The Chesapeake Bay watershed is enormous. It comprises about 64,000 square miles and encompasses six states plus Washington, DC. It's home to 17 million people, 3,700 species of fish, and 88,000 farms.
And it's in trouble.
Excess phosphorus and nitrogen in the Bay and its tidal waters have landed most of the area's waterbodies on EPA's list of impaired waters. Fish kills, dead zones, algae blooms: The elevated nutrient and sediment levels have wreaked havoc on the entire watershed.
In late September, EPA released a draft TMDL for the Chesapeake Bay, a 'pollution diet' intended to provide enforceable milestones for restoring the Bay to a healthy state. The draft document was the result of ten years of collaboration and discussion between the EPA and the six watershed states – Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York – and the District of Columbia.
Apparently, developing the TMDL was the easy part. It's the review process that's proving to be a challenge.
Since the release of the TMDL, which incidentally is THE largest and most complex TMDL ever developed – a number of groups have voiced concerns about the proposed limits.
A group of lawmakers from New York has called the proposal unfair. Congressman Michael Arcuri along with a number of other NY state officials sent a letter to EPA Administrator Jackson calling the pollution limits 'unattainable' and warning that the implementation of the TMDL would 'jeopardize the economic well being' of New York's Bay Watershed communities and agricultural industry.
Meanwhile, the National Association of Home Builders has asked EPA to extend the 45-day public review period to 120 days, stating that the public needs more time to study the proposal. NAHB Chairman Bob Jones said that the short review period could also prevent consideration of alternative solutions such as nutrient credit trading programs.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a 40-year-old organization dedicated to restoring and protecting the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, has urged EPA to ignore such attempts to stall the public comment period, saying the restoration process has been delayed enough already. The group said these tactics were an "attempt to delay the process for short-term profit."
At the time of this writing, the public has until November 8 to submit comments on the TMDL. Between now and then, EPA plans to hold public listening sessions in each of the watershed states. Each jurisdiction will have an opportunity to revise its plan before the final version is due on November 29. After consideration of these final plans, as well as public feedback from the review period, EPA plans to release a finalized Chesapeake Bay TMDL by December 31, 2010.
If you would like to review the TMDL or weigh in on the discussion, visit epa.gov/chesapeakebaytmdl.
Editor, Urban Water Management