Chesapeake Bay Executive Order
Protection and Restoration


Public Access and Landscape Conservation are Priorities

September 01 2009

Section 202(e) of the Executive Order charges the National Park Service to provide recommendations that will “expand public access to waters and open spaces of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries from Federal lands and conserve landscapes and ecosystems of the Chesapeake Bay.” An early draft report addressing this charge will be available to the public in September, with a revised draft released for public comment and engagement in November.

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Conservation and public access strategies for the Bay region must honor and strengthen the integrated relationship between nature and culture. Conservation approaches that support multiple social goals are essential to restoring the Bay and to sustaining quality of life in a rapidly developing watershed. With development and climate change posing threats to the Chesapeake’s treasured landscapes, the region’s important places may soon be altered irreversibly or lost forever. Swift and measured conservation is essential.

The Bay’s most important landscapes are those that reflect and promote a positive and productive relationship between people and place. Some of these landscapes are wild, sustaining wildlife, improving air and water quality, and reducing flood damage. They are also places where people live, work, learn, and recreate. They include wooded parks, water trails, small town main streets, urban green spaces, and historic homesteads and battlefields. They also encompass farms, forests, and waterfronts that add billions of dollars to the region’s economy. 

Some 18 percent – or 7.3 million acres – of the Bay region is considered permanently protected, but urgent conservation needs exist for hundreds of thousands of valuable, high priority acres. Local jurisdictions, state and federal agencies, and private organizations are already at work on this challenge. These groups have developed systems for recognizing special landscapes and produced some goals and strategies for conservation. These recognition programs tend to sort landscapes by their ecological or cultural values. Ecological recognition systems emphasize habitat and watershed functions. Cultural recognition systems emphasize the interplay between people and place: working landscapes, historic sites, and recreational areas. However, any large, important landscape in the Bay region will inevitably represent values from both categories due to the long and intimate relationship between land, water, and people.

The Chesapeake region’s states—Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Delaware, New York and West Virginia—have identified the need to conserve some 4 million acres of land: including both working landscapes (farms and forests) and areas of ecological significance. Yet two-thirds of that amount – 2.7 million acres – remains unprotected today. This alone represents an extremely significant conservation need, but it also represents only one portion of the full need. This figure does not include other state conservation objectives from Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, or West Virginia. Nor does it include any conservation goals for culturally important landscapes beyond Maryland’s farmland preservation goals. 

The scope of conservation needs expands still further when considering the existing gaps in both conservation goals and the recognition systems that support them. For example, the region lacks consistent goals and recognition systems for cultural landscapes. The problem is compounded by the need to know more about the ways in which the broad spectrum of Americans define and relate to their landscapes—including African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanic Americans, farm communities, and urban and suburban residents.  There is also a considerable gap between the existing conservation goals and on-the-ground actions needed to achieve them.

The state of public access to the Chesapeake Bay is also problematic. Just 2 percent of the Bay’s shoreline is accessible to the public, providing places where people can enjoy the natural and cultural bounty of the Chesapeake region. State and local budget constraints are also threatening the core operation of existing facilities.  

Approximately 783 public access sites exist in the six Bay states and the District of Columbia, provided by a range of federal, state, and local government agencies, as well as some private nonprofit organizations and creative partnerships. Forty-six federally managed properties provide a portion of these sites. Most access on federal land is provided through the National Park Service, Army Corps of Engineers, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

Notable progress has been made in providing thematic visitor experiences of the Chesapeake's landscapes by connecting diverse sites across multiple jurisdictions. These popular offerings include the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Water Trails Network, Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail, and Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail. Although federal agencies coordinate and/or support these trails, the great majority of participating sites are on state, local, and non-governmental properties managed by non-federal entities. These partnership systems highlight the important role of federal agencies, while demonstrating that the amount of public access available on federal land is dwarfed the amount of access available at state and local sites.

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Addressing Chesapeake Bay Regional Climate Change Impacts

August 26 2009

Low-lying areas near the Chesapeake Bay, like this marsh, could be dramatically affected by climate change.

