by Rachel Felver
September 27, 2019
The restoration of the Chesapeake Bay faces several challenges, and most of them are tied back to the same cause: a continuing increase in population. It’s easy to see why people would want to live in this region—it’s filled with vibrant natural resources that provide jobs and economic growth, it has a rich cultural history and offers access to beaches, cities, forests and everything else in between.
If current population trends continue, this region is on track to exceed 20 million residents by 2030. With a rising human population comes an increase in farm animals like chicken and cows, and changes to how we use the land around us. Our watershed will have to support new homes, buildings and roads, more manure applied to less farmland and most likely, an increase in pollution flowing into our local rivers and streams.
Changes in land use and development can impair water quality, degrade habitats and alter culturally significant landscapes. That’s why, in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, our partnership committed to protecting an additional two million acres of lands throughout the region. This goal compliments the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (Bay TMDL), or “pollution diet” set for the Bay.
Planning for change
Each of the seven watershed jurisdictions—Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia—recently completed their final Phase III Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs). They lay out the actions each plans to take between 2019 and 2025 to meet their pollution reduction goals under the Bay TMDL. These actions are referred to as best management practices (BMPs) and they provide some of the most effective ways to reduce or prevent pollution from sources like roads, fields or even your roof from entering local waterways.
Not every action is a BMP. The Chesapeake Bay Program has a formal process for verifying BMPs, which includes using a panel of experts to determine if something is a BMP and how much pollution it can be credited with reducing. Once it is installed, a BMP can be tracked and reported.
Watershed jurisdictions used a suite of modeling tools to help develop their Phase III WIPs. BMPs are entered into one of the modeling tools, the Watershed Model, to estimate the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment they can keep from reaching the Bay.
Since we know the population of the watershed is on track to steadily increase over the next several years, watershed jurisdictions relied on a projection of what their population would look like in 2025 to develop their WIPs. This helped them to plan for the additional pollution they would need to reduce due to an increase in population. To be as accurate as possible, these 2025 growth projections will be updated every two years, using the most current land use and demographic data.
Factoring in land conservation and planning
While all these factors were in place to help watershed jurisdictions develop their Phase III WIPs, nothing existed to account for the benefits of future land conservation and land use planning.
Therefore, the Chesapeake Bay Program recently approved a way for jurisdictions to receive credit for reducing pollution by managing growth and conserving forests, wetlands and farmland—collectively referred to as land policy BMPs. Now, jurisdictions can get pollution reduction credit not only for creating forest buffers, rain gardens and other BMPs, but also for preventing the development of forests or farmland. In the final version of their Phase III WIPs, the jurisdictions also had the option to design their own custom land policy BMP reflecting state-wide policies, programs, regulations, or investments that could vary by county.
Land policy BMPs not only help watershed jurisdictions meet their Bay TMDL goals, but they provide a long-term, cost-effective incentive for land conservation and sustainable development. This is important for the environment, because the impact that a land policy BMP can have toward reducing pollution will only increase as populations continue to grow. And it is important for the economy because the maintenance costs associated with land policy BMPs, typically used for monitoring conservation easements or updating zoning regulations, are much less than those needed to maintain structural BMPs, like those used to control stormwater.
Want to learn more about land conservation in the Chesapeake Bay watershed? Check out the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership’s latest report on the state of land conservation .