For the past two and a half years, the Chesapeake Bay Program has been working on a new Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, an accord that will guide the collaborative restoration and conservation efforts of the six states and the District of Columbia in the 64,000 square mile network of land and waters that drains to the Chesapeake. Meaningful public review and input has proven critical to this process.
Image courtesy B Tal/Flickr
The first opportunity to gain public input occurred in July 2013, when the agreement’s framework was put out for public review. Interested parties were able to submit comments in writing, through our website and during a public meeting; through these channels, representatives of various organizations asked questions or expressed their views on various topics of discussion. This level of transparency and inclusiveness is characteristic of the manner in which the Bay Program conducts its affairs.
In addition to these opportunities, the Bay Program’s staff and leadership engaged in numerous outreach activities, addressing advisory committees, watershed organizations and local communities to ensure they were aware of this effort and could participate in a meaningful and informed way. A second opportunity for formal public comment was provided this past February on a more substantive draft agreement. In all, more than 2,400 comments were received from throughout the watershed. Each comment was reviewed, evaluated and taken into account during the decision-making process. Each step in this process was open and transparent, and summaries of all comments and how they were responded to were made available.
Image courtesy Rusty Sheriff/Flickr
Transparency and accountability have been themes throughout the development of the new agreement. And we will continue our efforts to be open and accountable as we move into the next steps of our efforts—the development of Management Strategies, an important new component of this agreement. These strategies will serve as written documentation for how we intend to achieve our goals and outcomes, and will be developed by our Goal Implementation Teams. Once a draft Management Strategy is developed, a public notice will be issued and an opportunity for public input will be provided. As before, this input will be used to consider making changes to the Management Strategies before they are finalized for implementation.
Management Strategies will specify exactly what each of the Bay Program partners will contribute, how they will address impacts associated with climate change, what resources and information they will bring to the table, how they will interact and engage communities and involve local governments, and how they will use the adaptive management process to review indicators and monitoring data and make well-documented, science-based decisions. The partnership’s Science and Technical Advisory Committee will assist the Goal Implementation Teams in developing new indicators and performance metrics to ensure they are collecting appropriate data and information to measure progress toward their outcomes and to make warranted adjustments, if necessary.
Each of these Management Strategies will be reviewed and evaluated on a biennial basis. The two-year reviews will be presented to the partnership’s governance structure for discussion and feedback. All of the Management Strategies and two-year reviews will be publicly available so progress toward the agreement’s goals and outcomes can be tracked. This level of transparency and accountability, as well as public engagement and outreach, is unprecedented in any previous agreements intended to guide the Bay restoration effort.
Image courtesy Alicia Pimental/Flickr
In my 25-year career in public service, I have not witnessed a more genuine effort to solicit public input and to give that input serious consideration. That input resulted in significant improvements in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement. Goals and outcomes that were not included or previously rejected were reconsidered and inserted in the new agreement as a direct result of public input. Not every comment was addressed in exactly the way it was submitted; but every comment did get deliberate consideration and was addressed in some manner by the partnership’s leadership, which includes many secretaries of state environmental agencies, federal agency representatives and leaders of non-governmental and advisory groups. In the end, the final agreement is a much clearer, stronger and more comprehensive document because of the input we received from concerned and engaged citizens throughout the watershed.
This “next generation” agreement will guide restoration of the Bay watershed and ecosystem in the decades ahead. Implementation of the new agreement will continue to be influenced and shaped by the interests, knowledge and expertise of every individual, organization, community, local government, business and partner that is willing to engage and be involved in this endeavor. On behalf of the entire Bay Program, I want to express our genuine gratitude for taking the time and making the effort to share your thoughts, concerns and suggestions with us on the new Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement. It made a very distinct and significant difference in the outcome.
Note: The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect U.S. EPA policy endorsement or action.