West Virginia will have a more official role in a new Chesapeake Bay clean-up agreement now in draft.
"We all need to be in this," said Chesapeake Bay Program spokesperson Margaret Enloe. "This gives the headwater states sort of the official seat at the table, on paper."
"We are not required at this point in time to do anything more than water quality, but we have an opportunity to become involved in some other aspects," said Jennifer Pauer of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, who coordinates grants related to bay cleanup. She also serves as the Chesapeake Bay Program management board representative for West Virginia.
Many decades of pollution discharges in the large, multi-state area that drains into the Chesapeake Bay have created "dead zones" in the once healthy and highly productive waterway.
Independently organized voluntary efforts to clean up discharges have turned out to be inadequate. The Chesapeake Bay Program is a regional partnership that was organized in 1983 to coordinate those efforts.
The program's fourth Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, its strategic plan for the upcoming period, was released July 9 in the form of a preliminary draft for stakeholder input.
Structured according to the current program, the preliminary agreement proposes goals in six program areas: water quality, in which all of the jurisdictions are working together to meet water pollution reductions required by the Environmental Protection Agency, along with sustainable fisheries, vital habitats, healthy watersheds, land conservation and public access.
The inclusion in this fourth agreement for the first time of the headwater states of Delaware, New York and West Virginia along with the downstream jurisdictions of Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia doesn't necessarily mean more will be required of those states, Enloe said.
"The Chesapeake Bay Program has existed for 30 years, always as a voluntary partnership," she stressed.
All jurisdictions are meeting the "pollution diet" restrictions on nutrients, phosphorus and sediment that the EPA issued in 2009, an effort that falls within the program's water quality goal area.
But in contrast to these required regulatory actions, the Chesapeake Bay partnership is a voluntary way for the states to coordinate a broader variety of actions that affect the health of the bay.
The headwater states, West Virginia included, have long been involved in the program and have had representatives on the teams working to meet the outcomes of the six goal areas, Enloe said.
The agreement that is currently in draft will "codify" their involvement, she said.
As the agreement is drafted more fully, states will decide what actions they want to commit to.
"West Virginia is focused now on the water quality goals," said DEP's Pauer. "But they're going to allow us to sign on to the goals and outcomes that we feel like we have the capacity to implement and report on."
She noted that, because West Virginia has only eight counties in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the bay clean-up receives less attention than in states that lie more fully in the watershed.
"DEP has five people that work on the Chesapeake Bay Program, whereas in other states it is the entire department," she said by way of example.
West Virginia receives grant funding and shares it with the Department of Agriculture, the West Virginia Conservation Agency, the Division of Forestry, nonprofit organizations and other bodies that are involved in efforts to clean up the bay.
"But the reality is that the Board of Education is not part of it," she said. "So for the governor to commit us to the goal that every student is going to be environmentally literate by 2025, for example, we can't necessarily commit to that."
Interested parties may submit feedback on the preliminary draft online.
The jurisdictions' representatives are working to have a draft agreement ready for public comment in October, and to have a finished agreement by the end of the year.