Federal agencies have released seven draft reports aimed at creating a framework for the cleanup of Chesapeake Bay. Among the recommendations are new, more stringent regulations for controlling stormwater runoff and stricter enforcement of existing regulations. Despite efforts over the past 25 years to clean up the Chesapeake, the bay remains severely polluted with nitrogen and phosphorous from urban and agricultural runoff. The landmark Chesapeake Bay agreement—a voluntary pledge signed in 2000 by the governors of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia as well as by the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the mayor of Washington, D.C.—was the first effort to approach coordinated cleanup throughout the entire watershed. However, that plan has been widely criticized as unsuccessful: the latest “State of the Bay” report from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation rated the bay’s health at 28 out of a possible 100 points. President Barack Obama issued an executive order in May to force federal agencies to develop an integrated strategy with teeth for restoring the bay to health.

The reports released on Sept. 9 are the culmination of input from numerous federal agencies over the past 120 days as required by the president’s executive order and are the first step in developing a comprehensive strategy for the bay’s cleanup.

The draft reports in general outline key challenges to restoring the bay and collectively call for more accountability and better performance from pollution-control, habitat-protection and land-conservation programs at all levels of government. “We have an urgent obligation…to restore the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed, and [President’s Obama’s] executive order puts new weight behind our work,” says EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

The draft report released by EPA calls for new, more stringent regulations to address pollution from urban and suburban runoff, as well as agricultural sources. It also calls for states to be held more accountable for controlling pollution through increased oversight, enforcement activities and new policies.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William Baker says EPA should be commended for the “bold intentions” outlined in its report, but notes that some of its suggestions for holding itself and states accountable, although positive, “are weak and need strengthening.” For example, he says EPA’s report virtually ignores “the growing recognition of air-emission problems from coal-fired powerplants, truck and automobile emissions and manure.”

Other contributors to the reports included the departments of Interior, Agriculture, Defense, Transportation and Commerce.

During the next 60 days, a federal leadership committee chaired by EPA will review public input to the reports. On Nov. 9, the committee will release a draft strategy that integrates the seven reports. A final strategy will be completed in May 2010.