New Bay Agreement Not Strong Enough to Clean the Bay

Waterkeepers Chesapeake, a coalition of 19 independent local organizations, expressed serious concerns today that the new Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement fails to put enough specific measures in place to assure meaningful improvement to the Bay and our rivers. Representatives from Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, West Virginia and Washington, D.C. will sign the new agreement today.

The first Chesapeake Bay Agreement established the numeric goals to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in the Bay ecosystem and was signed in 1987 by the governors of Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania and the mayor of Washington, D.C. Several updated agreements have been adopted since then. According to the Chesapeake Bay Program, today’s new Agreement establishes “a set of goals and outcomes for the restoration of the Bay, its tributaries and the lands that surround them.”

In response to the draft Agreement, Waterkeepers Chesapeake says the Agreement now includes some laudable new goals, such as reducing toxic contaminants, and addressing environmental justice and climate change. However, the Agreement allows the jurisdictions to opt out of these goals, and, in fact, allows them to opt out of any of the goals.  The Agreement also provides no accountability for jurisdictions that fail to meet the goals they do choose to adopt. Since the draft Agreement was introduced, citizens submitted thousands of public comments, many specifically asking for the jurisdictions to be held accountable for implementing these goals. 

“Each and every jurisdiction in the Bay has to do their share,” said Betsy Nicholas, executive director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake. “We need a Bay Agreement with enforceable terms, not one that provides loopholes.”

“This new Bay Agreement should be a contract with all of us who live in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed,” said Michael Helfrich, the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper based in York, Penn. “Without a commitment to goals before signing, this is by definition neither a contract nor an agreement.”

The Waterkeepers also expressed disappointment in the lack of specifics regarding how the signatories will achieve the goals in the Agreement. 

“The Bay States have included some important principles in the Agreement, but how will we achieve these goals on toxic contaminants, climate change and environmental justice?” asked David Flores, Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper.  “For this agreement to work, states must have concrete and transparent paths to reduce pollution and protect water quality and public health.”

Waterkeepers in the Chesapeake Bay area vowed to continue their role as watchdogs in the Bay cleanup effort, using their expertise to hold polluters accountable and enforce environmental laws.

“While we are disappointed that the Bay Agreement does not provide the levels of accountability and enforcement we feel are necessary, Waterkeepers will continue doing what we do best – fighting pollution to protect our waterways and our communities,” said Jamie Brunkow, the Lower James Riverkeeper, based in Richmond, Virginia.

Waterkeeper organizations are grassroots groups that conduct water quality monitoring, implement restoration projects, use citizen enforcement tools and bring legal action to fight for clean water.

TAKE ACTION: Sign the Citizens Bay Agreement