The Chesapeake Bay Restoration Accountability Framework
To ensure that all pollution control measures needed to restore water quality in the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal waters are in place by 2025 (with practices in place by 2017 to achieve 60% of the necessary pollutant load reductions), EPA developed an accountability framework, consisting of the Bay TMDL “pollution diet” and the following four elements:
- The Bay jurisdictions’ development of Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs);
- The Bay jurisdictions’ development of 2-year milestones to demonstrate restoration progress;
- EPA’s commitment to track and assess the jurisdictions’ progress by implementing a Chesapeake Bay TMDL Tracking and Accountability System (BayTAS); and
- EPA’s commitment to take appropriate federal actions if the jurisdictions fail to: a) develop sufficient WIPs, b) effectively implement their WIPs, or c) fulfill their 2-year milestones.
This framework incorporates an adaptive management approach that documents implementation actions, assesses progress, and determines the need for alternative management measures based on the feedback of the accountability framework.
The concept of adaptive management requires making an informed projection of what is required to achieve a management goal. As implementation proceeds, goal achievement will be evaluated and the management plan modified in accord with improved modeling tools, a better understanding of best management practice (BMP) effectiveness and the underlying science of water quality.
Maryland has embraced the accountability framework and adaptive management process, successfully completing our Phase I and Phase II WIPs, setting and meeting our 2012-2013 milestone goals, and developing the State’s 2014-2015 milestone commitments. In addition, our county-based local WIP partners have documented their 2013 milestone progress and set 2015 milestones goals, both of which may be found on the respective State milestone web pages provided above.
Through the State’s BayStat web site, Maryland has its own accountability system, continually tracking, documenting and providing a transparent presentation of our best, scientifically based assessment of the health of Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, the sources of the problems, and the effectiveness of the wide variety of programs designed to address the problems and restore the Bay.
Continuing communication between federal, state and local governments is an essential component of the new accountability framework. While the Blueprint for the Bay (Bay TMDL and WIPs) is complete in that it details the implementation practices necessary to achieve water quality standards, there are still many issues to resolve including: funding; staffing; development and adoption of innovative practices; identifying and crediting voluntary practices; developing better accounting and tracking processes; and refining the analytical tools by which we evaluate our progress and adapt as needed.
Maryland is committed to addressing these issues as we work with our local and federal partners to ensure that all of our water quality restoration efforts are given full credit and our progress is accurately represented. The State intends to accomplish these goals through its continued engagement of our local partners and through our dedicated involvement in a process known as the Midpoint Assessment.
The 2017 Chesapeake Bay Midpoint Assessment
The Chesapeake Bay Program partners are currently conducting a Midpoint Assessment (MPA), designed as a mid-course check on our progress to allow necessary adjustments in strategies to ensure that the Partnership can achieve its 2025 goals for putting the necessary practices in place to restore the Bay. The MPA has three primary objectives: 1) gather input from the Partnership on issues and priorities for both this 2017 review as well as the post-2017 period; 2) determine if the 2017 interim goal of the Bay TMDL is on track; and 3) determine what changes should be considered as we move from the 2017 mid-point and focus on implementation of the jurisdictions’ Phase III WIPs and meeting the 2025 TMDL goal.
Through the MPA process, the Partnership will evaluate and modify, where appropriate, the suite of modeling, monitoring analysis, and other decision support tools used by the Partnership. This process will consider all available data and information, with the intent of enabling the partners to credit new practices, factor in new scientific understanding, consider observed long term trends in water quality monitoring, verify and account for previously unreported implementation actions, and adaptively manage their decision-making strategies. Refinement of the modeling and decision support tools will lead to a more accurate assessment of the Bay jurisdictions’ achievement of their 2017 pollution reduction targets, and set the stage for the development of their Phase III WIPs, which will identify the implementation strategies they will undertake to reach their final targets for Bay restoration by 2025.
Maryland is working through the MPA process to assemble more complete and accurate data on conditions and management actions at smaller, local scales (counties, municipalities) for inclusion in the information the State provides as input to the Bay model. To that end, MDE is soliciting and collecting data from our local partners on key elements like land use acreage, numbers and location of septic systems, and updates of historical BMP inventories. MDE will continue to work on improving the model inputs to reflect actual conditions and management actions across the State and, at the same time, collaborate with both local and federal partners to make sure that identified discrepancies and inaccuracies in the way the modeling tools represent reality on the ground are resolved as the Bay Model is refined over the next few years.
EPA has stated its intention to take additional federal actions, as determined to be appropriate to ensure implementation of the Bay TMDL. One of those potential federal actions is the modification or replacement of the TMDL. Another is the use of EPA’s discretionary authority to increase oversight of NPDES permits proposed and issued by the Bay watershed jurisdictions. EPA can expand its oversight review of draft permits in the Bay watershed and can object to permits that do not meet Clean Water Act requirements. EPA also could use its discretionary residual designation authority to increase the number of sources, operations, or communities regulated under the NPDES permit program.
To learn more about the Accountability Framework, see EPA’s Bay TMDL web site and Maryland’s Phase II WIP.