Since 1984, the Department of Defense (DoD) has played a significant role in the health and welfare of the Chesapeake Bay. That legacy and commitment as a federal leader in Bay protection and restoration continues as we make strides towards achieving the goals of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, and as we look ahead to the challenges of a changing climate that will inform our strategies for the future.
Joining the Chesapeake Bay Program
Even before the formation of the Chesapeake Bay Program, the DoD had an aggressive National Pollution Abatement Program to construct, replace and/or upgrade pollution management facilities. From the mid-1970s to the mid-80s, the DoD spent nearly $200 million to upgrade wastewater treatment plants, prevent oil spills and implement pollution reducing practices such as forest buffers and green infrastructure. The DoD became one of the first federal departments to formally join the Bay Program’s watershed restoration effort in 1984.
Today, the DoD’s military installations in Virginia, Maryland, the District of Columbia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York encompass over 400,000 acres across the region, making up approximately 1% of the Chesapeake Bay watershed and 20% of the total federal footprint. To manage these lands to support the Bay Program’s protection and restoration goals, the DoD directed the Navy and Commander, Navy Region Mid-Atlantic (CNRMA) to serve as the lead service and executive agent in the Chesapeake Bay. The DoD also dedicated staff solely to the coordination of the military services in the various Chesapeake Bay agreements, developing partnerships with other federal and state agencies, local governments, and non-profit organizations, promoting cross-agency information sharing, tracking and reporting progress, and coordinating DoD positions related to Chesapeake Bay policy. These efforts advance the goals and outcomes of the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement and Executive Order (EO) 13508, and sustain the DoD’s ability to test, train, and operate in the watershed.
Since Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 alone, the DoD has invested over $500 million to improve water quality, restore habitat, conserve land, and engage in stewardship activities that protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay. At the heart of the DoD Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP) mission are the essential principles to integrate, partner, and engage in order to restore and protect the Bay while ensuring military readiness.
Integrating habitat restoration and pollution prevention initiatives for the Chesapeake Bay into the DoD daily mission is important to the sustainment of the Bay. Since the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load was established in 2010, installations and facilities within the Chesapeake Bay watershed have implemented 5,066 best management practices (BMPs) and treated almost 4,500 acres of impervious surfaces to reduce pollution entering the Bay. During this time, DoD installations have also planted over 130,000 trees, restored over 35,000 feet of shoreline and protected over 43,000 cumulative acres of wetlands and 8,600 acres of submerged aquatic vegetation to reduce sediment and nutrient loads and provide important habitat for a wide range of wildlife.
Each year, the DoD CBP informs and engages military installation staff and community partners on issues relating to the Chesapeake Bay. The DoD provides training and creates and distributes quarterly journals, guidance fact sheets and annual progress reports that provide information on emerging issues, highlight installation success stories and report on progress made toward achieving the goals of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement and Executive Order 13508, a 2010 Presidential order that called on the federal government to renew the effort to protect and restore the watershed.
Engaging all levels of DoD military, civilians, and their families to be environmental stewards is also an integral piece of the DoD CBP mission. For the past 39 years, the DoD has hosted annual Clean the Base Day events where thousands of volunteers participate in multiple installation clean-ups throughout the Bay watershed. Just in the last two years alone over 2,000 volunteers collected over 20 tons of trash at DoD installations, facilities and surrounding areas, representing almost one third of the total amount collected in the Bay. The DoD also engages with defense communities in events like Earth Day and Arbor Day and, in the 2022 fiscal year alone, hosted almost 400 stewardship events.
A crucial part of the DoD CBP mission is to partner with a diverse group of federal, state and local governments, non-profit organizations and community groups to leverage resources and strengthen Bay restoration and protection efforts. The DoD CBP has directed the exchange of information between DoD installations and the Bay Program on Chesapeake Bay-related policy and provided leadership among federal agencies located within the Bay. DoD Chesapeake Bay Program Coordinators have served as co-chairs of the partnership’s Federal Facilities Workgroup and federal office directors, and have taken leadership roles in other partnership groups working to make progress on the goals and outcomes of the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement and Bay-related Executive Orders.
The DoD’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) and Sentinel Landscape Partnership programs have provided opportunities for collaboration to conserve land, preserve water and natural resources, and increase climate resilience all while easing military encroachment pressures. Through the REPI Program alone, the DoD and its partners have expended over $250 million on projects that preserve land, restore wildlife habitat and provide for climate resilience in surrounding Chesapeake Bay defense communities. Of the $250 million, over $125 million was from partner funding.
Since joining the Chesapeake Bay Program, the DoD has grown and innovated to develop projects and products unique among the partnership. Annually, the DoD CBP develops jurisdiction-specific templates for reporting federal BMPs and shares these with other federal agencies. The DoD Chesapeake Bay Program annually develops BMP credit reports to verify which BMPs are credited in the Chesapeake Assessment Scenario Tool. These reports are shared with the EPA and jurisdictions as a means to take corrective action to maximize water quality crediting. Although several federal agencies are involved in the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay and are members of the partnership, the DoD is the only one who reports numeric milestones to the EPA, similar to the six watershed states and the District of Columbia. The DoD CBP has provided each installation in the watershed with their own pollutant reduction goals that are rolled up into the larger DoD goal to better understand the contributions they are making to restoring the Chesapeake Bay. This allows installations to understand their progress and manage their individual Chesapeake Bay programs. CNRMA also hosts semi-annual Chesapeake Bay Commanders’ Conferences as a way to engage and encourage commanding officers, their environmental staff, and defense community partners to continually improve efforts to protect and restore the Bay.
Looking to the Future
The DoD is grateful for its community of enlisted members, civilian employees, their families and our many defense community partners who work tirelessly and collaboratively to contribute to Chesapeake Bay protection and restoration. As we look to the next 40 years, challenges like climate change and environmental justice will also bring opportunities to identify and implement projects with multiple benefits as a wise use of limited resources. Moving forward, the DoD will continue to dedicate itself as a good steward to protecting the Chesapeake Bay’s water quality and living resources, while also fulfilling its current and future military missions.