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Consensus: Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Plan On Track

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The six states and the District of Columbia within the Chesapeake Bay watershed are on pace to restore the nation’s largest estuary, state and federal officials and environmentalists agreed Monday.

The consensus emerged from a meeting of representatives from the states. D.C. and the Environmental Protection Agency, and from an independent assessment by environmental groups that have been tracking one of the largest water pollution control projects in U.S. history.

The assessment is based on a two-year review of goals outlined in a “pollution diet” aimed at reducing the flow of farm and urban runoff and water fouled by sewage and storm overflows from entering the bay. The actions of 17 million people who live within the watershed have devastated marine life and created vast “dead zones” within the 200-mile-long bay.

William C. Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said the reports signal that the states and the district “have begun the journey” to restoring the bay by 2025, the goal of the cleanup.

“The state blueprints and two-year milestones lay out a clear roadmap to restoring the bay, and the rivers and streams that feed it,” Baker said. The foundation, the leading advocate of the bay’s cleanup, analyzed the reports with the Choose Clean Water Coalition.

The reports were released at the annual meeting of the executive council of the Chesapeake Bay Program. The policy-setting body released detailed individual state assessments on progress in meeting pollution-control goals.

Pennsylvania, one of the larger bay states, met or exceeded its goals in four of 10 practices evaluated. While the state achieved goals for septic improvements and forest buffers, for instance, it missed goals for storm water management and cover crops.

Improved agricultural practices are aimed at preventing sediment, fertilizer and animal waste from entering streams and rivers feeding the bay. They include fencing streams to keep cows and beef cattle from fouling waters and the use of cover crops and no-till practices.

Maryland, another key state in the cleanup, met or exceeded five of eight practices evaluated, and came close in another category. The state topped expectations for forest buffers and cover crops, but fell short with stream fencing and storm water improvements.

Virginia, which also borders the bay, met six of nine goals. Wastewater, septic systems and grass buffers exceeded goals while forest buffers and cover crops did not.

The other watershed states are New York, Delaware and West Virginia. These states also exceeded goals in some categories while falling short in others.

The periodical reports are intended to ensure the states and the district are doing their part, so historic failures don’t occur again.

“Milestones are about getting results — clean rivers and streams throughout the region,” said Hilary Harp Falk, director of Choose Clean Water. “It’s our job to keep the states honest, celebrate their successes and demand strategies to deal with shortfalls in pollution reductions.”

The EPA is directing the 64,000-square-mile initiative after years of neglect and unmet promises by the states to clean the bay.

“The course we’re on keeps our long-term goals in focus while making certain that we take clear, tangible actions toward a cleaner bay,” said Lisa Jackson, EPA administrator and outgoing chair of the executive council. She said the two-year milestones set in 2009 “remain on track” to get the job done.

District Mayor Vincent C. Gray was elected at Monday’s meeting to chair the executive council.

The concerted, measurable cleanup plan comes decades after the decline of the bay’s signature oyster and blue crab populations. The latter has rebounded after falling to historic lows. Part of the crab recovery is due to a huge decline in the number of commercial crabbers, who have left the waters.

Pollution has also been blamed for declines in aquatic grasses and for lesions on stripers, or rockfish. Scientists have
attributed that to stress related to declines in food sources.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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