ANNAPOLIS – Maryland will fail to meet Chesapeake Bay restoration goals set in a multi-state agreement with the federal government by the 2010 deadline, according to leading environmental groups, experts and government agencies.
The Chesapeake 2000 Bay Agreement, which Maryland signed in June 2000, set standards for various aspects of bay cleanup and restoration. But Maryland will not be in compliance with many of them on time, experts say, including the oyster restocking, wetland restoration and forest buffer commitments.
In a statement Thursday, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation said the only chance Maryland had to meet its goals was to commit itself to “aggressive increases in funds over a period of years,” which it failed to do.
The Chesapeake 2000 Bay Agreement, often called the C2K agreement, was signed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, as well as Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. and the Chesapeake Bay Commission, and is used as a benchmark for bay restoration progress.
The EPA now predicts that the states will collectively fail to meet certain C2K water quality initiatives by 2010. As a result, the federal agency revised its own water quality restoration plan, setting more attainable targets for the bay which will go into effect after the public comment period ends March 31.
The strategic plan the EPA previously had in place mirrored the goals laid out in the Chesapeake 2000 Bay Agreement.
“The proposed new targets were developed by taking into account past performance of programs and activities that have been used for water quality improvement,” EPA spokeswoman Terri White said. “With those two considerations in mind, the measures that we’re proposing to change are more realistic and less ambitious than the ones in the 2000 agreement.”
As of 2005, only 39 percent of the C2K agreement’s target – and, consequently, the existing EPA strategic plan’s target – of restoring 185,000 acres of underwater bay grass throughout the bay had been achieved. Only 57 percent of the goal of full attainment of dissolved oxygen water quality standards in all of the bay’s tidal waters had been reached.
As a result of these shortfalls, the EPA wants to set its aim significantly lower for the two initiatives. They have proposed to fix the 2011 bay grass goal at only 45 percent of C2K’s 185,000-acre goal, and to shoot for 63 percent of its dissolved oxygen goal.
Another watershed-wide initiative in danger of falling short of the agreement’s goals by 2010 is the nutrient and sediment reduction plan, according to EPA documents.
However, Thomas Simpson, a professor in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Maryland and chair of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Nutrient Subcommittee, is optimistic about nutrient and sediment reduction in the long-term.
“The Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund, also known as the ‘flush fee’,” Simpson said, “is providing funding that will upgrade most of the sewage treatment plants to achieve the level of reductions required. We won’t necessarily reach it by 2010, but I think shortly thereafter we should meet that level of implementation.”
It will take 50 years for Maryland to reach the C2K forest buffer commitment and more than 60 years to reach the wetland restoration goals at the state’s current funding and implementation rates, according to a Chesapeake Bay Foundation statement.
Additionally, if the state does not raise funding and implementation levels, the cover crop program will never reach its goal in Maryland, according to the statement.
The C2K goal to increase the number of oysters in the bay tenfold by 2010, from a 1994 baseline population estimate, also appears to be doomed.
“It’s very, very unrealistic and very unlikely to be met,” Mark Luckenbach, director of the Eastern Shore Laboratory for the Virginia Institute of Marine Science at the College of William & Mary, said, “without a very significant increase in effort to restore it.”
The Bush administration recently eliminated funding for critical Chesapeake Bay restoration initiatives such as the Chesapeake Bay Small Watersheds Grant Program and the Chesapeake Bay Targeted Watersheds Program, making it even less probable that Maryland will be able to comply with the C2K agreement’s stated goals.
“It would be very difficult to accelerate implementation rapidly enough to reach the goal by 2010,” Simpson concluded. “What we need to do is develop a plan that shows how we’re going to implement the plan after 2010 as soon as we possibly can. 2010 has always been a very ambitious – to the point of impossibly ambitious – goal.”
Richard McIntire, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment, said that Maryland will not be penalized if it is unable to meet the Chesapeake 2000 Bay Agreement goals by 2010. He said that despite its failures, Maryland is doing better than the other states in the agreement. “Maryland is only one part of the problem,” he said. “Cleaning up the bay is a six- to eight- state problem.”