Section 202(d) of Executive Order 13508 charges federal agencies to “assess the impacts of a changing climate on the Chesapeake Bay and develop a strategy for adapting national resource programs and public infrastructure to the impacts of a changing climate in water quality and living resources of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.” An early draft report addressing this charge will be available to the public in September, with a revised draft released for public comment and engagement in November.

Although progress has been made in restoring and protecting the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem, the system remains degraded due to a long history of land clearing and development, fertilizer use, and human population increases. Climate change could add to these degraded conditions by negatively affecting water quality and quantity, public health, the sustainability of aquatic freshwater and marine and terrestrial living resources, and the quality of life and economic well-being of the watershed’s 17 million residents. Changes in climate patterns may significantly increase costs and timelines for restoring water quality and living resources. While there are some uncertainties around climate change projections, there is broad consensus that air and water temperatures are rising, sea-level rise is accelerating, and precipitation patterns will likely change in the Chesapeake Bay region. 

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Sea level in the Bay has risen approximately one foot over the last century, with slightly higher rates in the southern Bay—about twice the global average. According to a recent literature synthesis by the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC), by the year 2100, relative sea level is predicted to rise by two to five feet. This would adversely affect vital ecosystems that are important to sustain fisheries and other coastal-dependent jobs, improve water quality, and buffer the impacts from storms on upland habitats and property.

Many low-lying Chesapeake Bay communities, including large urban areas like Hampton Roads, the Washington, D.C., area, and Baltimore, are at risk from rising sea levels and increased storm surges. Flooding events threaten infrastructure, transportation, and water supplies, and can result in large economic losses. 

Wetlands are also at risk. These habitats provide important ecological services, including serving as critical habitat for many fish, animals, and plants. They also improve water quality by filtering out sediment and pollutants, and protect adjacent upland areas from storm surge and erosion. Sea-level rise and wetland loss could increase shoreline erosion rates and lead to more turbid (muddy) shallow waters, which would make it difficult for underwater grasses to survive.

Higher-salinity ocean water will be driven into the Bay as sea levels rise. This may result in higher local salinities as seawater pushes farther into the Bay and rivers. Saltwater intrusion, whether by sea-level rise or storm surge, poses significant threats to water supplies, infrastructure, and wastewater treatment facilities along the Chesapeake Bay

Water temperatures are increasing as a result of climate change. According to the STAC report, by 2100 regional warming is projected to be 4-110 F above historical averages. Increased temperatures may increase the growing season of species such as oysters, but it may also increase the early onset of devastating oyster diseases that thrive in warmer temperatures and saltier waters. Harmful algal blooms should also increase in frequency and distribution as Bay waters warm

Temperature and salinity are major factors in determining species ranges; therefore, widespread changes to plant and animal distributions are expected. For example, if summer temperatures increase to even the conservative projections, cooler-water underwater grasses may no longer survive in the lower Chesapeake Bay, which would lead to significant declines in fish populations and water quality. And cooler-water fish species such as striped bass may be replaced by warmer-water species such as brown shrimp

More research is needed to understand how climate change will affect precipitation patterns and storm events. With sea levels higher, even equivalent storms the same strength as today’s storms will produce greater coastal inundation. Current models indicate winter and spring precipitation is likely to increase (potentially up to 10%), and storm intensity may also increase. Precipitation drives freshwater flow into the Chesapeake Bay estuary, which is a major factor in determining circulation patterns, as well as nutrient and sediment loads from the watershed. 

No areas of our watershed or society are immune to climate change. Although inland areas are not directly vulnerable to sea-level rise, they will experience significant effects from temperature increases and changes to precipitation patterns. Many Bay region states have already begun to aggressively address climate change through mitigation and adaptation strategies. The federal government also has numerous existing resources to address and minimize impacts from climate change. The 202(d) report will recommend strategies for improved coordination and collaboration among federal, state, and local governments to protect Chesapeake Bay resources and communities.

Fringe wetlands (pink areas) occur along the shorelines of much of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. These areas provide valuable habitat for fish, birds, and a wide variety of other animals and plant. They also act to increase water quality and protect adjacent uplands from erosion and storm surge. As sea level rises, these fringe wetlands are increasingly threatened. The balloons on this map show the average relative rates of sea level rise (millimeters per year) for those locations, dating back to 1965 or earlier. (map adapted from EPA; sea level rise data from NOAA)

Where can I find more information?

