Whole Watershed Act Approved by Maryland General Assembly

Environmental advocates celebrate progress for statewide watershed restoration program

Today, state legislators achieved a great victory for Maryland’s waterways by passing the Whole Watershed Act. The legislation (SB 969/HB 1165), introduced by Senator Sarah Elfreth (Anne Arundel) and Delegate Sara Love (Montgomery) in collaboration with a broad coalition of stakeholders, will pilot a highly collaborative, science-based approach to watershed restoration across the state.

Now, groups including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Chesapeake Bay Commission, Chesapeake Conservancy, Maryland League of Conservation Voters, and other environmental champions, state agencies, and restoration practitioners, are calling on Governor Wes Moore, whose support was critical to the bill’s passage, to sign the Whole Watershed Act into law.

The Whole Watershed Act promotes innovative, science-based approaches to waterway restoration efforts and is a direct response to conclusions in the 2023 Comprehensive Evaluation of System Response (CESR) report—an evaluation of water quality progress for the Chesapeake Bay. The legislation will utilize existing state funds to create a five-year pilot program targeting five Maryland watersheds that best represent the state’s diverse land uses, geographies, and impairments. The pilot projects will deliver not only water quality improvements, but also specific co-benefits like increased public access to waterways, wildlife habitat, fisheries improvement, and climate change resiliency. Target watersheds will be selected by and in close collaboration with local stakeholders and elected officials who will be critical in the design and implementation of restoration projects. Selected projects will be overseen by a State Management Team, made up of agency experts, to help find efficiencies in project permitting and funding, and to measure project results.

“The Whole Watershed Act is a beacon of what is possible, bringing all levels of government to the table to fund innovative, holistic projects on an expedited timeline,” said Sen. Elfreth. “This legislation ensures that we can be bolder, go bigger, and build smarter projects where they will have the greatest impact. The final product is the result of a deeply collaborative process, and I am proud to have worked alongside Delegate Love, the environmental community, state agencies, and colleagues in the General Assembly to craft and pass this critical legislation.”

“The Whole Watershed Act is an important piece of legislation that will foster innovative and collaborative new approaches to watershed restoration,” said Del. Love. “The bill will give groups doing on-the-ground work in Maryland watersheds the guidance, support, and funding to tackle comprehensive projects that maximize results on between legislative leaders, environmental champions, as well as the state and local governments. I am proud to have sponsored this legislation.”

The Whole Watershed Act was chosen as a 2024 legislative priority by the Citizens’ Campaign for the Environment, the largest environmentally-focused legislative coalition in Maryland. 

“The Whole Watershed Act will accelerate meaningful results towards our Chesapeake Bay restoration goals,” said Allison Colden, Maryland Executive Director at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “Rooted in science and proven successes, the program is a direct response to the CESR report and will rapidly improve waterways included on EPA's impaired waters list for the benefit of the Bay and local communities.”

“This bill is a transformative approach to watershed restoration in Maryland,” said Kim Coble, Executive Director at the Maryland League of Conservation Voters. “By allocating resources to diverse geographies and prioritizing Environmental Justice communities, this legislation sets a new standard for effective and equitable environmental stewardship. We believe the Whole Watershed Act puts us on a path toward achieving our restoration goals, ensuring the health of our waterways for generations to come.”


Valerie Keefer

Maryland Communications & Media Relations Manager, CBF

[email protected]

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