A new report from the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee evaluates why progress to restore local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay has been slower than expected and looks at ways to accelerate efforts to reduce pollution.
The report, titled A Comprehensive Evaluation of System Response, identified both challenges and opportunities for change. The challenges noted include:
- Bay water quality standards were met in 27 percent of Bay waters in 1985, improving only to the mid-30 percent range in 2020.
- Non-point source implementation is not happening fast enough and is less effective than expected.
- Tens of millions of pounds of nitrogen reductions are needed to achieve the goal, but a decade of implementation has produced only 3.5 million pounds of nonpoint-source nitrogen reductions.
- Complete attainment of water quality standards remains in the distant future.
- There is significant uncertainty about historic non-point source management efforts including the benefits, how these efforts influence behavior, and whether they are implemented as prescribed.
- Current programs have failed to implement highly effective practices, such as forested buffers, at the rate needed.
- Implementation of agricultural best management practices is not producing the reductions expected (response gaps) particularly for phosphorous. Contributing factors could include:
- Ground water lag times,
- That practices and programs are not as effective as expected, and
- That there is incomplete understanding of how nitrogen and phosphorus, particularly from manure, are used on the landscape.
The report also cited these opportunities for change:
- Improvements are possible but fundamental changes in our incentive programs and policies are needed.
- Better target funding to areas generating the most pollution.
- Shift metrics from simply installing practices to achieving pollution-reduction outcomes.
- Because there are limits to voluntary adoption, new and refined requirements and approaches may be necessary.
- Expand the focus of monitoring from attainment to better understanding water quality responses to pollution reduction.
- Expand the focus from solely reducing pollution to improvements in living resources. For instance, practices such as living shorelines have substantial habitat benefits that are not captured by water quality assessments alone.
- Refine the Bay Program’s adaptive management tools to address its limited capacity to evaluate uncertainties and response gaps.
Following the release of the report, Chesapeake Bay Foundation President Hilary Harp Falk issued this statement.
“Since the first Bay Agreement was signed 40 years ago, following the science has been at the heart of restoration efforts. This latest scientific report highlights the enormity of the challenges we still face while providing incredible insight into where we might refocus our efforts. It should be required reading for everyone in the Bay movement.
“As we face a third missed deadline, it’s time to take a hard look in the mirror and realize that we cannot rely on more money alone to meet the goals. While additional investment is still needed, we must drastically change and accelerate our approach to reducing the pollution running off the land.
“We can still leave clean water to the next generation, but only if Bay leaders listen to the science, target efforts more strategically, and begin paying for the outcomes that matter most to local communities and the Bay downstream. This is a time for bold leadership from the entire Bay Partnership.”