(HARRISBURG, PA)—An assessment of key practices that Pennsylvania is relying on to reduce pollution in local waterways found that implementation was significantly off track to meet the goals that the Commonwealth set. The assessment was conducted by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and the Choose Clean Water Coalition (CCWC).
As part of Pennsylvania's Clean Water Blueprint, the Commonwealth developed a plan to implement practices needed to achieve 60 percent of the needed pollution reductions by 2017, and to complete the job by 2025. In addition, it developed two-year milestones that specify the practices they intend to implement every two years, progressing toward those long term goals. The data is from the halfway point for the 2014-2015 milestone period.
"Pennsylvania has fallen behind in reducing pollution from agriculture and stormwater and the state urgently needs to refocus its efforts to make clean water a priority. We should not accept as normal streams and creeks that are unsafe for fishing or swimming," said Jennifer Quinn, Central Pennsylvania Outreach Coordinator at PennFuture. "Pennsylvania's failure to clean up its polluted rivers and streams impacts the quality of life for its citizens as well as the economic well-being of businesses and communities that rely on clean water."
CBF and CCWC looked at the progress Pennsylvania is making four of the key milestone practices—implementing urban infiltration practices, forest buffers, conservation tillage, and nutrient management plans.
Infiltration practices in urban and suburban areas capture and store rainfall and runoff, which reduces pollution from entering local waterways, increase groundwater recharge, and reduce the volume of runoff that damages local streams. Pennsylvania has only achieved 3 percent of its 2015 milestone goal, making it unlikely that it will reach its 2017 goal as well.
Forest buffers prevent pollution from entering local waterways, increase a stream's capacity to cleanse itself, and stabilize stream banks. Pennsylvania is not on track to meet its 2015 milestone goal and is only one quarter of the way to achieving its 2017 goal.
Conservation tillage keeps the soil, nitrogen, and phosphorus in place, and from polluting local waters. Pennsylvania is making steady progress and is on track to meet its 2015 milestone goal, but slightly off track for its 2017 goal.
Nutrient management plans guide manure application so that nitrogen and phosphorus are provided at the correct rate, time, and place for crop growth, as opposed to running off the land and polluting local waterways. Pennsylvania is significantly off track in meeting both its 2015 milestone and 2017 goal.
"We are especially concerned about the shortfall in nutrient management plans. While they have been required for years, recent inspections by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) have found as few as one in three farms are in full compliance with PA's existing clean water laws," said CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director Harry Campbell. "With current staffing levels at DEP, it would take more than 150 years for inspectors to visit every farm in Pennsylvania."
The shortfall in reducing nitrogen pollution from Pennsylvania is huge. Analysis of where the Bay states are coming up short indicates Pennsylvania is responsible for more than 75 percent of the deficit. And more than 80 percent of Pennsylvania's share of the shortfall comes from agriculture.
This assessment shows that the Commonwealth's pollution-reduction activities need to be dramatically accelerated in order to achieve 60 percent of water quality improvements by 2017, as scheduled, and to avoid regulatory "backstops" that could dramatically affect local communities and businesses.
Pennsylvania must ensure that all farmers are meeting requirements to keep nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment from polluting local waterways. It must also improve tracking, reporting, and verification of pollution reduction practices. The Commonwealth must also increase financial and technical assistance across the board to have any opportunity to get its Clean Water Blueprint back on track.
"The Wolf administration inherited the issues identified in the assessment and has acknowledged that a pollution reduction 'reboot' of the Commonwealth's efforts is necessary. Now is the time to galvanize leadership in restoring Pennsylvania's rivers and streams and solve this problem," Campbell said. "But they must begin now. There is a blueprint in place, and it must be implemented."
The Other Jurisdictions:
Delaware's assessment found the state to be off track for erosion and sediment control, grass buffers, and animal waste management systems, and on track for tree planting.
Maryland's assessment found the state to be off track in poultry phytase and animal waste management systems, and on track for wastewater treatment plants and cover crops.
The District of Columbia assessment found the District was off track for impervious surface reduction, slightly off track for urban tree planting, and on track for urban stream restoration and stormwater infiltration practices.
Virginia's assessment found the Commonwealth off track for animal waste management systems, streamside buffers, and urban infiltration practices, and on track for stream fencing.
West Virginia's assessment found the state off track for nutrient management, slightly off track for forest buffers and poultry phytase, and on track for animal waste management systems.
All assessments were conducted by CBF and CCWC state partners. New York was not assessed because CCWC has no affiliated advocacy groups in New York.
More detailed analyses are available at cbf.org/milestones.