Will the Stewards of the Chesapeake Bay Unveil a More Realistic Plan?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

THE CHESAPEAKE Executive Council will meet today to announce a new approach to cleaning up the bay. After blowing two deadlines to improve the bay's health over the past 25 years, a new strategy is desperately needed. The minders of the 64,000-square-mile watershed are aware that without shorter-term, more attainable goals or enforceable limits on the amount of pollution flowing into the Chesapeake Bay, any new plan they come up with will be meaningless.

Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (D) deserves credit for pushing the council to eschew the impossible 10-year timeframes that have driven cleanup efforts in the past. Not only did they not work, but they allowed politicians to appear to be doing something without having to be held accountable; they knew they'd be out of office when the deadlines rolled around. By focusing efforts on reducing pollution entering the Chesapeake Bay and benchmarking progress on a two-year time line, the council might have a shot at fulfilling its promise.

Both Mr. Kaine and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) have promoted action to slow the bay's degradation. Maryland's regulations on the storage of chicken manure and a law requiring nitrogen-filtering septic systems within 1,000 feet of the bay will help reduce the nutrients that feed the algal blooms that consume oxygen in the water and create dead zones. Virginia has upgraded stormwater management regulations and invested in upgrading sewage treatment plants. But both states could do more, and much of the bay's problem comes not from sewage plants or chicken farms but from elsewhere -- roads, parking lots and other features of development that send warm, polluted stormwater runoff into the bay.

Today's high-level meeting in Mount Vernon is expected to include not only Mr. Kaine and Mr. O'Malley but also the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa P. Jackson, and her senior adviser, J. Charles Fox. In "Poisoned Waters," a documentary shot more than a year ago for the Public Broadcasting Service program "Frontline" and aired last month, Mr. Fox said, "There has been so much investment in science and in modeling and in monitoring. We know today precisely what is necessary to save the Chesapeake, and now it's very clear: It comes down to the question of political will." We're eager to see how that will manifest itself now that Mr. Fox is in a position to turn that sentiment into action.

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