Our Chesapeake Bay is cleaner than it’s been in decades, thanks to world-class science, funding, regulations, and stewardship. But continuing challenges are fierce. Upstream and upwind pollution, development and growth pressures, and climate change impacts loom large. We need to add smarter tools, not simply more of the same if we expect to achieve the 2025 TMDL cleanup goals. State environmental, agricultural, and natural resource agencies must build upon current progress with a greater push for prevention, innovation, and collaboration.
Prevention upstream means progress for the entire watershed. About half of all the fresh water and at least a quarter of all the nutrients and sediments entering the bay flow down the Susquehanna River from New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland to and through the Conowingo Dam. The TMDL didn’t plan on the loss of trapping capacity behind the dam until 2025. The reservoir is now over 90 percent full, clouding our clean water future because of continual leakage, but this megaton blind spot behind the dam is 100 percent manageable if we take action now with a more holistic and proactive approach.
Maryland will insist that all states in the bay watershed, the owner of the dam, and our federal partners work closely together to do their fair share to ensure improvements we’ve all made with agriculture, wastewater, stormwater, and septic systems aren’t suddenly wiped out by a stormy flush or slowly eroded by pollution that used to be stored behind the Conowingo.
Maryland is focused on the environmental responsibilities of the dam owner, who is seeking a 46-year license renewal from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and a Clean Water Act Section 401 water quality certification from the state. This is one of the biggest opportunities in decades to prevent pollution, promote aquatic wildlife, and manage downstream flows, while also boosting clean renewable energy — Conowingo provides significant hydroelectricity to homes and businesses.
Innovation is about getting better results at less cost in new ways. We are finalizing policies and regulations for market-based nutrient-reduction projects to help launch a statewide restoration economy, grounded in transparency and accountability. Whether you call it nutrient trading or clean water commerce, the project partnerships that result can mean better restoration without impairing local waterways. With EPA support, we’ll continue to look carefully at interstate nutrient trading and other collaborative ideas to stimulate green infrastructure and pollution prevention, without throwing away any of our existing tools.
One of the more innovative initiatives is beneficial reuse of dredged material. Maryland is moving forward with a 25,000-cubic-yard pilot project to recover valuable resources, formerly known as “spoil,” and put them to work. Clean dredged sands and soils from river channels and waterways often have untapped value in restoring wetlands, creating habitat, and shoring up land at risk due to sea-level rise. They can also be used as building materials and land amendments for healthier soils.
We’re also getting results from public-private partnerships, such as green infrastructure projects managed by a private entity to comply with aggressive stormwater pollution permits in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and pay for performance projects in the state’s 2010 Trust Fund.
Collaboration among bay partners and jurisdictions must grow stronger than ever. Whether you call it cooperative federalism (a term used 40 years ago to describe the Clean Water Act) or shared governance, the basic point is this: the federal government has a critical role in restoring and protecting a national treasure and states, who are on the front lines, must continue to lead and not lose sight of their downstream neighbors.
The last and hardest phase of the TMDL will underscore the need for closer coordination with local governments and for accountability at the state and federal levels. When it comes to the bay TMDL, Congress should not prevent EPA from continuing to serve as a science adviser, interstate umpire, or enforcer of state agreed-upon milestones and implementation plans. Maryland prefers collaboration over confrontation, but as we’ve shown in the Hogan administration, we are willing to go to court and Congress to ensure EPA and others remain committed to environmental progress in the Chesapeake Bay and beyond.
The really good news for 2018: Every bay state is committing to more prevention, innovation, and collaboration. We are developing a Conowingo Watershed Implementation Plan and a multi-pronged Climate Change Strategy to offset substantial new loadings and increase resilience and preparedness as priorities for the bay progress. We are also working across the aisle in Washington, D.C., and in every Chesapeake capital for continued support of science, infrastructure, and enforcement accountability and for innovations that bring more partners to the table without letting polluters off the hook.