Last Thursday, July 23rd, the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council met in Washington, D.C. to discuss progress, setbacks, and initiatives going forward for restoration of the Bay. The Executive Council is made up of governors from all Bay states and the Mayor of D.C., as well as heads of relevant federal agencies.
Present at Thursday’s meeting were: Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe (the Executive Council Chair); D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser; Maryland Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford*; Pennsylvania’s Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, John Quigley*; and Delaware’s Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Ed Kee. Also present were heads of various agencies: Administrator of the EPA, Gina McCarthy; Deputy Assistant Secretary of Fish, Wildlife and Parks in the Department of the Interior, Karen Hyun; Assistant Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Services in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Kirk Hamlin; and Chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, L. Scott Lingamfelter.
The public meeting began with an introduction from Chesapeake Bay Program Director Nick DiPasquale. He mentioned the interconnectedness of all species and habitats in the Bay watershed, and the need for multi-state partnerships to protect and restore the Bay. Following his presentation, the Executive Council panel made brief comments on what had been discussed at the earlier private lunch. A short Q&A session from the press ended the meeting.
Most of the meeting was spent by council members reassuring the public that a lot of progress had been made to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, and that a lot more progress was required. However, a few specific initiatives were mentioned that shed some light on how restoration efforts might progress in the years to come.
The Council mentioned a riparian forest buffer resolution, and the need for partner states to increase compliance and enforcement among farmers to install riparian buffer zones along waterways. Going off of this, Chesapeake Bay Commission Chair, Lingamfelter, discussed livestock stream exclusion. While many Bay states, such as Virginia, have a majority of their farmers participating in livestock stream exclusion, there is still more to be done in the watershed. Lingamfelter calls for greater USDA support and outlined five actions he recommended to the Secretary of the USDA to ensure livestock stream exclusion is enforced throughout the watershed. These actions include educating farmers, increasing technical and financial assistance for fencing or riparian buffers, and making requirements more clear, and more of a priority.
The issue of funding restoration efforts came up several times during the meeting. Governor McAuliffe announced an increase in federal funding. The current Presidential Budget allocates $39.7 million, pending congressional approval, toward conservation and restoration in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, while the previous fiscal year allocated only $7.58 million. Maryland Lt. Governor Rutherford suggested creating more public-private partnerships to increase funding from the private sector. He mentioned a resolution to sponsor a symposium by the Bay and federal partners to further discuss this idea.
The panel ended with EPA Administrator McCarthy and Virginia Governor McAuliffe highlighting where more efforts need to be made, such as urban stormwater runoff and agriculture, and the need for Bay states and partners to share their best practices with each other to improve water quality throughout the watershed.
This meeting was the first for many Executive Council members who had been newly elected as representatives for their states or cities in 2014. This excuse was used to explain why timetables for the next two-year milestone (2015-2017) were yet to be released. (Milestones are due to come in to the EPA in mid-January of 2016). While more specifics on timeframes and restoration plans would have been appropriate, the meeting did provide some insight on what Bay states will be focusing on over the next couple of years to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay.
* Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe was the only governor present at Thursday’s meeting. Maryland’s Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford stepped in for Governor Larry Hogan as he underwent medical treatment. Pennsylvania’s Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, John Quigley, represented his state as Governor Tom Wolf was held up in Harrisburg, attempting to finaliz