Chesapeake Bay Program 30th Anniversary: Critical Watershed Improvement, Fish and Oyster Restoration

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Call to Action – Bay Temperature Rising, Water Levels Higher due to Warming

Watershed Forum Brings Advocacy, Grassroots Solution

At the Chesapeake Bay Alliance’s Watershed Forum in Shepherdstown, WV, the champions of the Bay restoration met en masse – 420 people – some of them having worked their entire careers on the Bay program. The “Chesapeake Bay Program” is recognizing 30 years of progress, mostly at the grassroots level, including the return of rockfish, oysters, habitat, and the reduction of pollutants. The National Conservation Center in Shepherdstown provided the perfect backdrop for looking at past success and future challenges.

Government officials, non-profits and watershed advocates talked about strategies to protect funding for the Bay. This year, EPA provided $6 million in directed funding to these partners. Jeff Corbin, EPA special assistant to Administrator Gina McCarthy, was there to ensure watershed groups understand his and EPA’s continuing support for their work.

Anne Swanson was quoted by Jake Reilly of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation as saying: “the Chesapeake Bay is the premier watershed restoration effort in the world. Folks’ eyes are on us. Federal and state agencies are watching. It is a thing of pride but also opportunity. We want to build and maintain but set the framework to protect and sustain Bay efforts.”

Executive Order

At the Watershed Forum, Nick DiPasquale who directs the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program shared his optimism and his concerns: “Government right now is seen as an impediment,” to Bay restoration.

“There are ‘pockets of resistance’ in terms of water quality project implementation,” he told the sympathetic crowd “Our work needs to happen in a timely fashion. The role that you have in local communities around the watershed is critical.”

“Big Government and funding are not the answer,” said DiPasquale. “The reality is be close to where the action is at,” he said.

Speaking after the keynote, DiPasquale confided that the “bureaucracy of big government is stifling,” and indicated that when he is “in the field” with a group of passionate conservationists, “I want to be frank with them.”

Jake Reilly, director of the Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, spoke from a position of bridging government and private industry sponsors who also want to protect the Bay.

He thanked those who had come before him in Chesapeake Bay advocacy: “the strength of the broader Chesapeake Bay restoration is the career-long efforts people put-in. There are a handful of great, dedicated individuals to whom we owe a debt of gratitude. For 30 years of work.”

Reilly shared his own experiences in water. “I started my career with the Chesapeake Bay Program working on healthy watersheds and cost-effective means of addressing water quality standards.”

Reilly most recently was with the White House Office of Management and Budget, with responsibility for budget work with the US Forest Service and US Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Water quality improvements happen on the ground’ within your networks, he said. “I recall working on the (President Obama’s) Executive Order and tracking implementation on the Chesapeake Bay.” The Executive Order of the President calls for inter-agency coordination and budget authority to ensure Bay watershed funding.

“While it is still important to have strong leadership at the federal and state level, you guys are the ones coming-up with outreach campaigns to the local citizens and the new technologies to tackle these problems.”

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation feels strongly about public and private partnerships, he noted. “Since 1999, NFWF in partnership with EPA and our foundation partners has achieved astounding and tremendous results. Our grantees have restored 5000 acres of wetlands, 1500 miles of riparian buffers and 52,000 acres of forests

NFWF will announce its new grants on October 10. The CBSF grant announcements will be made by Administrator McCarthy and held on the Anacostia River near a grantee’s pier. The Earth Conservation Corps is among the types of grassroots action groups that NFWF funds.

“Since 1983 to now we have come a long way” – said Reilly –“but that is looking at where we have been. Let’s flip the script. We have TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) and water implementation plans. Let’s think about longterm strategies. The progress we are making now needs to go beyond 2025.”

He challenged the 420 representatives, among them many NFWF grantees, to review “policy, programs, technical barriers, or whatever we need to focus on” to streamline progress.

Tony Caligiuri agreed. The representative of the National Wildlife Federation exhorted the watershed forum participants to create coalitions beyond their own domains.

“To address climate change at the national level, you have to talk to the (Congressional) districts that are more difficult for you to talk to people. Moving climate legislation means outreach,” he said, to unlikely bedfellows. “You need to figure-out ways to partner with messengers who can be more effective. Trying to make the (political) base bigger is a key part of effectiveness.”

“As advocates, we need to be smart. It’s not always best to be right. The more our data and information is right, the more likely politicians will listen,” Caligiuri said.

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