Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint

Pennsylvania's Watershed Implementation Plan

What is a Watershed Implementation Plan?

In 2010, after decades of voluntary efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay failed to remove it from the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) list of "impaired" waters, EPA established an enforceable pollution limit known as a "Total Maximum Daily Load" (TMDL) for the Bay and its tidal rivers. The TMDL, a provision of the Clean Water Act, is a scientific estimate of the maximum amount of pollution the Bay can tolerate and still meet water quality standards. Pollution reduction by the six Bay states and the District of Columbia is essential to cleaning up the Bay.

Subsequently, Pennsylvania and the other six jurisdictions agreed to create state-specific plans to implement 60 percent of their Bay cleanup practices by 2017 and 100 percent by 2025. These plans are called Watershed Implementation Plans or WIPs and will not only help restore the Bay, but will also significantly improve the health of local waterways. Collectively, the TMDL and the WIPs establish the Cleanwater Blueprint for the Chesapeake.  

Pennsylvania's plan includes actions to be taken by farmers, sewage treatment plants, urban cities, suburban communities, rural towns, and citizens across Pennsylvania's Bay watershed.

in millions of pounds per year
Pennsylvania 1985 2009 2012 2017 Interim Goal 2025 Goal
Nitrogen 124.28 116.64 111.36 93.95 78.83
Phosphorus 5.96 4.98 4.54 4.15 3.60
Sediment 2999 2644 2554 2225 1945

Fact Sheet: Pollutants of Concern & Pa.'s Role in the Bay Cleanup

Go to Pennsylvania's WIP website >>

How Much Progress Has Been Made?

Since 1985, Pennsylvania and the Bay states have achieved slightly more than half of the nitrogen pollution reductions and two-thirds of the phosphorus and sediment reductions necessary to meet Bay restoration goals. These reductions appear to be working, as a 2013 study of actual conditions in the Bay by the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University showed that the size of the Bay's oxygen-starved "dead zone" has shrunk specifically because of efforts from the Bay states, including Pennsylvania.

But the work is far from done.

Pennsylvania's Two-Year Milestone Progress

To track progress toward achieving the 2017 and 2025 deadlines for implementing the Cleanwater Blueprint the Bay states and the District of Columbia agreed to establish interim, two-year cleanup goals called Milestones, and to publicly report progress toward achieving them beginning January 2011. The two-year Milestones and progress reports are a critical tool to hold the states and EPA publicly accountable.

In January 2014, the seven Chesapeake Bay jurisdictions' submitted their progress toward meeting their 2012-2013 Milestones and Watershed Implementation Plan goals to EPA.

On June 11, 2014, CBF and Choose Clean Water (CCW) released an analysis of selected Milestones. The goal of this analysis was to ensure that commitments were met, and if not, that actions are taken to compensate for any shortfall.

The evaluation of Pennsylvania's 2012-13 Milestone progress shows Pennsylvania achieved four of the eight practices selected for evaluation. However, the evaluation raised concerns regarding the gap between the current pace of implementation and the 2017 goals.

Assessment of Pennsylvania's Progress on Selected Pollution-Reduction Practices for 2013

icon - agricultureAGRICULTURE

Forest Buffers x According to Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection, an error in reporting led to over-estimates of buffers in previous years. The error was corrected in 2013, resulting in an apparent decrease in forest buffer acres. In reality, new buffers are being installed, but nonetheless, Pennsylvania is in danger of not meeting its 2017 goal on one of the most effective practices to improve stream health.
Conservation Tillage x Although this year's data includes estimates of conservation tillage established voluntarily by farmers, implementation still declined since 2011. Broader adoption will help farms improve soil health, in addition to meeting water-quality goals.
Nutrient Application Management x This is now reported as an annual practice, with plans older than three years excluded, resulting in reductions from 2011 levels. The Nutrient Management Program no longer has funds to assist farmers with plan development and implementation, likely leading to additional decreases.
Conservation Plans check mark Pennsylvania exceeded its 2013 milestone goal, but the goal itself was not set to acheive the 2017 goal. Plan development actually declined since 2011, partially due to removal of some out-dated plans. This decline is especially concerning because plans are the foundation for many other conservation practices and have been required on all farms since 1972.
Barnyard Runoff Control check mark Although the 2013 goal was exceeded, implementation rates need to increase dramatically in order to reach Pennsylvania's 2017 goal. Barnyard improvements yield significant reductions in manure runoff and improvements in herd health.

icon - urban/suburban runoffURBAN/SUBURBAN

Erosion and Sediment Control x The 2013 goal was not achieved. This practice, however, is dependent on the issuance of construction permits so fluctuations in the building industry directly impact implementation. Additionally, consistency in the reporting by other programs, such as abandoned mine reclamation, will also impact reported numbers.
Stormwater Infiltration Practices check mark The 2013 goal has been exceeded, but progress remains less than 20 percent of the 2017 goal. The progress, in part, reflects a data collection effort by the Department of Environmental Protection to account for permitted practices.

icon- wastewater/septicWASTEWATER/SEPTIC

Wastewater Treatment Plants check mark Pennsylvania has made significant progress in increasing the number of permits issued, substantially exceeding its 2013 milestone goals.

