Since a 1987 Chesapeake Bay Agreement, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the District of Columbia and the six states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed have implemented various programs to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay so that it will meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act. The primary issue with the Bay has been excessive algae growth and poor water clarity resulting from excessive amounts of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous) and sediment washing into the Bay from its major tributaries due to various activities and land uses, including agricultural and forestry activities; stormwater runoff and septic tank leachate associated with land development; industrial and wastewater discharges; and atmospheric deposition from within and outside the watershed. These pollutants result in low levels of dissolved oxygen and poor water clarity that, in turn, impacts the necessary conditions for healthy aquatic life.
Despite significant progress over the past two decades, the Bay remains significantly impaired, and cleanup plans failed to meet a 2010 deadline for pollutant reductions stipulated in the 2000 Chesapeake Bay Agreement. In addition, the EPA reached settlement earlier this year in a 2009 lawsuit filed by Bay advocacy groups claiming that the EPA failed to take adequate measures to protect and restore the Bay.
The Chesapeake Bay TMDL
As part of the settlement and due to the failure of earlier, voluntary restoration programs, EPA was required to establish a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for the Bay. EPA issued the Final Chesapeake Bay TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) on December 29, 2010. In addition, to focus attention and resources on the Bay, on May 12, 2009, President Obama signed Executive Order (EO) 13508 on Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration to bring a new level of interagency coordination and cooperation and requires that the Chesapeake EO Action Plan be updated annually.
EPA’s TMDL includes Phase I Watershed Implementation Plans developed in conjunction with each of the seven jurisdictions, including Virginia, which outlines how the necessary reductions will be made and maintained so that all necessary actions are in place by 2025. Virginia’s Phase I WIP identifies major tributary nutrient and sediment allocations will be reduced by source sector and describes the agricultural management practices, land use controls, stormwater management, waste load reductions from waste treatment plants, and other methods to be implemented to achieve the Bay clean up.
RRBC participated on the Stakeholder Advisory Group to the Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources, Department of Conservation and Recreation, and Department of Environmental Quality to help develop the Virginia portion of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL during 2010.
Piedmont Regional Pilot Project (PRPP) for the Chesapeake Bay TMDL
In early 2010, RRBC proposed to EPA the Piedmont Regional Pilot Project (PRPP) for the Chesapeake Bay TMDL to investigate and make recommendations to Virginia and EPA on processes for informing and engaging local governments and other stakeholders during Phase II Watershed Implementation planning.
Chesapeake Bay Models
Because of the complexity of the Chesapeake Bay, the size of its watershed, and the lack of the extraordinary resources to monitor every contributing stream, the Chesapeake Bay TMDL is based on outputs from a sophisticated set of models to predict and allocate nutrient and sediment reductions necessary to achieve a healthy Bay. These models are calibrated to real-world water quality data and have been reviewed and improved by technical experts from many fields.
Phase II Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs)
Phase II Watershed Implementation Plans will describe how each state will implement reduction strategies at the locality level and are under development now. Draft Phase II WIPs are due to EPA in November 2011 and final Phase II WIPs due in early 2012. Virginia has indicated that it plans to work through the Planning District Commissions in the Bay watershed to engage local governments in Phase II WIPs. The Rivanna River Basin Commission has recommended that watershed science be the basis for developing Phase II WIPs.