In my 18-year career focused on restoring the Chesapeake Bay watershed, I’ve seen a lot of changes: from how we plan for and manage land development, to how we apply nutrients to agricultural crops, to upgrading major wastewater treatment plants, to the diversity of community voices joining the fight. A lot has happened in that timeframe.

I think often of how we’re building resilience into our landscapes, our communities and our partnerships. Resilience is defined as the ability to bounce back from adverse conditions, a concept that is at the root of the restoration efforts in the Bay watershed. When we focus on building something resilient for the future, it forces us to concentrate on the steps between now and that future state.

I started my career as an ambitious environmental scientist helping to collect water quality data in Maryland streams under intense land-use and development pressure. This was at a time when the population of the watershed was roughly 16 million.

While serving as the executive director of the South River Federation (now Arundel Rivers Federation), Kate Fritz helped deploy a water quality monitoring device in Church Creek, near Annapolis. A leadership position in environmental restoration, she says, “often brings business-casual attire and muck boots together.”

As I crunched the data, it became clear that what we were doing on the land was directly impacting the water. I took this epiphany and turned my work to local environmental planning in Prince George’s County, MD, where I helped build consensus for long-range sustainability and environmental policies to guide where and how the county would grow through 2040.

In my seven years in the county’s planning department, I saw new legislation and policies come down from the federal and state levels that presented opportunities to become better at building resiliency into our systems for managing growth and population.

In my last five years, as director of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, I have seen the amount of funding available for on-the-ground restoration projects grow exponentially.

But the long-term work needed to restore our Chesapeake Bay requires more than just ecological resiliency. The restoration effort itself needs to be resilient, as do the partnerships that have formed around that common goal in the last 50 years.

When the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Agreement set out pollution reduction goals with 2025 as the horizon, I don’t believe it was ever meant as an end point. I see it as a meeting point, a destination along this long journey of continuing to build resiliency into all levels of our watersheds. It was meant as a place for all of the partners in this work — government, nonprofit organizations, communities, companies — to set coordinates for and to move in a unified direction. It’s been a roadmap for all of us to follow, to set our navigation systems to a common address, and a promise to meet each other there, no matter which road we were taking.

That pivotal 2014 agreement set out 10 broad goals and 31 specific outcomes and was signed by all seven Chesapeake jurisdictions. The agreement has had its challenges, but it has purposefully created a system that is meant to be reevaluated regularly in coordination with all of the partnership’s members. It has resiliency built into it through techniques of adaptive

management that allow us to innovate in new ways and evolve according to new information and new science.

This work hasn’t been easy, and in some ways we’re just at the beginning, but we have persevered, and we have succeeded in many areas. There are so many examples of how the overarching coordination of the Bay restoration effort is playing out around the watershed.

The rate of restoration practices on the ground is accelerating. In 2014, Lancaster, PA, was declared a “national model” for green infrastructure work. Richmond’s RVAH2O initiative was awarded the National Environmental Achievement Award from the Water Environment Foundation in 2022. With the RiverSmart Programs in Washington, DC, we have helped thousands of landowners install and maintain green infrastructure practices to reduce polluted stormwater. In Maryland, the Anne Arundel County Bureau of Watershed Protection and Restoration has implemented sophisticated, holistic, systems-level restoration efforts.

These local actions, replicable across the watershed, are critical to building eco-systems that can weather whatever storms are ahead.

Kate completing more water quality monitoring in 2004.

While I’ve learned and seen a lot of change during my career, I know there is still much more work to do. Every generation of restoration work is built on the preceding generation’s efforts — the systems and practices they put in place to bring us all together toward a shared goal. The collaborative system we have created is built to weather political, economic and literal storms, as well as stand up the perpetually stubborn elements that continue to challenge our efforts.

And what I see looming next on the horizon — building truly resilient human and environmental systems in the Chesapeake region — is an exciting outlook for future generations.