It was December 9, 1983 when officials met at George Mason University in Virginia to talk about the Chesapeake Bay.

Water quality was bad. Underwater grasses had crashed. Crab and oyster populations were not what they had been in the past. Eight years earlier, Congress had funded a five-year study of the Bay that helped scientists, officials and the public better understand the problem in the Bay. The Chesapeake Bay Commission sponsored this conference to talk about solutions.

“They were just trying to understand what’s wrong with the Chesapeake,” says Rich Batiuk, former science director for the Chesapeake Bay Program.

“We had over 700 people [attend the conference],” says Fran Flanigan, then-executive director of Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, which organized the conference. “We had to close the doors… the place was full.”

The governors of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia, the mayor of D.C., the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and the chair of the Chesapeake Bay Commission signed a revolutionary document: the first Chesapeake Bay Agreement.

Though not even a page in length, this document birthed the Chesapeake Bay Program and represented an unprecedented sign of cooperation among multiple states and the federal government on environmental issues, sparking a 35-year record of partnership and cooperation that continues today.

The Chesapeake Bay Program partnership is about more than improving water quality. “It’s about, really, ecosystem management,” remarks Carin Bisland, associate director for partnerships and accountability at the Bay Program. Over time, subsequent agreements became more comprehensive to reflect that.

The Bay Program set up a network of monitoring locations, turned the Bay into one of the most studied locations in the world and created a tool to help model it.

“The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay,” says Bisland, “also made sure that there was a citizen monitoring effort very early on so that citizens could get involved not only in how they can help restore the Bay, but also in monitoring the success.”

Today the partnership is guided by the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement and has expanded to include New York, West Virginia and Delaware, encompassing the full watershed of all the lands and rivers that flow into the Chesapeake Bay. This landmark accord established goals and outcomes for the restoration that take into consideration the many factors that influence a healthy ecosystem. It supports abundant life, clean water, climate change resiliency, conserving land and engaging communities.

Learn more about the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement.

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