Thursday, July 21, 2016

Op-Ed: PA In The Balance, Stakeholders Can Be Part Of The Clean Water Solution

By Harry Campbell, PA Director, Chesapeake Bay Foundation

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's recent assessment of Pennsylvania's pollution-reduction efforts against 2014-15 milestone goals and prospects for meeting goals in 2017 goals was not good news.
According to EPA, the Commonwealth came up far short of its 2014-2015 goals for reducing nitrogen and sediment pollution and will miss its 2017 targets for reducing nitrogen and phosphorus runoff that is damaging our waterways.
Pennsylvania is on pace to meet the sediment goal for 2017.
About 19,000 miles of Pennsylvania waters are polluted and the milestones are part of the Commonwealth's Clean Water Blueprint detailing the specific steps that it will take to reduce pollution and restore local rivers and streams.
The Blueprint goal is to have 60 percent of the pollution-reduction practices necessary to restore Pennsylvania's rivers and streams that flow into the Bay in place by 2017 and 100 percent in place by 2025.
EPA has promised consequences for continued failure to meet Blueprint targets and with its latest assessment, shared its expectations for Pennsylvania going forward.
EPA already withheld $3 million in funding from Pennsylvania because of its lack of progress, and then released the money back to the Commonwealth when it unveiled its rebooted strategy for cleaning up its waters.
The EPA said it expects Pennsylvania to describe the process and timeline for engaging local stakeholders on developing ideas on how to reduce pollutants, specifically citing the "Pennsylvania in the Balance" conference held earlier this year.
I served on the steering committee for the conference.
The conference of 120 diverse stakeholders was hosted by the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences and sought to explore ideas and develop strategies to address clean water challenges facing Pennsylvania's farmers.
Agriculture is the leading source of water pollution in the Commonwealth's rivers and streams.
At the conference, farmers emphasized they want to be the solution for water pollution and do not condone poor management that causes water quality problems.
The group supported developing policies that offer and withhold incentives to influence action by those not meeting existing regulations, and for selective and meaningful enforcement that targets polluters.
They agreed that prioritizing limited resources to areas of high priority—people, places, and practices—is essential. In its assessment, EPA said it too will monitor grant work plans to ensure the Commonwealth is focusing on priority practices in priority places.
EPA said it may also expand regulatory programs to cover small-farm animal feeding operations.
Stakeholders at the conference agreed that existing support for farmers to design and install pollution-reducing practices is insufficient.
Sadly, we believe the fiscal year 2016-17 budget sent to Gov. Tom Wolf falls short of providing the resources to successfully follow-through on the Commonwealth's own rebooted strategy, leaving funding for any additional efforts, like those suggested at the conference, in doubt.
Funding through another Growing Greener initiative hasn't progressed beyond discussion. Growing Greener initiatives have funded conservation and environmental protection projects.
Stakeholders agreed that challenges in meeting technical assistance demands must be overcome, and conservation training should be built into educational curriculum. Whole farm conservation-based approaches through land and water stewardship should be emphasized over single "one size fits all" solutions.
Soil health, managing manure as a resource, and streamside ecosystems need to be priorities, stakeholders said, and programs for forest buffers must be highly incentivized, streamlined, and flexible.
Turning "Pennsylvania in the Balance" conference ideas into decisive actions is an opportunity for the Commonwealth to accelerate clean water efforts on its own, get back on track toward its Blueprint goals, and avoid the consequences of further EPA action.
How Clean Is My Stream?
For more information and find out how clean streams are in your county, visit CBF-PA’s Clean Water Counts In Pennsylvania webpage.
Get Involved
Do you want healthy streams and rivers in Pennsylvania?  Sign CBF-PA’s Clean Water Counts petition!
For more on Chesapeake Bay-related issues in Pennsylvania, visit the CBF-PA webpage.  Click Here to sign up for Pennsylvania updates (bottom of left column).  Click Here for a copy of CBF-PA’s most recent newsletter.
CBF-PA: Paddling The Susquehanna Highlights Why PA Must Do More On Clean Water

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