Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Clean, Healthy Chesapeake is Within Reach by Jeff Corbin*

I recently had an opportunity to engage with residents of Virginia's Eastern Shore regarding the Watershed Implementation Plan the commonwealth is developing. I thank Delegate Lynwood Lewis for organizing the public forum. This plan is critical to ensuring pollution is reduced sufficiently to restore the health of creeks, streams, and rivers on the Shore, as well as in the Chesapeake Bay. A sustained, robust dialogue with all interested partners is necessary to ensure the plan is sufficient, realistic and supported by those who will be responsible for its implementation.

Given the standing-room-only attendance at the forum, it will likely take little effort to continue that dialogue.

This process may not seem new or foreign to some Delmarva residents, as Virginia has developed restoration plans before for its major river basins -- including the Eastern Shore. The difference this time is that federal Clean Water Act requirements, legal challenges and commitments made by the Chesapeake Executive Council (the top executives in each bay jurisdiction) require that the plan be achievable and spell out the specific actions -- and resources needed -- to carry out the task. EPA is tasked with tracking progress and ensuring adequate accountability along the way.

Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, along with New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and the District of Columbia all have a role in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. They have been working together more than 30 years to restore the bay and rivers that feed into it. The new process affords us another 14 years to complete the job.

As someone who has lived in Virginia for 15 years, raised my children here and worked on bay restoration efforts from a variety of perspectives, I can say unequivocally that fully restoring the health of our waters is within our reach. The bay jurisdictions have aggressively invested in sewage treatment plant upgrades; farmers have integrated impressive numbers of conservation practices; and urban localities are beginning to implement innovative approaches to decrease the impact of polluted stormwater runoff.

These same efforts are needed to restore our rivers. I don't mean to imply developing the restoration plan or implementing the necessary actions will be easy. However, I do know from years of work that Delmarva residents want us to succeed.

With a renewed commitment at all levels of government, a willingness to think creatively and ability to adapt as we learn and try new things, we can achieve a simple goal that has been long outside our reach -- clean water.

*Jeff Corbin is U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson's senior adviser for the Chesapeake Bay and Anacostia River.

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