The Facts About the Clean Water Blueprint


Clean, clear, healthy water allows sunshine to reach underwater grass beds, like this bed of widgeon grass.

Jay Fleming

FACT #1: Pollution limits and other environmental action are job creators.

Many economic experts assert that environmental restoration activity can spur job creation.

For example, the burgeoning environmental industry that has emerged since the passage of federal clean water and air laws in the 1970s employs 1.7 million people and is worth $312 billion a year nationally. The federal Clean Water Act alone spurs construction projects that are worth at least $11 billion per year.

FACT #2: Farmers are playing a key role in the success of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

Conservation-minded farmers across the Bay region are demonstrating that pollution control practices can improve the farmers' bottom lines.

  • Innovative conservation tillage practices not only reduce runoff of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment but also improve profitability (Gaining Ground Virginia).
  • Livestock farmers who use specific grazing practices to improve the quality of their pastures not only help improve water quality but also can be more profitable than conventional livestock farmers. (Maryland Grazers' Network).

In addition, cost-share funding from the Federal Farm Bill, state programs such as Virginia's Natural Resources Conservation Fund, Maryland's Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund, and Pennsylvania's REAP agricultural tax credit program, and partnerships and initiatives spearheaded by CBF have enabled more farmers to voluntarily implement such conservation measures.

FACT #3: The Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint is an example of successful federal/state governmental cooperation.

Pollution flows downstream, across state boundaries. That's a fact. Without federal and interstate cooperation, downstream economies and environments suffer from the waste generated by their upstream neighbors. That's why more than 30 years ago the Bay jurisdictions, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia signed the first of many inter-jurisdictional agreements with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognizing the need for cooperative action to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

Over the next 17 years, the partners signed three more agreements—in 1987, 2000, 2014—to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution to levels needed for a healthy Bay. In 2007, the Chesapeake Executive Council announced that the Bay jurisdictions would not meet the 2000 Agreement's water quality goals and asked EPA to develop pollution limits for the Chesapeake Bay. In 2010, the EPA established the landmark Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). The Chesapeake Bay TMDL is a federal “pollution diet” that sets limits on the amount of nutrients and sediment that can enter the Bay and its tidal rivers to meet water quality goals. 

Each of the seven Bay jurisdictions has created a Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) that spells out detailed, specific steps the jurisdiction will take to meet these pollution reductions by 2025. Federal, state and local governments coordinate through the Chesapeake Bay Program partnership to develop the WIPs. The WIPs are created by the states and will guide local and state Bay restoration efforts through 2025.

Together, the TMDL and WIPs comprise the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. In 2014, Chesapeake Bay Program partners incorporated the Blueprint into the goals of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement.

While the TMDL was challenged in 2011, a federal judge upheld the pollution limits in a 2013 ruling and an appeals court upheld the decision in 2015, affirming the Bay TMDL's sound legal standing and complimenting the "cooperative federalism" the states and EPA exhibited in developing the Blueprint. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case in 2016.

FACT #4: The Environmental Protection Agency is a critical, effective driver behind the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

Since the late 1990s, numerous federal courts have ruled that a state's failure to develop pollution limits for impaired bodies of water, as required under the Clean Water Act, obligates EPA to generate these limits. In 2000, the Republican-led Congress amended the Clean Water Act to improve the section of the Act addressing the Chesapeake Bay. That amendment required EPA, in conjunction with the Bay jurisdictions, to reduce pollution to the Bay so that it would be removed from the Clean Water Act impaired waters list by 2010. When that goal was not met, EPA was bound to develop a Bay-wide pollution limit. Simply put, without EPA's strategic intervention, Bay restoration through the Clean Water Blueprint would not be possible.

FACT #5: The EPA's pollution limits are based on cutting-edge science.

The computer models being used by the Chesapeake Bay Program were developed by the Bay partnership over decades and with rigorous technical and peer review. Prominent scientists, such as Donald Boesch, Professor of Marine Science and President of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, have stated that it is the best modeling effort ever performed for the development of multi-pollutant, multi-jurisdictional pollution limits.

When a report from the Agricultural Nutrient Policy Council challenged the validity of the Chesapeake Bay model's calculation of the amount of pollution agriculture contributes to the Bay, two independent reviews found that report to be fatally flawed. One independent panel found that the Council's report had "poor scientific merit and promote (d) a false set of criteria by which to judge the…watershed model…"

FACT #6: The Blueprint is positioned to succeed where voluntary efforts were unsuccessful.

Cooperative efforts to restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries have been underway for more than 30 years. We have seen cooperative technical efforts, voluntary agreements, congressional and executive branch actions, and litigation—all designed to remove the Bay from EPA's dirty waters list. These efforts have had positive impacts on water quality, but it's clear that we won't get the rest of the way without holding Bay jurisdictions and their polluters accountable and providing the financial assistance necessary for change. Fortunately, the Blueprint provides each state with scientifically-determined guidance about the maximum amount of a pollutant that may be discharged into a body of water to meet applicable water-quality standards, and also outlines penalties for failure.

FACT #7: The Blueprint sets a reasonable timeline for achieving the Bay pollution limit.

The Bay pollution limit provides until 2025 to cut pollution to the minimum levels science says is necessary to restore the Bay to balance. The Bay is poised to recover. Signs of hope include the resurgence of blue crabs baywide since 2014 and the explosion of underwater grasses. The Bay's best chance is finally in place—strong and enforceable pollution limits.

FACT #8: The Bay pollution limits benefited from ample public input.

EPA, the Bay states, and D.C. began working on the Bay pollution limits in 2005 and spent years working on the technical aspects of the limits. In 2007, the Chesapeake Executive Council (comprised of the Bay jurisdictions and created to ensure Bay cleanup) recommended that EPA lead the creation of the pollution limits. EPA was required to provide public review of the limits. EPA complied and, over a period of months before their release in December, 2010, held numerous public forums throughout the watershed to educate public on the pollution-reduction process, including explaining how the pollution limits were created and answering questions. The extensive public comments submitted by supporters of the Blueprint—as well as by opponents, such as the National Association of Home Builders and some agribusinesses—demonstrate that these meetings and the public comment period that followed appropriately provided for public input.

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