Crediting Conservation

Land conservation has long been recognized as an important aspect of Chesapeake watershed stewardship — and of maintaining water quality in the bay and its tributaries. The Chesapeake 2000 agreement and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement of 2014 both set goals for land protection.

Over 18 million people currently call the Bay watershed home. By 2050, that population will likely increase to 22.5 million.  If recent trends continue, most new jobs and homes are expected to be located at the periphery of major cities (e.g., Harrisburg, Baltimore, Washington D.C., Richmond, and Norfolk) and major transportation corridors (e.g., I-81, I-95, I-66). These trends could change due to emerging technologies (e.g., driverless cars), more flexible workplaces and schedules, changing cultural preferences, the construction of new roads, state and local land use policies, land conservation efforts, and other factors.

In 2010, The Chesapeake Bay TMDL  (Total Maximum Daily Load) became the primary driver for managing water quality and nutrient and sediment pollution reduction. Soon thereafter, conservationists became increasingly concerned that the TMDL did not directly account for — or “credit” — permanent land protection as a positive contribution to preventing future pollution loads. In 2013, the Chesapeake Bay Commission explored this issue in the report Crediting Conservation: Accounting for the Water Quality Value of Conserved Lands Under the Chesapeake Bay TMDL.

In 2018, the Chesapeake Bay Program adopted policies that form the basis for incentivizing conservation by accounting for growth in the Bay TMDL. This is based on use of the Chesapeake Bay Land Change Model (CBLCM) to forecast future urbanization across multiple counties or states based on the best available regional-scale data and information. The model is capable of simulating multiple future scenarios of urbanization. The Chesapeake Bay Program adopted a “Current Zoning” scenario as representing the most probable land use conditions in 2025; this will serve as the TMDL baseline scenario for evaluating the effects of Best Management Practices (BMPs).

In developing Watershed Implementation Plans for the TMDL, states and counties have choices about which BMPs to include in their plans. The Chesapeake Conservation Partnership has worked with the Chesapeake Bay Program to ensure a set of “Conservation Plus BMPs” are among those that states and counties can select.

The Chesapeake Bay Program partners have crafted a set of thematic “what if” representations of the future.  Each of these thematic scenarios assumes a variety of organizations and government agencies proactively pursue efforts focused on one of three themes: conserving forests and wetlands, conserving farmlands, or managing growth.  These thematic scenarios — referred to as the “Conservation Plus Family of Scenarios” — serve as strawmen for “land policy BMPs”, and as such they can be used to demonstrate the potential for crediting land use planning and land conservation efforts under the Bay TMDL restoration framework.

Over time, adoption of the Conservation Plus BMPs is expected to provide an important incentive for conservation — and a new tool for localities to meet the TMDL requirements. For more information, see: Crediting Conservation FAQs