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Federal agencies release draft reports on Chesapeake Bay watershed cleanup strategies

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Federal agencies released the seven draft reports required by President Obama’s executive order on the Chesapeake Bay, which contain a range of proposed strategies for accelerating cleanup of the nation’s largest estuary and its vast watershed. The draft reports collectively call for increased accountability and performance from pollution control, habitat protection, and land conservation programs at all levels of government, including an expanded use of regulatory authorities to address pollution control and additional voluntary and market-based solutions — particularly when it comes to habitat protection and land conservation programs.

Federal agencies are also proposing new ways to harness the latest innovations in science and technology. The proposed actions are in response to overwhelming scientific evidence that the health of the Chesapeake Bay remains exceptionally poor, despite the concerted restoration efforts of the past 25 years.

The Chesapeake Bay comprises the largest estuary in the nation and third largest in the world. Its 64,000-square-mile watershed spans parts of six states — Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia, and the entire District of Columbia. Economists have estimated the bay’s value at more than $1 trillion, and its bounty includes more than 500 million pounds of seafood per year. Supporting more than 3,600 species of plants, fish, and other animals, the Chesapeake is home to 29 species of waterfowl and is a major resting ground along the Atlantic Flyway. The most recent scientific analysis of water quality concluded that the Chesapeake Bay is only attaining 21 percent of its goals.

The draft reports are the first step in the creation of a new strategy for restoring and protecting the Chesapeake Bay and waterways in the region, as defined by the executive order. The reports include a variety of strategies and options for addressing issues such as water quality, public access, landscape conservation, climate change, scientific monitoring, and the protection of living resources. Along with the public release, the draft reports were also submitted to the Federal Leadership Committee that is coordinating work on the executive order. The draft reports are available at https://executiveorder.chesapeakebay.net.

Recommendations in the reports were shaped by consultations with the six states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and the District of Columbia, as well as suggestions from stakeholders and the public. The draft reports were released to engage the public in the process outlined in the executive order.

The draft report on water quality includes some of the more significant potential changes to existing programs. In this report, The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposes to develop new regulations for the Chesapeake Bay to significantly reduce runoff pollution from urban, suburban, and agricultural sources. The report also relays EPA’s intention to hold the states in the watershed more accountable for controlling pollution, through increased oversight, enforcement activities, and new policies. Urban and suburban runoff pollution is the fastest growing source of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay, while agricultural runoff is the largest.

During the 60 days following the release, the Federal Leadership Committee will evaluate the proposals in the draft reports and consult with bay jurisdictions to refine the recommendations for meeting key challenges to the Chesapeake Bay’s health. On Nov. 9, the Federal Leadership Committee will release a draft strategy that integrates the seven reports. Release of a draft strategy and revised reports will initiate a 60-day public comment period that concludes in early 2010. A final strategy will be completed by May 12, 2010. However, the agencies will be moving forward in a number of areas before the strategy becomes final.

The federal departments and agencies working on the Chesapeake Bay executive order  include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Park Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of the Defense, U.S. Department of Transportation, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, EPA, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and U.S. Geological Survey.