What’s it take to restore large watersheds? That’s a question posed by NC’s Environmental Review Commission to the State’s Department of Environmental Quality and one they’ll have to report on at the end of 2016. It’s a hard question to answer, too, as there are many pollution sources to assess, lag times to account for, and emerging science to understand.
There are, however, areas where nutrient reduction strategies have three decades of implementation efforts with studies to draw upon that help us better understand their performance. Two such places, the Neuse and Pamlico river basins, are in North Carolina. I’ve discussed those in previous posts. Here, however, I wanted to highlight the work and progress with our neighbors to the north in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
What began with pledges from states surrounding the Bay and the District of Columbia to reduce nutrient flows to the bay by 40% in 1987 has led to the nation’s largest clean-up plan formalized in a TMDL in 2010. The Chesapeake Bay Program is the agency in charge with leading it all, reviewing the TMDL, tracking implementation measures and assessing reduction requirements that have withstood court challenges.
Since those initial pledges, total pollution to the bay has been reduced by cutting back nutrient flows from wastewater treatment plants and reducing polluted runoff from agricultural and stormwater sources. While these reductions have not met the goals established to help restore the Bay, they have made gains.
In 2010, faced with the lack of improvement, the EPA stepped in and required Bay watershed states to put together Watershed Improvement Plans, or WIPs, that spelled out how they would make the reductions necessary to meet water quality goals. Now over 5 years into implementation of WIPs, States are on the hook to do what it will take to restore the Bay. Maybe this will be the model needed to answer the question about what it takes to restore a large waterbody.