Multistate agreement in works for Chesapeake Bay

ANNAPOLIS — States in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are working to have a new cleanup agreement ready by October with clearer goals and greater flexibility and transparency.

This would be the fourth Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement in 30 years intended to spur improvements. The last agreement was signed in 2000.

The Capital of Annapolis reported Sunday that the new compact would reflect many of the same broad goals as past agreements but also some changes. It includes strategies spurred by a 2009 presidential order for a “pollution diet” — involving total daily maximum load rules — established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The order requires water pollution reductions by 2025.

For the first time, the agreement would include the “headwaters” states of New York, Delaware and West Virginia, in addition to Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia.

According to a working draft of the document released last week, it includes six goals: sustainable fisheries, vital habitats, water quality, healthy watersheds, land conservation and public access.

Chesapeake Bay Program Director Nick DiPasquale said the agreement is a way to harmonize federal, state and local efforts to improve the bay. It will be less specific than the 2000 agreement, though, focusing instead on general goals and intended results.

“The new agreement will have states refresh and recommit to the overall goals,” DiPasquale said. “All the teams are taking a close look at the goals and outcomes to see if they are still on track.”

Negotiations are continuing on issues such as toxic chemicals, climate change, land use planning and stewardship. Improvement strategies will be flexible to adapt to changing conditions, DiPasquale said.

Some observers worry the agreement will not provide enough enforcement, said Beth McGee, senior scientist at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

“Chesapeake 2000 had hundreds of commitments,” she said. “They fulfilled many of them but not all of them. The reason: There was no real, clear accountability. Politicians got a great photo op, and that was it.”

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