Chesapeake Bay Watershed Plans Behind Schedule

Turn to the nation's most objective and informative daily environmental news resource to learn how the United States and key players around the world are responding to the environmental...

By Amena H. Saiyid

May 13 — The third wave of watershed-level plans to restore the Chesapeake Bay will not be in place by the December 2018 deadline, the halfway point for states in the watershed to have all their restoration strategies in place, Chesapeake Bay Commission staff said May 13.

Ann Swanson, the tri-state commission's executive director, told representatives from Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland to expect a “slip” in the timeline mostly because of a delay in the land-use data that states are collecting for each affected watershed. The commission met for its quarterly meeting May 12-13.

The third phase of watershed implementation plans is to be based on a midpoint assessment of a number of scientific analyses, including the recalibration of a watershed model. Swanson said the watershed implementation plans cannot be put in place until the model has been updated to reflect the new data from monitoring stations, land use activities and best management practices for agriculture. The model also would factor in impacts from climate change and the potential for sediment overflow from the Conowingo Dam, she said.

The three states are among six and the District of Columbia that are under a court-mandated deadline to ensure that measures are in place by 2025 to fully restore the bay that has been impaired from excess nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment. The Environmental Protection Agency wrote a bay-wide total maximum daily load calculating the amount of pollutants that each point source, such as a wastewater utility, and each nonpoint source, such as a farm, may discharge into a body of water and still meet water quality standards. The bay TMDL calls on each jurisdiction to assess in 2017 the progress made toward the 2025 goal.

The watershed model, which hasn't been recalibrated since 2005, has to be completed by June 2017 with updated information, Swanson said. It is the tool that states will use to calculate how much of the pollutants each watershed can take without impairing the underlying water quality. The ensuing plans will spell out how these jurisdictions reduce pollutants from the sectors of publicly owned wastewater utilities, agriculture, cities, among others.

“We already know the that land use data is a few months backed up, and we need all of this to inform our watershed plans,” Swanson said, adding that the comprehensive land-use data collection would be completed by December.

During the meeting, Russ Baxter, deputy natural resources secretary for Virginia, was concerned about whether the model would be ready in time for the commonwealth to start renewing stormwater permits for municipalities that are due to expire in June 2018. Baxter floated the possibility that these permits would have to be administratively continued until the updated pollution reduction loads were ready for use.

Baxter said he was less concerned with when the implementation plans would be written and more concerned with getting accurate and credible information out to the permit holders.

“We are moving ahead with implementation,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Amena H. Saiyid in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at