03/20/2013 09:54 am ET Updated May 20, 2013

Does the Chesapeake Bay Need Savin'?

President's Executive Order Protects Bay Budget, EPA Progress Report Issued for Comment

The rockfish are running again in the Chesapeake Bay, the 64,000-mile estuary that encompasses six states and Washington, DC. The indigenous blue crab, a staple of our diet here in the Mid-Atlantic, are plentiful enough that crabbers can make a living. Oyster beds are returning for these natural filters.

So what's not to love about the return of the Chesapeake? The ubiquitous Save the Bay bumper stickers notwithstanding, have we already done enough to bring the Bay back from its low end 40 years ago when virtually no species could live or breath?

"Well, we are half-way there and we should celebrate that success," says Jeffrey Corbin, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency senior adviser, Chesapeake Bay & Anacostia River. "But we need to keep the foot firmly on the accelerator."

Corbin conceded it is going to get more difficult to advance the restoration, more expensive to do so. "The good news is that as we make more progress during this vital time, Americans will see significant improvement in the health of the Bay."

Corbin's new boss is EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, an EPA insider who has focused primarily on Air Quality, GHG emissions and global warming. Folks are mistaken if they think McCarthy is an "Air Person" focused on climate change. Of course acid rain and airborne pollutants have greatly handicapped Bay restoration. Air and water are inextricable.

President Barack Obama signed an Executive Order called the "Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration Order" with EPA leading the way. Now in its fourth year, the act coordinates six executive branch agencies and their efforts including working with the seven Bay Jurisdictions.

Last week, the Federal Leadership Committee for The Chesapeake Bay has released a progress report this week on the 2013 Action Plan as required by the President's Executive Order. The report is available for public comment online. Its emphasis is on restoring habitat, sustaining fish and wildlife, conserving land and increasing public access to enjoy the Bay and watershed.

The EPA believes this directive provides certain assurances that the Chesapeake remain a top priority.

EPA and other government agencies like USDA match federal funds with private corporate donations from foundations like Walmart, Altria, FedEx, and others to provide funding to small and mid-sized grantees. It may be one of the most effective ways to create change. Grant money goes to the people who actually do the work of removing sediment, creating buffers between farms and stream, staunching storm water run-off from cities along the way. The major rivers like the Susquehanna and the Potomac see targeted money for specific clean-up work.

"Partnerships are more important than ever now," says Corbin. "We should be looking at every possibility to take one federal tax dollar and turn it into three."

The work is not done. A recent Washington Post article bylined by Baltimore Sun reporter Tim Wheeler shows there remains poor water quality spots in the watershed. In fact, the James River is specifically cited as it courses through the Tidewater region carrying pollution from shipping, nitrogen deposits and city runoff.

"The Chesapeake Bay is truly a national treasure," says Corbin. "The president has promised to focus on the Bay and this Administration is keeping the commitment. We've been laser focused on the Bay over 25 years now."

Seems EPA is saying the "heavy lifting" is really just beginning in this next quarter century.

Mike Smith works with NFWF on its Chesapeake environmental grant-making programs.