Assessment of the Two-Year Milestones
As discussed in Chapter 1, the two-year milestone strategy was adopted in May 2009 to provide tangible short-term nutrient and sediment reduction goals for each of the Bay jurisdictions. The jurisdictions adopted aggressive goals for nitrogen and phosphorus load reductions for the first milestone period (through December 2011). The committee was tasked to assess whether the two-year milestone strategy and its level of implementation were “likely to result in achieving the nutrient and sediment reduction goals for this milestone period” (Task 4, Box S-1).
CONTEXT FOR THE COMMITTEE’S ANALYSIS
The central purpose of this chapter is twofold: (1) an evaluation of the two-year milestone strategy and (2) an assessment of its level of implementation. Both parts contribute toward assessing whether the Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP) nutrient and sediment reduction goals for this milestone period are likely to be achieved. However, clarification of the committee’s interpretation of what it means to achieve the nutrient and sediment reduction goals (Task 4) is a first step. The committee is not addressing whether the Chesapeake Bay’s water quality will improve during this milestone period, because actual nutrient and sediment deliveries and the Bay’s response are affected by lag times, legacy nutrients, and precipitation quantity, duration, and intensity. The full benefits of land-based nutrient reduction strategies will likely take decades to be seen in the Bay’s main stem (see Box 1-3).
One could also interpret Task 4 as asking whether the two-year milestone practices, if implemented, would result in the promised load reductions. That is, are the nutrient and sediment load reduction efficiencies, which are assigned to each of the best management practices (BMPs) and used by the Watershed Model to predict load reductions, reasonably accurate? However, as noted in Chapter 2, a comprehensive review of BMP efficiencies was beyond the task and time available for the committee. (See Chapter 2 for additional discussion of BMP efficiencies.)
Based on discussions with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) staff, the committee interpreted this task as asking: (1) Is the two-year milestone strategy appropriate to address the Bay’s excess nutrient and sediment loads, and (2) are treatment technologies and land-based BMP practices being implemented as promised in the original two-year milestones, such that the jurisdictions are on track to meet their modeled load reduction goals? These questions, and the data available to address them, are examined separately in the sections that follow.
THE TWO-YEAR MILESTONE STRATEGY
The two-year milestone strategy adopted by the CBP Executive Council simply breaks the overall implementation goals for nutrient and sediment reduction into two-year increments, with the goal of having all actions in place by 2025. At the time they were adopted, the milestones were targeted toward the tributary strategy goals, but since that time, the total maximum daily load (TMDL) has replaced the tributary strategy goals. Starting in 2011, the milestones will be set with the objective of implementing by 2025 all nutrient and sediment reduction practices (including wastewater treatment and BMPs for regulated and unregulated stormwater and nonpoint sources) needed to reach the TMDL and implementing 60 percent of the practices by 2017 (see Chapter 1). The CBP adopted a longer increment for the first milestone (roughly 3 years), although the additional time in no way slows the pace of progress expected for this period. As noted in Chapter 1 (see Table 1-5), the first milestone goals represent approximately 21-22 percent of the nitrogen and phosphorus reductions needed to reach the loading goals—a sizeable first increment. As envisioned by this strategy, the success of implementation strategies would be evaluated by the CBP every 2 years, making each jurisdiction and its elected and appointed officials more accountable for successes and shortfalls. The two-year milestone strategy is dependent on tracking and accounting processes to produce reliable implementation data (see Chapter 2).
The overall impact of wastewater treatment upgrades and newly-implemented BMPs can be significantly reduced if additional controls are not specifically included to offset development and population growth. In
the two-year milestone strategy launched in 2009, each Bay jurisdiction approached adaptation to growth with varying degrees of rigor. Maryland ultimately revised its goal to include additional practices to offset the growth that occurs over the first milestone (H. Stewart, MD DNR, personal communication, 2010; see Appendix D). Delaware stated that it developed a tool (the Nutrient Budget Protocol) to evaluate changes in loading due to land-use changes and that it would manage these increases adaptively going forward (J. Volk, DE DNREC, personal communication, 2010). However, most Bay jurisdictions simply noted that their permitted wastewater loads provided room for additional growth above actual current loads or noted that regulations required stormwater BMPs for new development. However, managing for growth appears to be better addressed in the watershed implementation plans (WIPs) created by each of the Bay jurisdictions. In the WIPs each of the Bay jurisdictions explicitly addresses how it will offset growth effects while continuing to reduce nutrient and sediment loads.
