Do your eyes glaze over if you hear the term “Watershed Implementation Plan”? Do you scratch your head at the word “watershed”? You aren’t alone. But this is an important guide that is being used to help clean up not only the Chesapeake Bay, but the waterways in your community. It impacts the town, county and state you live in, thereby affecting you and your family.
In 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (Bay TMDL), which identifies the necessary nutrient and sediment pollution limits for each of the six watershed states and the District of Columbia in order to achieve a healthy Bay. A watershed is an area of land that drains into a body of water. For the Chesapeake Bay, this includes parts of Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. The EPA recently released new pollution targets for each of the six states and the District of Columbia to achieve by 2025.
Where does each state begin in figuring out how to reduce pollution? Well, this is where the Watershed Implementation Plan, or WIP, comes in. These roadmaps are developed by the six watershed states and the District of Columbia to help them determine how they’ll meet these pollution reduction goals. Phase I WIPs were developed in 2010 and described actions and controls to be implemented by 2017 and 2025. Phase II WIPs came along in 2012 and built upon the Phase I WIPs by providing more specific local actions and commitments.
Now it’s time for the Phase III WIPs. This version will provide information on the actions and commitments each of the six watershed states and the District of Columbia plan to implement between 2018 and 2025 to meet their local and Bay restoration goals. The Phase III WIPs will take into account the latest science, data, tools and conservation practices; consider lessons learned from the past seven years of implementation; and incorporate a much-expanded level of local data.
Some of the new features found in the Phase III WIPs include:
- Improved modeling tools: The new Phase 6 Watershed Model, which is used to show current and predicted levels of pollution in the Bay, includes improved nutrient data, cutting-edge high-resolution land cover data and new and improved information about the efficiencies of pollution-reducing best management practices. It also contains over thirty years’ worth of monitoring data to calibrate, or verify the accuracy, of the model. There is now an on-line version accessible for use by local partners and other stakeholders in helping make local decisions effecting their waterways.
Hundreds more best management practices available to be credited: For example, in December 2016, the Chesapeake Bay Program approved several voluntary measures taken by farmers to improve water quality in their own local watersheds. The full list of creditable practices includes everything from rain gardens to oyster aquaculture, as well as stream restoration and urban tree planting among others.
Accounting for growth: to account for the potential increase in nutrient pollution due to population growth (humans and animals), each of the six watershed states and the District of Columbia will develop their Phase III WIPs based on potential future 2025 conditions. Using these future projections will allow the six watershed states and the District of Columbia to plan in the most efficient manner possible to reduce their pollution loads due to population growth and land use changes.
Climate change: Each of the six watershed states and the District of Columbia will include a narrative strategy in their Phase III WIPs that describes their current and future plans to address climate change impacts (e.g. increased precipitation and sea level rise). Beginning in 2022, each will numerically account for climate change in their two-year milestones and factor in new climate science and impacts, and document research gaps and needs.
Monitoring trends: The partnership has increased the number of monitoring stations throughout the watershed, giving a more complete picture of real-time conditions and trends. This helps to visualize and explain the observed long-term trends in local streams and rivers to better understand if conservation practices are making a difference. Trends data is another tool that the six watershed states, the District of Columbia and their local partners and stakeholders, can use in planning for their Phase III WIPs.
In June 2018, the EPA posted expectations on what the WIPs should include from each of the six watershed states and the District of Columbia. The expectations include strengthening engagement with partners, including federal agencies, regional and local governments, non-governmental organizations and others.
Are you still wondering “why should I care about this”? Everyone plays a role in helping to reduce pollution—whether it’s by a town council agreeing to incorporate green infrastructure projects around their city to combat stormwater runoff or by a farmer planting cover crops or riparian forest buffers to stop nutrients from flowing into local waterways. It’s important that your state government knows about all the good work your local community is doing—and that can help meet the needs under the Bay TMDL.
The Phase III WIPs are making sure your voices are heard. Each of the six watershed states and the District of Columbia is asked to include timely communication and engagement of local, regional and federal partners and other entities in their WIPs, clearly articulating how they will be included in implementation.
To make sure local partners such as elected officials, county representatives, etc. are engaged with Phase III WIP planning and implementation, each of the six watershed states and the District of Columbia will set local planning goals. Local planning goals are established in collaboration with local partners – they can be set at a scale that is understandable and best works for them. That could be a township, county or city level and expressed in any manner of ways (numerically or programmatically). The intention of setting these goals is to not only set pollution reduction goals at a smaller level where much of the restoration work occurs, but to engage with local communities as much as possible.
It's not just about cleaning up the Bay. It's about ensuring that the water in your backyard is suitable to drink from, swim and fish in. It just comes with an added benefit of helping to restore the Chesapeake Bay as well.