, etc.) to determine if current trends put them on track to meet the 2025 Blueprint targets. This is an important distinction. While significant progress in one sector may put a state on track to meet its total 2025 targets today, states risk losing ground or even reversing progress in the future without action in all sectors.

Second, we looked at how well the states are implementing key practices and programs outlined in their two-year milestone commitments for 2020 and 2021—in other words, are they taking the specific actions they committed to do to achieve their pollution-reduction targets? Plans are only good if they are implemented. By looking at whether or not the plans are being put into place, our report assesses interim progress toward achieving some of these milestone targets as well as overall progress toward meeting the 2025 implementation deadline.

By these measures, we found that no state is completely on track. Model projections indicate Maryland and Virginia will be close to meeting their 2025 targets overall, though not for agriculture and urban/suburban runoff pollution. Pennsylvania remains far off track.

  • Maryland is currently on track to meet the state’s 2025 pollution-reduction targets overall. Significant and ongoing investments in wastewater treatment technology and conservation practices on farms have substantially reduced pollution. However, recent maintenance and permit compliance failures at some of the state’s largest wastewater treatment plants threaten this progress. Pollution is still increasing from urban/suburban runoff as more land is developed and forests are lost. And more work is needed on farms. To stay on track, the state must redouble efforts to protect and restore natural filters like forests, streamside buffers, and wetlands that reduce pollution and fight climate change in both urban and rural settings.
    SEE MARYLAND'S PROGRESS
  • Pennsylvania is not on track to achieve its 2025 pollution-reduction targets, and the Commonwealth is significantly behind in implementing the practices necessary to close the gap. More than 90 percent of its remaining pollution reductions must come from agriculture. While farmers are adopting conservation practices, a massive influx of technical and financial assistance is required to provide the resources to put these practices in place at the scale and pace necessary. Across the watershed in Pennsylvania, the wastewater sector remains the one area of noteworthy success. However, the loss of farms and forests to development, coupled with more severe storms linked to climate change, pose new challenges for stemming rising pollution from urban/suburban runoff.
    SEE PENNSYLVANIA'S PROGRESS
  • Virginia is largely on track to achieve its 2025 pollution-reduction targets. The Commonwealth’s investment in upgrading wastewater treatment plants is the single largest factor in its progress. Pollution is also declining thanks to investment in conservation practices on farms, but without a major acceleration of these efforts Virginia will not meet targets for agriculture. Meanwhile, pollution from urban and suburban areas is rising—in fact, offsetting pollution reductions in agriculture—and the Commonwealth is losing an area of forest larger than Richmond each year. Virginia must accelerate pollution reductions from agriculture and urban/suburban runoff, maximize wastewater treatment upgrades, and address new sources of pollution driven by climate change, increasing development, and forest loss.
    SEE VIRGINIA'S PROGRESS

Progress Toward Pollution-Reduction Targets

We used the Chesapeake Bay Program’s scientific model to estimate pollution reductions made between 2009 and 2020 and if those reductions are on a trajectory to meet the 2025 targets, both statewide and for each sector. Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia's pollution-reduction progress is summarized in the table below. Together, the three states account for roughly 90 percent of the Bay's pollution.

Individual sectors compared to 2025 Phase III WIP. Total compared to EPA Planning Target.
Nitrogen Phosphorus
 
MDMaryland
Agriculture In Danger Off Track
Urban/Suburban Polluted Runoff Off Track On Track
Septic Off Track N/A
Wastewater & Combined Sewer Outfall On Track On Track
Overall On Track On Track
 
PAPennsylvania
Agriculture Off Track Off Track
Urban/Suburban Polluted Runoff Off Track Off Track
Septic Off Track N/A
Wastewater & Combined Sewer Outfall On Track On Track
Overall Off Track In Danger
 
VAVirginia
Agriculture Off Track Off Track
Urban/Suburban Polluted Runoff Off Track Off Track
Septic Off Track N/A
Wastewater & Combined Sewer Outfall On Track On Track
Overall On Track On Track

Key

Off Track Projected loads more than 25% off target or pollution is increasing
In Danger of Being Off Track Projected loads within 10-25% of target
On Track Projected loads less than 10% off target
N/A No contribution from this source sector

Any increasing trendline is red, regardless of percentage


Pollution-reduction progress is assessed with modeled estimates of the benefits from implemented practices such as upgrades to wastewater treatment plants, best management practices like cover crops and streamside forested buffers on agricultural lands, and stormwater practices, like rain gardens, in urban areas. The “Total” progress for each state is assessed against the overall pollution-reduction target EPA assigned each state in order to meet the Blueprint targets by 2025. Each state is responsible for dividing EPA’s total allotment among the various pollution sources (sectors) in their state Clean Water Blueprints (Watershed Implementation Plans or WIPs). The progress for each sector (i.e. agriculture) is therefore assessed against the pollution-reduction target assigned to it in the states’ most recent Phase III WIPs.

 

Current and Future Challenges

The Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint is working. Over the long term, polluted runoff in many areas is decreasing, along with summer dead zones. But the road to finishing the job is steep. In addition to the unique challenges each state must overcome to meet the Blueprint targets, climate change and the continuing loss of forests and farmland to development are serious threats to progress. In fact, they are increasing the amount of pollution in the watershed. To address these challenges and meet the 2025 Blueprint targets on time, EPA must hold states accountable to their commitments, and the federal government should play a larger role in mobilizing the resources necessary to finish the job. Learn more about current and future challenges.

What You Can Do

EPA's failure to require Pennsylvania to develop implementation plans that will achieve the 2025 Bay restoration goals puts the success of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint at risk. That's why we and our partners, in conjunction with the attorneys general of four watershed states, are suing EPA. EPA must use its authority under the Clean Water Act to hold Pennsylvania accountable for taking the steps needed to meet their Clean Water Blueprint commitments. Stand with us as we take EPA to court. The health of our region's environment, our public health, and our way of life are at stake. Pledge your support today!

The Bay Needs You

The 2020 State of the Bay Report makes it clear that the Bay needs our support now more than ever. Your donation helps the Chesapeake Bay Foundation maintain our momentum toward a restored Bay, rivers, and streams for today and generations to come.

Donate Today

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Founded in 1967, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) is the largest independent conservation organization dedicated solely to saving the Bay.

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