EPA starts ratcheting up the “Save the Bay” requirements; you don’t need a weatherman to see which way the wind is blowing…

The Chesapeake Bay is polluted because places like Prince William County pour pollution into our local streams, and those streams then flow into the Chesapeake Bay.  The obvious way to “Save the Bay” is to clean up the tributaries.

If we keep sending pollution downstream, we keep poisoning the bay.  If we stop overloading the bay with nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment, it may recover.  To stop, we need to change our “business as usual” approach to development.

The current administration is moving past empty promises and towards performance measures, rattling sabers to ensure the bay gets clean enough to meet the 1972 Federal Clean Water Act requirements.  The jurisdictions that do not clean up their act – literally – risk losing Federal funding for transportation.

Prince William is at risk of having $$$ for new roads, transit, and ferry proposals redirected, by Federal threat or court order, so we reduce the pollution that we send downstream.

For two decades, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, DC, and EPA have ignored the obvious while conducting study after study to re-document that pouring pollution down the throat of the patient will… duh, ultimately kill the patient.  In the meantime, the Chesapeake Bay partners have blown through various deadlines to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

In an effort to minimize the financial impact of the required cleanup, we have already redefined “clean.”   After completing a Use Attainability Analysis, we reduced the levels of dissolved oxygen required to declare some parts of the Bay “saved.”  However, moving some of the goalposts was not enough.  We missed the 2010 cleanup deadline by a mile.

Now there’s a new set of officials in the Executive Branch.  The Federal Leadership Committee for the Chesapeake Bay (leaders of Federal agencies such as EPA, Interior, Agriculture, NOAA…) released on November 9 its draft strategy for ensuring local jurisdictions meet water quality standards.

In about two years, Prince William County will get a mandate to control its pollution levels in local tributaries, with specific metrics that measure how much nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment we can send downstream.  While a thin veneer of new funding may accompany the mandate, even a cloudy crystal ball will tell you that pollution control costs will exceed new funding.

The draft strategy greatly disappointed the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.  According to the Newport News Daily Press, they “expected to see defined environmental goals, milestones, specific programs and strategies, and a timetable.”   Look for a lawsuit to be resolved by a new consent agreement (or judge’s decision) requiring jurisdictions to meet specific objectives to be measured every two years.

If you think the Obama Administration will go away in 2012 and the mandate to clean up the Bay will disappear at the same time… don’t get your hopes up.  President Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency, and court mandates based on environmental legislation have been issued no matter who is running the Executive Branch. New, specific Federal mandates will probably become part of a court-ordered cleanup schedule that institutionalizes deadlines to meet the Federal Clean Water Act standards, long past the end of the Obama Administration.

Court action over a decade ago forced Virginia to start analyzing pollution thresholds for individual watersheds, and documenting the Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL’s) that each tributary could absorb.  The worst-case scenario if the states/DC/Federal government can’t agree to a consent order: a judge could impose a moratorium on any new construction that would create new pollution that exceeds the authorized limits.  Various jurisdictions in the watershed, including Prince William County, could experience a freeze in new construction, equivalent to the moratoriums on building new houses imposed in the 1960’s until new sewer capacity could be provided.

The longer Prince William permits “business as usual” for clearing fields/forests for new subdivisions, the more nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment we send downstream – and the deeper we dig ourselves into the hole.  Local tax revenue will be required to reduce current and future pollution levels.  The more $$$ we spend correcting past mistakes, the less funding we’ll have for new transportation projects in Prince William County.

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