Bay Cleanup + Government Transparency
Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Plan (Bay TMDL)
A Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) is the calculation of the maximum amount of a pollutant that can be discharged to a waterbody from all sources combined and still meet water quality standards. Water quality standards exist to ensure that waterways can provide healthy drinking water and will be fishable and swimmable. Setting a TMDL is part of the process of achieving compliance with water quality standards under Section 303 of the Clean Water Act.
On December 29, 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, otherwise known as the “pollution diet” or “Bay Cleanup Plan.” The Bay TMDL sets limits for pollutants, like nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment, that can be allowed to enter streams and rivers of the Bay watershed. It is part of a comprehensive effort to ensure that all pollution control measures needed to fully restore the Bay and its tidal rivers are in place by 2025. The Bay TMDL is the most ambitious plan for cleaning up a watershed ever created under the Clean Water Act.
It is well established that the Bay suffers from poor water quality, degraded habitats, and low populations of many species of fish and shellfish. After decades of failed voluntary efforts to restore the Bay, EPA worked collaboratively with the Bay states (New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Washington, D.C., West Virginia, and Virginia) to identify the pollution loads that each state should meet to achieve pollution reduction goals through a TMDL cleanup plan. The Clean Water Act and President Barack Obama’s Executive Order (13508) set requirements for the Bay TMDL. President Obama signed the Executive Order on May 12, 2009, and it recognizes the Chesapeake Bay as a national treasure. The Executive Order called for renewed restoration efforts to protect the nation’s largest estuary and its watershed.
The TMDL set Bay watershed limits of 185.9 million pounds of nitrogen, 12.5 million pounds of phosphorus, and 6.45 billion pounds of sediment per year. This equates to a 25 percent reduction in nitrogen, 24 percent reduction in phosphorus, and 20 percent reduction in sediment. The Bay states are required to clean up pollution from certain identified sources. The TMDL is designed to ensure that all pollution control measures needed to fully restore the Bay and its tidal rivers are in place by 2025. The TMDL called for practices to be in place by 2017, the midpoint assessment, to meet 60 percent of the overall nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment reductions. EPA worked in partnership with Bay jurisdictions to determine the pollution limits using state-of-the-art modeling tools, extensive monitoring data, peer-reviewed science.
An important part of successful implementation of the Bay Cleanup Plan is the development and execution of state specific pollution reduction plans. These roadmap documents are called Watershed Implementation Plans, or WIPs, and each jurisdiction is responsible for developing and implementing three WIP phases. Phase I and Phase II WIPs were submitted to EPA in 2010 and then 2012, both outlining how each jurisdiction planned to achieve water quality goals set for 2017. Phase III WIPs are due to EPA at the beginning of 2019. In their Phase III WIPs, each Bay jurisdiction is expected to provide a plan of action that will enable it to reach its goals between 2018 and 2025.
Public information laws, or right to know laws, are an important tool to gather information about government activities. The public has a right to information about government activities, including access to government records and meetings, with some limitations. The federal government must comply with the Freedom of Information Act and states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed have various forms of similar state laws. Citizens can request government documents and attend meetings to educate themselves about government activities including those impacting the health of the Bay watershed and communities.