by Ola-Imani Davis
February 02, 2022
In 1987, the first Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement was updated to include several new and critical components such as the first numeric goals to reduce pollution flowing into the Bay. But some may argue that the most important addition to this new Watershed Agreement was the expansion of the Advisory Committees—the Citizens, Local Government, and Scientific and Technical—whose intent was to amplify the voices of conservation stewards, local decision-makers, and scientists within the Bay region.
Advisory committee members are volunteers appointed to represent individual stakeholder groups in advising the Chesapeake Executive Council (EC). The EC is the governing body of the Chesapeake Bay Program, consisting of the six governors of the watershed states, the mayor of the District of Columbia, the chair of the tri-state legislative Chesapeake Bay Commission, and the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. The advisory committees guide the EC on challenges relating to environmental restoration, while opening the door for increased collaboration and understanding with residents, local governments, researchers and organizations across the watershed. To facilitate these interactions, the chairs of the three advisory committees are invited to join the EC‘s annual meeting to share their solution-oriented recommendations to improve upon the engagement of the stakeholder groups they represent.
In the past, each of the three advisory committees brought separate recommendations to the EC covering a wide range of priorities from their stakeholder groups that ran the gamut from environmental literacy to water quality. But in 2021, the committees decided to collaborate in advance on their common recommendations for the restoration effort. Professor Lara Fowler, at-large member of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) and senior lecturer at The Pennsylvania State University, notes, “we see the same problem, but have different approaches and need consistent messaging.”
When members of the EC gathered in Richmond, Virginia on December 15, 2021, the three advisory committees were ready to deliver their common recommendations - which, in a nutshell, were to make communities more resilient to climate change through the inclusion of all stakeholders using newly available, and appropriate federal funding.
Each of the advisory committees contributes to achieving this goal in an unique way. For STAC, the committee advocated for prioritizing science-based decision-making through collaborative efforts. Dr. Kathy Boomer, their current chair, is the science program director for the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, and was happy to amplify their voice in calling for the enhancement of climate resiliency and other co-benefits through climate-smart agricultural practices throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Prioritizing climate resiliency and its co-benefits, STAC recommended maximizing infrastructure investments while engaging all stakeholders to best prepare communities for climate change conditions.
Dr. Boomer joined the STAC as an at-large member in 2013. Since that time, she has served on the STAC Executive Board, chairing multiple workshops, and has been a leader in setting the committee’s priorities. Dr. Boomer has focused on the incorporation of social science in the committee’s efforts, supporting a diverse and inclusive membership and increasing the STAC’s input in the Chesapeake Bay Program’s strategic science and research framework.
For the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC), the group advises the importance of securing resources important to climate resiliency, to the community organizations as quickly and equitably as possible. This is why the CAC is keeping an eye on the new sources of federal funding available to the Chesapeake Bay Program. “Climate change is the primary threat to the environment, economy, and quality of life to all people in our watershed,” said Julie Lawson, current chair of the CAC. In her day job, Lawson serves as a liaison between the District of Columbia’s Department of Energy and the Environment and the University of the District of Columbia. “We urge the Executive Council to make new federal resources quickly available to meet immediate and long-term goals and ensure that people across the watershed have the opportunity to benefit.”
Appointed to the CAC in 2015 by Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Lawson is a known leader in engaging diverse communities on the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. On behalf of the CAC, she expanded on the barriers to community-led restoration work and the inequities faced by many communities when accessing public funds. Like the STAC, the CAC also communicated the significance of identifying the co-benefits to environmental protection through communicating elements of health, safety and economic security to residents.
And for the Local Government Advisory Committee (LGAC), anticipating the goal of climate resilience is recognizing the significance of building the workforce to assist local communities across municipal lines. “Our residents need to know and understand why Bay restoration is vital to their quality of life and in turn they need to see the government investments made to address issues they see when they walk out their doors,” said Jasmine Gore, chair of the LGAC and councilmember for the City of Hopewell, Virginia. “If that is achieved, there will be buy-in unlike we have seen before to the issues that everyone in this room and more are collectively fighting for.”
Gore was appointed to the LGAC in 2017 by former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and is known as an innovative leader in creating programs and legislation that reflect the people-driven goals that move her city of Hopewell forward. Her viewpoints position her to lead the LGAC at the perfect time, as they are championing the prioritization of a skilled workforce in order to sustain and support local communities as they develop efficient climate adaptation measures. Similarly, to the CAC, the LGAC urges the EC to ensure new federal funding gets to local governments quickly to allow for the needed time to address infrastructure needs in a fair and equitable manner to all communities.
On paper, the Chesapeake Bay Program appears to be an organizational chart full of bureaucracy. Federal agencies, state governments and even universities seem intangible. This is why these three advisory committees are so important—they are the voices representing science and local communities. They bring the perspective of their unique stakeholders to the folks that are making decisions for the part of the watershed in which you live. “There are limited formal ways for a group of regional residents to express their views to executive leaders,” said CAC Chair Julie Lawson. “A common voice is more powerful.”