Experts Say Restoring the Chesapeake Bay a Daunting, Expensive Task

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C.—Restoring the Chesapeake Bay will be difficult and expensive, and will likely take far longer than previously thought, according to a new report by the National Research Council.

The report, written by an expert panel chaired by RTI International Chief Scientist Kenneth Reckhow, Ph.D., suggests that the Bay restoration program needs to do a better job explaining its progress and the uncertainties surrounding its cleanup program.

According to the nine-member panel, formed by the National Research Council, it is impossible to estimate the impact of many nutrient reduction efforts because of often poor and inconsistent efforts to track implementation and monitor progress.

The National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, an independent nonprofit that serves as an adviser on national scientific issues, was selected to conduct the two-year review.

The panelists credited the Bay restoration program for starting to address the problem, expressing optimism that recent actions, including setting two-year cleanup milestones, would boost cleanup progress.

However, Reckhow cautioned, "There can be a substantial lag between the time that best management practices are implemented and when we will begin to see measurable changes in water quality. It's important that the Bay program emphasize that it's going to take a long time to see improvements, and that people understand this is a long-term effort."

The Chesapeake Bay is North America's largest and most biologically diverse estuary.

According to the report, the Bay has so fundamentally changed over the years that it is unclear when—or if—it would attain desired water quality conditions even when nutrient goals are met.

As a result, the panel said the Bay restoration program needs a more systematic approach to understand and reduce uncertainties related to cleanup efforts so it could make necessary course corrections. The Bay restoration program is in the process of developing a formal adaptive management framework that would allow it to alter its actions if necessary.

The panel also suggested that significant improvements were needed in the ways that states track actions to control runoff, known as best management practices. The panel suggested the region should explore the use of independent third parties to track and verify these practices and should collect greater detail about where they are located.

Additionally, the panel recommended that the Bay restoration program should consider incentives to encourage farmers to better report implementation progress.

The report recognized that all states are making efforts to improve tracking and accounting, and that the Bay restoration program is working to standardize reporting procedures. The Environmental Protection Agency is also developing a more rigorous tracking and verification system for management practices.

The report stems from a 2008 decision by the Chesapeake Executive Council that called for an independent evaluation of key aspects of its nutrient reduction efforts. The council is the top policy-making body for the Bay cleanup effort, and includes the governors of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania; the EPA administrator; the District of Columbia mayor; and the chair of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which represents state legislatures.

Chesapeake Bay in Maryland

Highlights

  • Restoring the Chesapeake Bay will be difficult and expensive, and will likely take far longer than previously thought.
  • The report, written by an expert panel chaired by RTI Chief Scientist Kenneth Reckhow, Ph.D., suggests that the Bay restoration program needs to do a better job explaining its progress and the uncertainties surrounding its cleanup program.
  • Significant improvements are also needed in the ways that states track actions to control runoff, known as best management practices.