Source: Chesapeake Bay TMDL website

Pennsylvania fell short in meeting its overall nitrogen pollution reduction target for 2013 and exceeded its phosphorus reduction target. In particular, estimated loads from the agricultural sector actually increased for nitrogen and only decreased slightly for phosphorus. While the wastewater sector is already meeting or exceeding 2017 nutrient reduction goals, Pennsylvania must accelerate efforts to reduce loads from agriculture and urban and suburban areas.

Of particular concern is the gap between current pace and the 2017 goals. For example, forested stream buffers were established at a rate of six acres per day from 2009 to 2013, but must increase to a rate of fifty acres per day, every day, through 2017. Conservation and nutrient management plans provide the base for keeping topsoil and nutrients on the land, rather than polluting waters. The declines in these essential plans are perplexing. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection 2014 Pennsylvania Draft Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report, Pennsylvania has roughly 19,000 miles of impaired streams. The vast majority of the practices needed to meet our milestone goals will go a long way toward improving the Commonwealth's waters, within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, so our citizens can enjoy the benefits of healthy waters.

You can track progress for all Bay jurisdictions, including Pennsylvania, on EPA's Chesapeake Stat website site. On EPA's Chesapeake Bay TMDL website you can read about progress already being realized.

What Obstacles Does the Cleanup Face?

Apathy, finger-pointing, anti-Bay legislation and lawsuits, powerful interest groups, and a bad economy all threaten to derail the collaborative local/state/federal Bay cleanup. Yet most experts consider this the Chesapeake Bay's best, and perhaps last, chance for real restoration. The problems have been identified; we have the know-how and tools to fix them; and the benefits of a restored Chesapeake Bay manifestly outweigh cleanup costs. If we work together to make the pollution limits work, many scientists believe the Chesapeake Bay will reach a tipping point when improvements outpace pollution and the Bay rebounds exponentially.

Pennsylvania has been a partner in the effort to restore the bay since the early 1980s. During that time, notable progress has been made in improving many local streams and reducing pollution that flows from the Commonwealth's rivers and streams into the Bay. Although precise estimates vary, the lion's share of pollution reductions have come from improved agricultural practices and, more recently, the updating of sewage treatment plant technologies.

Still, about 18,000 miles of streams and rivers in Pennsylvania and most of the Chesapeake Bay remain polluted from the legacy of coal mining, dirty water running off streets, parking lots, lawns, and farms, from poorly treated wastewater, air pollution, and other sources. Much work remains to be done.

The decline of the Bay has cost our region billions of dollars in lost jobs, revenue, and resources and threatens to be a continuing drag on local and state economies for years to come. To find out more about the economic impact of the Bay to the region, see the following CBF reports:

2012 - Debunking the "Job Killer" Myth: How Pollution Limits Encourage Jobs in the Chesapeake Bay Region (pdf)

2012 - The Economic Argument for Cleaning Up the Bay and Its Rivers (pdf)

2010 - Oyster Report: On the Brink (pdf)

2008 - Bad Waters and the Decline of Blue Crabs in the Chesapeake Bay (pdf)

Bay pollution also threatens public health. To read more about health threats, see CBF's report Bad Water 2009: The Impact of Human Health in the Chesapeake Bay Region (pdf)

So after decades of still-unsuccessful efforts to restore the Bay, EPA established a pollution limit, the TMDL, in 2010 that aims to reduce Bay pollution by approximately 25 percent. The six Bay states and the District of Columbia are each required to do their part.

You can find the EPA pollution limit documents on the EPA's Chesapeake Bay TMDL website.

Developing Pennsylvania's Clean Water Blueprint

In early 2011, EPA approved Pennsylvania's "Phase I" WIP dated January 11, 2011. Upon review, however, EPA cited several deficiencies in Pennsylvania's Phase I WIP that resulted in EPA proposing "backstops" to assure pollutant reductions in the plan would be achieved.

The next step in the process was the development of a Phase II WIP. In general, this plan is supposed to bring the effort to a more localized level, such as a county. Pennsylvania's Final Phase II WIP was provided to EPA March 30, 2012. 

In 2017, Pennsylvania and the other Bay states are to submit a Phase III WIP which will focus on ensuring that all practices are in place by 2025 as need to fully restore the Bay and its tidal waters.

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