Overall, the committee endorses the two-year milestone approach as an improvement over the previous strategy of setting long-term (~10-year) goals. The prior strategy was only marginally effective, in part because the time frame exceeded the terms of most elected officials who were responsible for achieving the state-level goals. In general, the two-year milestone strategy should improve accountability and encourage reevaluations and adjustments for Bay jurisdictions that are not achieving their goals (see Chapter 4). However, it remains unclear whether the jurisdictions will face consequences for failing to achieve the two-year milestones, and if so, how severe the consequences will be. In the original documentation of the two-year milestones, consequences for nonattainment were not mentioned (CBP, 2009b), and meeting public expectations appeared to be the primary incentive for jurisdictions to achieve the milestone goals. Under the TMDL process, the EPA has stated that consequences could be applied at any point if a jurisdiction is failing to meet its expected progress (EPA, 2010a), and the two-year milestones could certainly be used as benchmarks for such assessments.
Meeting the milestones, however, is not likely to result in immediate improvement in water quality or the Bay’s condition. Although wastewater treatment facility upgrades will result in rapid reductions in nutrient loads to receiving waters, given groundwater lag times (Phillips and Lindsey, 2003) and legacy nutrients associated with landscape nutrient sources, the benefits of land-based BMPs can have response times on the order of years to decades. Traditional monitoring of Bay water quality parameters may cause the public to doubt the value of the milestone effort if Bay responses are slow or even nonexistent. Therefore, targeted monitoring programs are needed, particularly at a small watershed level, to highlight local-scale improvements in water quality as they occur and to better understand the
time lags of system responses to nutrient control measures. These issues are discussed further in Chapter 5.
IMPLEMENTATION PROGRESS IN THE BAY JURISDICTIONS
The second part of Task 4 asks whether the jurisdictions are implementing the nutrient and sediment reduction practices as promised, such that they are on track to meet their modeled load reduction goals for the first milestone. To answer this question, information on implementation progress for a substantial portion of the first milestone period and associated anticipated load reductions (generated from model runs and wastewater treatment plant discharge reports) would be needed. Unfortunately, modeled 2010 progress data were not available in time for the committee’s review. The Bay jurisdictions are required to report their BMP implementation data to the CBP on December 31, for the previous July 1-June 30 period. As of February 2011, when the committee was finalizing its report, the CBP was still compiling the July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010 data, which were submitted via the new National Environmental Information Exchange Network (NEIEN) (see Chapter 2). The CBP was not able to complete the milestone progress model runs using the reported 2010 data within the time constraints of the committee’s study schedule.
In lieu of model-generated nutrient and sediment load estimates for the time elapsed in the first milestone, the committee requested BMP implementation data directly from the Bay jurisdictions in an attempt to gauge progress based solely on the percentage of practices implemented versus the percentage of the milestone elapsed. It is worth noting that the committee received inconsistent information on the official start date of the first milestone period (July 2008, January 2009, or July 2009) and its duration (2.5 years, 3 years, or 3.5 years) from the EPA and the Bay jurisdictions. The original milestone publication (CBP, 2009b) generally cited the first milestone as a 3-year period, ending on December 31, 2011; thus, for the purpose of this analysis, the committee assumed a 3-year milestone period. However, the final decision about what to credit toward the first milestone may still be unfolding, especially in light of the fact that the annual reporting periods (July to June) do not coincide with the January to December milestone period.
The committee requested data from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010 (or later), because this was the first full year of data reported after the two-year milestone strategy was announced in May 2009 and would certainly be counted toward the first milestone period. Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia were able to produce a compiled tally of BMP implementation for this period, although Virginia noted that this required significant additional effort to compile the data from the informa-
tion submitted through NEIEN. Two states, Pennsylvania and Delaware, no longer compiled practice information once electronic data reporting was required, and they were only able to provide BMP implementation data for July 2008 to June 2009. New York did not provide any BMP implementation data in response to the committee’s request. No nitrogen and phosphorus load reduction estimates were available from any of the jurisdictions associated with the reported implementation progress for 2009-2010. All reported BMP implementation data are provided in Appendix D.