  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change features a wealth of information on current predictions for climate change.
  • NOAA, the federal agency charged with helping society understand, plan for, and respond to climate variability and change, shares information about climate change.
  • USGS also runs programs associated with the Chesapeake Bay Program.
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Developing a New Paradigm for Stormwater on Federal Land

August 24 2009

Section 202(c) of the Executive Order charges the U.S. Department of Defense with leading the effort to develop a report and make recommendations to “strengthen stormwater management practices at Federal facilities and on Federal lands within the Chesapeake Bay watershed.”  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is the lead agency for developing guidance on the best practices for stormwater management.

The federal government is the largest single landowner in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. It owns 7.8 percent of the land area in the watershed (agriculture, as a point of reference, accounts for 25 percent of the land area).  Federal facilities in the Bay watershed range in type from highly industrial to rural. The largest pollutant contribution from federal agency lands derives from urban and suburban stormwater discharge.

A combination of regulations and voluntary measures is used to manage stormwater’s effects on the Chesapeake Bay.  But in 2008, water quality was rated very poor.  Only 21 percent of the goals established in the Chesapeake 2000 agreement were being met.  This lack of progress and the emergence of new techniques argue powerfully for a new and improved approach to stormwater management. 

Stormwater sources fall into three major categories:  (1) stormwater discharges from new development and redevelopment projects, (2) stormwater discharges from existing facilities and developed lands, and (3) runoff from undeveloped lands.  A full range of options for improving water quality through federal leadership in stormwater management are currently under consideration.  

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Targeting Resources to Better Protect the Chesapeake Bay is Aim of U.S. Department of Agriculture's 202(b) Report

August 20 2009

Executive Order 13508, Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration, issued a call to action to harness public and private resources “to protect and restore the health, heritage, natural resources, and social and economic value of the Nation’s largest estuarine ecosystem.” Section 202(b) of the Executive Order directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), in coordination with other federal, state, and local stakeholders to develop recommendations for targeting resources to better protect the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

An essential economic engine, the Bay watershed supports significant agricultural, forest, fishery, and tourism sectors. In 2004, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Blue Ribbon Finance Panel observed that the economic value of the Bay may be over $1 trillion annually, but noted that the experiential and deep historical and cultural values of the Bay are beyond calculation.

While agriculture and forestry remain the predominant land uses in the watershed – accounting for nearly 75 percent of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed – these lands are increasingly being converted to developed uses.  Between 1982 and 2003, nearly 2 million acres of crop, pasture, and forest land were converted to large and small built up areas –an area greater than the entire state of Delaware. About 12 percent of the land in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed is now classified as developed, up from 8 percent in 1982. Approximately 130,000 new residents move to the Chesapeake Bay Watershed each year, driving a continuing market for housing and development.

In addition to population growth, other pressures leading to agricultural land conversion include the economic viability of agriculture, complexity of doing business in the rural–urban interface, diminishing access to agricultural infrastructure, and increasing cost of regulatory compliance. As previously rural watersheds shift from agricultural to developed uses, the fabric of the community changes leading to further conversion of agricultural and forest areas.

Multiple impacts are associated with conversion of agricultural and forested areas to developed uses. “Food deserts” may be created as access to local, fresh foods declines. Carbon capture in agricultural and forestland vegetation and soils diminishes. Impervious surfaces – such as roads, roofs, and shopping malls – increase. Once impervious surfaces cover more than 10 percent of a watershed, the rivers, creeks, and estuaries begin to degrade biologically. Consider that a one-acre parking lot produces about 16 times the volume of runoff that comes from a one-acre meadow

Agriculture covers about 25 percent of the watershed, representing the larges intensively managed land use.  There are an estimated 87,000 farms covering about 8.5 million acres.  While fertilizers, pesticides and manure and tilled soil are beneficial to crops, they become pollutants when water from irrigation and precipitation washes them into local waterways from unprotected fields.  Substantial investment over the past several decades has helped to put conservation in place throughout the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.  Through a partnership approach, Agriculture has achieved 50 percent of the goal for agriculture nitrogen, a 2 percent increase from 2007.  About 49 percent of the goal for agricultural phosphorus control efforts have been met a 2 percent decline from previous years.  Partners have achieved 48 percent of the goal for sediment pollution control efforts, the same as 2007.  These estimates do not account for all of the best management practices installed voluntarily by private landowners with the use of public funds. 

