Deadline to Clean Chesapeake By 2010 Probably Won't Be Met

By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The massive government effort to save the Chesapeake Bay by 2010 has fallen well behind schedule, its chance to make environmental history at least delayed by what critics say was too much planning and too little action. Now, officials say they're working on an idea that could turn the cleanup around.

What the bay needs, they say, is a highly detailed, innovative plan. Their plan, though, probably won't be ready for three years.

Leaders at the Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees the cleanup, said they want to tally all pollution that the bay can safely absorb. Then they want to divvy up the total among the hundreds of sewage plants, storm-sewer systems and farm fields that send pollution downstream. Armed with the results, they could punish polluters who dump more than their share.

The plan won't be finished until about May 1, 2011.

"If we shorten the time period, you're either compromising the science or you're compromising the public engagement process," said Jon Capacasa, director of water protection for the EPA's mid-Atlantic region.

To which some environmental activists respond: Seriously?

"All it's going to do is buy three or four years more for the bureaucrats and the politicians," said Bill Matuszeski, who headed the EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program from 1991 to 2001. "Ultimately, it won't help a bit."

The new plan, based on a "total maximum daily load" calculation, is to be discussed today in Annapolis during a meeting of state officials working on the cleanup. The nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation wrote a letter this week to the EPA saying that "there is no technical reason" for the new effort to take so long.

Today's meeting occurs as the bay cleanup nears a discouraging anniversary. It has been nearly 25 years since state and federal officials signed a pledge to work together for the Chesapeake.

But, scientists say, the bay still has too much mud, too much pollution, too little oxygen and too few crabs.

"We've done a good job of keeping things from getting worse," L. Preston Bryant Jr., Virginia's secretary of natural resources, said yesterday. "But we're certainly not making tremendous, quantifiable progress."

The bay's problems come from its watershed, an area of 64,000 square miles that stretches into West Virginia and southern New York. Treated sewage, farm manure and dirt wash into creeks, then tributary rivers and on into the Chesapeake. There, the pollutants feed massive algae blooms, which consume the underwater oxygen that fish, crabs and other creatures need.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company