After 30 years of work that has prevented millions of pounds of pollutants from reaching Pennsylvania’s waterways and the Chesapeake Bay, the Commonwealth continues to face immense pressure from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to improve water quality.
In order to meet those obligations, Pennsylvania Thursday unveiled a comprehensive strategy to “reboot” the state’s efforts to improve water quality in the Commonwealth and the Bay.
The new plan, developed jointly by the departments of Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources, and Environmental Protection, as well as the State Conservation Commission brings new focus to the state’s efforts to help protect the Chesapeake Bay while emphasizing the need for balance and resilience.
The strategy relies on a mix of technical and financial assistance for farmers, technology, expanded data gathering, improved program coordination and capacity and – only when necessary – stronger enforcement and compliance measures.
“This is an important issue to the future of agriculture in Pennsylvania and throughout the watershed, and must be managed to achieve the co-equal goals of having both clean water and viable farms,” said Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding. “The agriculture industry is responsible for contributing three-quarters of the total nutrient reductions expected of states by 2025. That’s a sizeable sum, and no small task, but we know there are countless farmers who are doing their part. Part of the problem is that Pennsylvania is not getting full credit for the work we are doing. This plan sets out to rectify that, plus give those farmers who need help or encouragement the incentives to assist them. We all have a role here and agriculture stands ready to be part of the solution.”
“Pennsylvania has not met the EPA’s requirements to reduce water pollution under the requirements of federal court orders and regulations,” said DEP Secretary John Quigley. “The Wolf administration is working to focus and increase resources and technical assistance, reinvigorate partnerships, and create a culture of compliance in protecting Pennsylvania’s water quality, and by virtue of that, the quality of the Chesapeake Bay.”
“Of the many best management practices that improve the quality of waters and habitats in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the single best may be the restoration of riparian forest buffers along stream banks to provide critical barriers between polluting landscapes and receiving waterways,” DCNR Secretary Cindy Dunn said. “We are renewing our focus on increasing forest buffers in Pennsylvania by developing a comprehensive approach to provide funding, training, and outreach to farmers and landowners.”
The new plan is in response to the federal Clean Water Act, court orders and regulations finalized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in December 2010 that impose a total maximum daily load, or TMDL, that require Pennsylvania to reduce annual discharges of nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment entering the bay watershed in order to meet water quality standards by 2025.
For example, Pennsylvania would have had to put practices on the ground to eliminate 10 million pounds of nitrogen and 212 million pounds of sediment from going into our rivers and streams by the end of 2016 to meet the 2017 milestones.
In June 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported Pennsylvania exceeded its 2013 Chesapeake Bay cleanup milestone for phosphorus by 242,000 pounds, but fell short in meeting the nitrogen goal by 2 million pounds and sediment reduction milestone by nearly 116 million pounds.
DEP Secretary Quigley noted a 2013 study by Penn State said Pennsylvania would need to invest $378.3 million a year to implement nonpoint source best management practices. Currently, only $127.6 million, combined state and federal funding, is now available.
Quigley also said EPA recommends inspecting 10 percent of the 33,610 farms. In 2014 DEP only inspected 1.8 percent of these farms, just 592.
He noted EPA is now withholding $3 million of Chesapeake Bay-related funding because previous milestones have not been met.
The Administration’s comprehensive strategy centers around six elements:
1. Addressing Pollutant Reduction Deficiencies by meeting the EPA goals of inspecting 10 percent of farms in the Bay watershed annually, with increased inspection and compliance efforts in the agriculture sector using existing DEP and Conservation District staff, and with continued DEP outreach and program development for urban stormwater systems.
2. Focusing on Local Water Quality Improvement and Protection (LWQ) by locating and quantifying previously undocumented BMPs, and putting new high-impact, low-cost BMP projects on the ground in watersheds that are currently impaired by agriculture or stormwater by shifting an additional 15 percent of available statewide water quality funding ($1,250,000) to Bay work.
3. Improving Reporting, Record Keeping, and Data Systems (RRKD) to provide better and more accessible documentation of progress made toward Pennsylvania’s restoration effort, including consideration of establishing mandatory reporting requirements for the agriculture sector in place of so-far unsuccessful voluntary reporting measures.
4. Identifying Strategic Legislative, Programmatic or Regulatory Changes (LPR) that will give Pennsylvania the additional tools and resources necessary to meet the 2025 Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) reduction goals.
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5. Establishing a new Chesapeake Bay Office within DEP to assure the proper development, implementation and coordination of the Commonwealth’s efforts for restoration of the Chesapeake Bay, and administering DEP’s Chesapeake Bay Program grant.
6. Obtaining additional resources for water quality improvement by participating in planning a new round of “Growing Greener” funding, which will have Bay compliance as a primary goal, potentially making available several hundred million dollars to devote to local water quality issues and ultimately Bay compliance.
In a strategy paper released with the announcement, there are 12 specific actions, immediate resource requirements to be take in the next 18 months and 20 longer term proposed actions to improve water quality.
Secretary Redding noted the administration has been actively engaging stakeholders as it developed this plan, and it has sought additional resources from the federal government, such as through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program.
The Administration has been engaging with EPA, conservation districts and institutions of higher education, including Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences to discuss the most effective water quality improvement strategies.
The Administration has also been working with farm organizations to assist in capturing on-the-farm data of best management practices on farms throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Capturing this data is essential to Pennsylvania receiving full credit in the EPA’s model, which is used to measure progress toward pollution reduction goals.
DCNR’s Bureau of Forestry will lead an effort to work with numerous agencies, partners and landowners to expand forest buffers along waterways in the Commonwealth.
Between 1985 and 2013, Pennsylvania has made significant strides, reducing yearly nitrogen loads by more than 11.5 million pounds, phosphorous by 1.46 million pounds, and sediment by nearly 434 million pounds.
These reductions – the result of more than $4 billion being directed toward Chesapeake Bay restoration during that period through loan and grant programs -- equate to a 25 percent reduction in phosphorous , a six percent reduction in nitrogen, and a nearly 15 percent reduction in sediment.
Despite this progress, achievements to date have been deemed insufficient by the EPA to meet water quality expectations, as reported by the federal government’s most recent interim evaluation, released in June 2015.
According to that assessment, Pennsylvania is on target to meet its 2017 TMDL goal for phosphorus, but significantly behind targets for nitrogen and sediment reductions. Excess phosphorus, nitrogen and sediments are the leading causes of bay degradation, and Pennsylvania is one of six states obliged to achieve nutrient reduction goals.
The state must reduce nitrogen loads by another 31.4 million pounds, phosphorous by an additional one million pounds, and sediment by another 648 million pounds by the TMDL’s 2025 target.
Because of Pennsylvania’s lack of attainment in meeting interim goals, last month, the EPA advised DEP that it was withholding $2.9 million in funding, and will consider taking additional actions that increase the federal agency’s role in inspections, permitting and compliance, if progress is lacking.
More than half of Pennsylvania’s land area drains into the Chesapeake Bay, with the Susquehanna River being the largest tributary in the watershed. The Susquehanna River provides 90 percent of the freshwater that flows into the upper bay region and half of the total flow into the entire estuary.
Click Here to listen to the January 21 webinar announcing the new strategy.
Click Here to listen to the January 21 webinar announcing the new strategy.
Copies of several documents outlining the new strategy are now available: Chesapeake Bay Restoration Strategy, Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fact Sheet and Chesapeake Bay Restoration Webinar PowerPoint.
For more information, visit DEP’s new Chesapeake Bay Office webpage.
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