Given the limited available data, the question of whether the level of implementation will result in achieving the first milestone goals cannot be answered. BMP implementation data alone provide a general sense of whether the jurisdiction is making progress, but associated model runs are needed to evaluate how implementation shortfalls in some areas or greater than expected progress in others affect the overall anticipated nutrient reduction. Simply surveying the percentages of proposed practices actually implemented (as is reported in Appendix D) has only limited value, because the individual practice implementation targets identified vary in size and nutrient removal efficiency. Additionally, the effect of individual BMPs on the overall load removal to the Bay varies with practice location in the watershed and proximity to surface waters. For example, West Virginia reported that during July 2009 through June 2010, it achieved 4 percent of its wetland restoration goal (0.2 out of 5 acres drained) but 138 percent of its cover crops acreage goal (2,071 acres out of 1,500 acres). However, it would be a mistake to conclude that West Virginia has therefore accomplished 71 percent of its nutrient reduction goal. Achieving a modest percentage of a large and efficient nutrient control project may achieve greater progress than achieving 100 percent of a very modest project. Thus, any evaluation of the implementation data provided must, by necessity, only be qualitative and not quantitative.
The committee’s qualitative analysis of the pace of practice implementation was, in most cases, limited to progress in a single year out of a (assumed) three-year milestone period. All jurisdictions that responded outlined numerous efforts to control urban and agricultural nutrient and sediment loads. However, they reported mixed progress on their original milestone implementation goals, with greater successes in implementation of some practices than others over the reporting period (see also Appendix D):
• Virginia reported substantial progress in the implementation of some practices over a 12-month period (or 33 percent of the milestone period), such as continuous no-till (118 percent of the goal) and cover crops (78 percent of the goal). Progress lagged in other areas (e.g., forest buffers [12 percent of the goal], agricultural stream restoration [0 percent of the
goal], stormwater management BMPs [12 percent of the goal]). To meet its milestone load reduction goals, Virginia will need to implement significantly more practices than it originally proposed to address a 990,000-pound nitrogen shortfall in its milestone implementation commitments that was identified by the CBP (CBP, 2009a).
• Maryland reported substantial progress in some areas (e.g., cover crops [152 percent of goal], stream protection with fencing [94 percent of the goal]) over a 21-month period (or 58 percent of the milestone period), and limited progress in others (e.g., precision agriculture [0 percent of the goal], septic hookups [5 percent of the goal]; see Appendix D).
• West Virginia reported that over a 12-month period (or 33 percent of the milestone period), it exceeded its first milestone goals for cover crops (138 percent of the goal), animal waste management systems (209 percent of the goal), and forest buffers (365 percent of goal), but it is lagging behind the expected pace of progress in a few areas, mostly for BMPs with small implementation goals (e.g., grass buffers, urban filtering systems).
• Although the District of Columbia is making progress on implementing urban BMPs, the bulk of its load reductions are anticipated to come with upgraded nutrient removal technology at the Blue Plains wastewater treatment plant, which will not be completed until 2015. Therefore, the District does not expect to reach the first milestone for nitrogen in 2011, although it had already reached its milestone for phosphorus prior to 2009.
Two states, Pennsylvania and Delaware, submitted data for July 2008 to June 2009, which largely reflect the pace of implementation prior to the announcement of the two-year milestone strategy. Although this period may ultimately be credited toward the first milestone, these data are not comparable to the 2009-2010 data, because the milestone strategy encouraged states to increase their implementation rates above that of prior years. Thus, the committee primarily considered this earlier data as evidence of baseline implementation progress. Substantial implementation progress in 2008 could suggest that a state is well poised to continue that rate throughout the first milestone period. Minimal implementation progress in 2008 would suggest the need for greater implementation progress from 2009-2011 to reach its milestone goals. However, a slow or fast pace of progress in 2008 cannot be considered indicative of whether a state will achieve its first milestone goal.
• Pennsylvania’s baseline implementation progress (July 2008-June 2009) appeared generally consistent with the pace needed to meet its first milestone, assuming the pace is maintained throughout the first milestone period. However, like other states, Pennsylvania reported successes in some areas (e.g., erosion and sediment control, enhanced nutrient manage-
ment) and limited progress in others (e.g., stream restoration, off-stream watering).
• Delaware’s reported baseline implementation progress (July 2008-June 2009) showed substantial implementation progress in some agricultural practices (e.g., cover crops [89 percent of the first milestone goal], forest buffers [82 percent of the goal]). However, it appears that implementation of many additional nutrient control practices would be needed to address the large shortfall in the original milestone (264,000 pounds of nitrogen, nearly 6,000 pounds of phosphorus) that was identified by the CBP (CBP, 2009a).
