Chesapeake Bay advocates are disappointed that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state officials failed to set a firm deadline for reducing nutrient pollution in the 64,000-sq-mile Chesapeake Bay watershed at last month’s annual meeting of federal and state leaders overseeing the cleanup effort. Bay advocates are threatening legal action to force officials to commit to cleaning up the bay.

“They didn’t commit to anything that is going to reduce pollution,” says Roy Hoagland, vice president for environ-mental protection and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. He says efforts to clean up the bay have been unsuccessful, even though billions of dollars have been spent since governors within the watershed and the mayor of the District of Columbia signed an agreement in 2000 to reduce nutrient loads by at least 110 million pounds over 10 years, to 175 million pounds per year or less by 2010.

EPA officials and state officials say they need more time to develop a workable plan. Instead of setting another long-term 10-year goal, members of the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council agreed to set two-year milestones for pollution reduction and a total maximum daily load (TMDL) cap with teeth, unlike many other TMDLs across the U.S. The council will meet in May to set the two-year milestones.

Hoagland says most TMDLs have been unsuccessful because they do not have detailed implementation plans and lack accountability. John Capacasa, director of the water protection division at EPA’s Region 3 headquarters in Philadelphia, says, “I think the fact that the TMDL will be coupled with a detailed implementation plan and heightened expectations for accountability are what’s going to make this different from the average TMDL.”

Construction firms report clients increasingly are requesting projects to reduce nutrient loads. Several projects at plants in the watershed are already either planned or under way, including a planned $1-billion upgrade at the 370-million-gallon-per-day Blue Plains plant in Washington, D.C.