On Monday, June 16, government leaders in the Chesapeake Bay watershed signed the Chesapeake Watershed Agreement, which is a broad agreement to restore the health of its waters. This agreement comes at a time when the blue crab and oyster populations of the area continue to fluctuate and scientists are finding that the toxins in the watershed could be changing the sex of fish, a problem which sea turtles are also facing with rising global water temperatures due to climate change.
This marks the third agreement signed since the 1980s by the six watershed states: Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York, as well as the District of Columbia. However this agreement seeks to not only limit the amount of pollution from cities and farms like the previous agreements did but also investigate the effects of chemical contamination and toxins, look at how land use impedes the bay’s improvement, and study the threat of sea-level rise. These plans seek to restore the bay 2025 and, with the watershed covering 64,000 square miles, its recovery is becoming more and more important.
The Chesapeake Bay watershed is most crucial to Maryland and Virginia, which rely on the bay’s crab and oyster fisheries and its recreational opportunities. The decrease in crab and oyster populations is thought to be due partially to the poor water quality and could potentially be a blow to their economy. In one of the worst winter die-offs recorded in the bay, more than a quarter of the crabs perished with female crabs being hit the hardest.
Virginia and Maryland researchers, well below the threshold needed to sustain the region’s crab population, counted only 69 million female crabs. However, the bay’s water is starting to see improvement according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s 2012 State of the Bay report. This improvement is credited to a federal “pollution diet” orchestrated by the Environmental Protection Agency and implemented by watershed governments.
This pollution diet is being challenged through by the American Farm Bureau Federation, which is arguing that this plan should be voided because the watershed is under the jurisdiction of the states. In 90 days, the states and DC are to decide which jurisdiction will take the lead in trying to implement each priority of the agreement: land use, water restoration, and scientific studies. In a year, these officials are expected to show the progress they have made toward those goals. Both of these requirements of assigning jurisdiction and showing progress were not part of previous agreements and will hopefully lead to this agreement being more successful.