At least one state reported that it was working to better account for existing BMPs and was making additional progress toward its milestone by identifying BMPs that had not previously been reported. This raises an interesting issue regarding tracking and accounting. Each jurisdiction needs to be given appropriate credit for practices that are in place. However, implementation progress reported for the first milestone period may overestimate the actual new reduction in nutrient load if jurisdictions are working to meet their milestones by reporting practices that have actually been in place for many years, particularly those practices that were in place when the model was calibrated. This also means that a trajectory for future progress cannot be predicted based on what is accomplished for the first milestone. The committee is not able to estimate the magnitude of this effect, but the effect is likely to decline over time as future milestone accomplishments reflect work actually done during the milestone period and the pace of actual new implementations becomes more evident.
Bay jurisdictions have raised the concern that the recent evolution of the Watershed Model (from Phase 4.3 to Phase 5.3) will confound interpretation of two-year milestone progress. The original milestone goals were developed using the Phase 4.3 model, while the TMDL and WIPs have been assessed with the latest version. The CBP is currently resolving how to manage this issue, either by using the retired model to assess the load reductions from the 2010 implementation data or by generating new load estimates for the original milestone scenarios using the Phase 5.3 model. Either way, there may be some unexpected results, but this should not significantly hinder the interpretation of whether the states are keeping pace with implementation of their load reduction projects and actions.
One of the committee’s largest concerns with the current milestone strategy relates to the time frames for BMP reporting efforts, discussed in Chapter 2. In December 2010, states submitted their July 2009-June 2010
implementation data via NEIEN for the first time. With this new reporting system, some states no longer compiled the implementation data in a single report because the federal, state, and local agencies directly transferred the data to the CBP via the NEIEN schema. Although the intent of NEIEN is to reduce the workload associated with data transfer, improve accuracy, reduce double counting, and provide reporting consistency among the CBP jurisdictions, the process appears to have added delays to some states’ assessments of their own implementation progress. If most states are unable to evaluate their own progress on a frequent (at least semi-annual) basis, especially for more uncertain stormwater and nonpoint source BMP applications, their capacity to improve the pace of their implementation progress through mid-course corrections and by adopting contingencies during the two-year milestones is greatly limited. Additionally, even if the jurisdictions were to compile their own implementation progress in parallel to the NEIEN submissions, most jurisdictions (with the exception of Maryland) lack the modeling capability to estimate load reductions associated with practice implementation. More frequent opportunities for reporting and feedback on implementation progress (included associated load reductions) via the Bay TMDL Tracking and Accounting System (BayTAS) and ChesapeakeStat1 are needed to enable jurisdictions to evaluate their successes toward their two-year milestone goals and work to address their shortfalls in a timely way (see Chapter 4 on adaptive management).
The two-year milestone strategy commits the states to tangible, near-term implementation goals and improves accountability and, therefore, represents an improvement upon past CBP long-term strategies. However, the strategy, in and of itself, does not guarantee that implementation goals will be met, and consequences for nonattainment remain unclear. The two-year timeframes should encourage frequent reevaluations and adjustments for Bay jurisdictions that fall short of their intended implementation goals. However, without timely updates and synthesis of statewide progress from the CBP, many states lack the information necessary to make appropriate mid-course corrections.
CBP jurisdictions reported mixed progress toward their first two-year milestone goals. However, data were insufficient to meaningfully evaluate implementation or anticipated load reduction progress relative to the goals. The jurisdictions reported numerous efforts to control urban and agricultural nutrient and sediment loads, although they experienced greater suc-
cesses in implementation of some practices than others. Without associated load reduction estimates for the implemented practices, the committee was unable to evaluate how implementation shortfalls in some areas or greater than expected progress in others affect the likelihood that the Bay jurisdictions will meet their overall nutrient load reduction goals.
The first two-year milestone goals will likely be the easiest to achieve. Not surprisingly, the states are investing in the “low-hanging fruit”—the least expensive or most cost-effective among the nutrient reduction options—for the first accounting period. Large gains have been made with advanced treatment technologies applied to large publicly-owned wastewater treatment facilities (see Figure 1-13a), which to date, have been relatively cost-effective per pound of nutrient removed compared to land-based BMPs. Additionally, states are working to document practices implemented prior to the current milestone period but not yet credited in the Watershed Model. Available water quality improvement options during subsequent milestone periods will likely become less cost-effective. It is possible that nonstandard control strategies, especially those that do not require high capital investments (see Chapter 5), may need to be considered.
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