Virginia is making progress toward meeting federally mandated goals to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, but it is falling behind in some key areas.
That’s according to an assessment released Tuesday on how bay states are doing on clean-water milestones. The assessment, by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Choose Clean Water Coalition, looked at commitments for 2012 and 2013 made by Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.
The review found that significant progress has been made cutting pollution from sewage-treatment plants, but reductions of agriculture runoff and of urban and suburban runoff need to be accelerated.
“For the first time in the history of [Chesapeake Bay] restoration, we can measure, evaluate and hold states accountable for short-term commitments,” Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William C. Baker said in a news release.
The clean-water blueprint is working so far, “but there are danger signs ahead,” Baker said. “States need to plan now for how they will ramp up implementations to address agricultural and urban polluted runoff, not kick the can down the road, and they need to be transparent about those plans.”
After years of voluntary compliance, in 2010 the Environmental Protection Agency set enforceable pollution limits for nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution in the bay and its tributaries. Those are formally known as total maximum daily load, or TMDL.
Nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizer, sewage treatment plants and other sources are major pollutants of the bay. Those nutrients feed massive algae blooms in the summer months. The tiny organisms consume oxygen needed by other marine life as they die and decompose.
Sediment is an ongoing problem in the Rappahannock River. Soil washing down from development sites and farms clouds the water, blocking sunlight to aquatic plants and smothering bottom-dwelling creatures.
States must have practices in place by 2017 to meet 60 percent of water quality improvements and comply completely by 2025.
“Coalition members are looking to the states to develop and implement programs needed to address the difficult pollution reduction challenges that lie ahead,” said Choose Clean Water Coalition Director Jill Witkowski.
Virginia met its overall pollution-reduction goals, according to the assessment.
Of eight practices examined, Virginia met or exceeded goals for fencing cattle out of streams and urban stream restoration, and was close to meeting the goal for agricultural practices such as nutrient management, pasture management and cover crops.
But the state fell short on goals for creating forest buffers, which improve water quality and help keep pollutants out of waterways. It also came up short in conservation tillage practices on farms, stormwater practices, urban nutrient management and efforts to curb urban runoff.
Starting in July, Virginia localities must comply with new bay cleanup-related stormwater rules that regulate discharges from construction sites.
The assessment notes that Virginia has spent hundreds of millions of dollars upgrading sewage treatment plants, and expanding farm conservation practices.
There’s still legal wrangling over the overall cleanup blueprint.
Last year, a federal judge rejected arguments from the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Association of Home Builders and others that the TMDL pollution limits should be thrown out.
That decision was appealed earlier this year, and 21 state attorneys general—none from Chesapeake Bay states—joined the suit as friends of the court, drawing the ire of conservation groups in the bay watershed.
Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431
Efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay date back to 1983, when the Environmental Protection Agency signed an agreement with several bay states to begin the process.
Another agreement was signed in 1987, committing the states to a 40 percent nutrient pollution reduction by 2000.
When those goals were not met, the Chesapeake 2000 agreement set a goal to get the bay off the Clean Water Act “dirty waters” list by 2010.
Those goals were not met, leading to the EPA’s enforceable pollution limits in 2010.
In 2017, bay states and the District of Columbia must submit draft Watershed Implementation Plans on pollution limits to EPA for review.
Bay to be removed from EPA “dirty waters” list by 2025.
—EPA, Chesapeake Bay Foundation