The challenge ahead is substantial, but one thing is clear – losing farms and forests is not in the best interest of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem.  Agriculture can and does make a positive contribution to sustaining natural resources in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, from preserving open space and providing wildlife habitat to generating water quality improvements to help meet established water quality goals

An aggressive, voluntary partnership approach is called for, working with farmers, foresters, and other private land managers to continue to improve water quality while sustaining agriculture as a valued component of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. This approach, while focused on water quality, must also include dimensions of increasing farm viability and rural wealth, strengthening access to local foods for well-nourished communities, and protecting the ecosystem benefits that make the Chesapeake Bay Watershed a national treasure.

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Improving Water Quality is Focus of 202(a) Report

August 18 2009

Section 202(a) of the Executive Order charges the U.S. Environmental Protection agency with making recommendations to “define the next generation of tools and actions to restore water quality in the Chesapeake Bay and describe changes to be made to regulations, programs, and policies to implement these actions.”

Water quality is the most important measure of the Chesapeake Bay’s health. For the Bay to be healthy and productive, the water must be safe for people and support aquatic life, such as fish, crabs and oysters. The water should be fairly clear, have enough oxygen, contain the proper amount of algae and be free from chemical contamination.  Currently, excess nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment lead to murky water and algae blooms, which block sunlight from reaching bay grasses and create low levels of oxygen for aquatic life.  In 2008, water quality was again very poor, meeting only 21 percent of the goals established in the Chesapeake 2000 agreement. Discuss how to improve water quality on Facebook.

The main sources of pollution are agriculture, urban and suburban runoff, wastewater, and atmospheric deposition.


AGRICULTURE: Agriculture covers about 25 percent of the watershed, representing the largest intensively managed land use. There are an estimated 87,000 farms covering about 8.5 million acres. Agriculture is the greatest source of pollution to the Bay. While significant efforts and progress have been made, improperly applied fertilizers and pesticides still flow into creeks, streams and rivers, carrying excess nitrogen, phosphorus and chemicals into the Chesapeake Bay. Tilling cropland and irrigating fields can cause major erosion. Additionally, the nutrients and bacteria found in animal manure can seep into groundwater and runoff into waterways. Read more on the Chesapeake Bay Program website.

URBAN AND SUBURBAN LAND: Human development, ranging from small subdivisions to large cities, is a major source of pollution for the Chesapeake. There are about 17 million people living in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. In fact, because of the region’s continued population growth and related construction, runoff from urban and suburban lands, including septic systems, is the only source of pollution that is increasing. These areas are covered by impervious surfaces – such as roads, rooftops and parking lots – that are hard and don’t let water penetrate. As a result, water runs off into waterways instead of filtering into the ground. This runoff carries pollutants including lawn fertilizer, pet waste, chemicals and trash. Septic systems release pollution that eventually ends up in the water. Read more on the Chesapeake Bay Program website.

WASTEWATER: There is a tremendous volume of sewage that must be processed in the watershed. The technology used by the 483 major municipal and industrial wastewater treatment plants has not removed enough pollution, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus. Upgrading these facilities is now underway so they can remove more pollution from the water, but this effort will take time and is very expensive. As population growth increases, the need for wastewater treatment will expand and discharges will increase. Read more on the Chesapeake Bay Program website.

AIR POLLUTION: When pollution is released into the air, it eventually falls onto land and water. Even larger than the Chesapeake Bay’s watershed is its airshed, the area from which pollution in the atmosphere settles into the region. This airshed is about 570,000 square miles, or seven times the size of the watershed. Nitrogen from air pollution contributes to poor water quality in the region, and about half of the pollutants come from outside the watershed. Air pollution is generated by a variety of sources, including power plants, industrial facilities, farming operations and automobiles and other gas-powered vehicles. Read more on the Chesapeake Bay Program website.

REDUCING POLLUTION: The Chesapeake Bay Program Office estimates that the maximum amount of pollution the Chesapeake Bay can receive annually and still meet water quality standards is 175 million pounds of nitrogen and 14.1 million pounds of phosphorous. For comparison, CBPO estimates that sources in the watershed delivered 311 million pounds of nitrogen and 19 million pounds of phosphorus to the Bay in 2008. Therefore, nitrogen loads would have to be reduced by approximately 44 percent and phosphorus loads by approximately 27 percent. The Chesapeake Executive Council has committed to implement all controls necessary to restore the Bay by no later than 2025.

The Chesapeake Bay Program’s computer model shows that reducing pollution loads to these levels will be more difficult than previously thought. Pollution reduction strategies previously developed by the states and District of Columbia would only reduce nitrogen to 244 million pounds and phosphorus to 21 million pounds (the Chesapeake Bay Program has not yet run updated scenarios for sediment).

To meet nitrogen target load of 175 million pounds nitrogen and 14.1 million pounds phosphorus means that pollution reduction practices would have to be applied to about 90 percent of available areas. Therefore, restoring water quality in the Chesapeake Bay will require improved technologies and approaches as well as significantly more widespread implementation of pollution reduction practices.

Additionally, reducing pollution will become an even greater challenge as population and development in the watershed increase. The population is expected to increase by almost 30 percent between 2000 and 2030, increasing wastewater loads. If current trends continue, impervious cover could increase 60 percent by 2030, leading to greater stormwater runoff. Pollution from agricultural may not decrease as fewer acres are in cultivation because the density of animals may increase. All of this means that strategies to achieve water quality standards must account for growth as well as address existing loads.

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Watch EPA senior advisor Chuck Fox speak about the sources of pollution.    
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EPA senior advisor Chuck Fox speaks about Chesapeake Bay

August 12 2009

Chuck Fox, senior advisor to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, spoke at a town hall meeting in Annapolis, Md. on August 11. Fox spoke about the major sources of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay, including runoff from urban and suburban areas and from agricultural land. Fox also discussed the need to use the Executive Order to build more accountability into these sectors in a manner similar to the Clean Air Act.


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Executive Order is Historic Opportunity

August 11 2009

May 12, 2009 was an historic day for the Chesapeake Bay. That morning, President Barack Obama issued an Executive Order that declared the Bay a national treasure and ushered in a new era of federal leadership in protecting and restoring the Chesapeake and the thousands of streams, creeks and rivers in its watershed. This was the first-ever Executive Order on the Chesapeake Bay and the first Executive Order on an environmental issue by President Obama, which are signs that a restored Bay is incredibly important to the nation and the current administration.

Under the Executive Order, EPA and the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, Interior and Transportation are working on new approaches to restore the Chesapeake Bay and reduce water pollution in communities throughout the Bay’s 64,000-square-mile watershed, which is home to 17 million people. A new strategy must be finalized and published within one year of the President’s Executive Order. Read more about the Executive Order and ongoing work. 

This website was launched to increase government transparency during the Executive Order process and expand public participation in the development of new approaches for cleaning up the Bay and its watershed. Read more about the website launch.

In the weeks and months ahead, you can visit this website to learn about the latest developments, documents and meetings related to the Executive Order. The federal agencies also want to hear from you, so please share your thoughts under the Provide Feedback section or by posting after blog entries. You can also use the tools under Stay Connected to track what is happening with the Executive Order. Use the RSS feed, Twitter updates and Facebook page for news and information. Visit the YouTube channel for videos and Flickr for photos. 

President Obama’s Executive Order has created a landmark opportunity to create cleaner water in the Chesapeake Bay, provide more public access, protect wildlife and habitat, improve scientific understanding, and deal with the impacts of climate change. Please use this website to stay informed and active in making the most of this unprecedented opportunity for our nation’s largest estuary. Learn more about the Chesapeake Bay and restoration efforts on the Chesapeake Bay Program website.

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