(HARRISBURG, PA)—The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) is calling on Pennsylvania and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to focus additional investments in five south-central counties to accelerate pollution reductions from agriculture.
CBF analyzed federal agency data to identify these five priority counties that Pennsylvania's Clean Water Blueprint is counting on to reduce the most agricultural pollution. Not surprisingly, the counties that emerged as top priorities also generate the most nitrogen pollution in the Susquehanna Basin.
"While other Bay states are making progress in achieving their Clean Water Blueprint pollution reduction goals, Pennsylvania is far behind in meeting its commitments," said CBF President William C. Baker. "By increasing efforts in these five counties and using the most effective conservation practices, the Commonwealth can efficiently and cost effectively jumpstart its lagging cleanup efforts."
The list is topped by Lancaster County, which is home to the most productive agricultural land in the Commonwealth but also delivers by far the most nitrogen pollution from agriculture. Next are York, Franklin, Cumberland, and Adams. These counties contribute more than 30 million pounds per year of nitrogen pollution from agriculture to the Chesapeake Bay annually.
"Pennsylvania has identified more than 1,400 miles of rivers and streams in these five priority counties as being damaged by agricultural pollution," said CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director Harry Campbell. "While efforts need to continue in all Pennsylvania watershed counties, by prioritizing new resources in these five counties the Commonwealth can greatly accelerate its restoration efforts."
CBF is calling on federal partners, particularly USDA, to provide an initial, immediate commitment of $20 million in new restoration funds, with a particular focus on the priority counties. The group also urges state and local governments to provide additional outreach, technical assistance, and funding.
In March, Pennsylvania State University College of Agriculture and 120 diverse agriculture stakeholders agreed that resources should be invested in areas of high priority and agricultural practices with the most potential to reduce pollution.
Building on this concept, CBF used data from the U.S. Geological Survey and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to identify the individual watersheds that are producing the most nitrogen pollution to local streams and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay.
The practices that reduce nitrogen pollution, such as the planting of streamside buffers, will also reduce the phosphorus and sediment. Nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution degrade local streams and rivers, can harm aquatic life, and can cause risks to human health and drinking water.
The new funding will not complete the job, but it is an important start. CBF's analysis of agency data indicates that if the five priority counties—Lancaster, York, Franklin, Cumberland, and Adams—fully met their 2025 Blueprint pollution-reduction commitments, the Commonwealth would achieve roughly a 14.1 million pound nitrogen reduction. That would represent more than half of the entire state's 2025 nitrogen pollution-reduction goal.
"Fast action in these counties would also help the Commonwealth make significant progress against its most immediate challenge, the projected 2017 shortfall of 16 million pounds," said CBF's Campbell. "In addition to reducing pollution, increased federal funding will create jobs and benefit local economies."
Many Pennsylvania farmers have shown that they are willing to install conservation practices that reduce pollution. However, every year Pennsylvania farmers who want to install those practices are turned away because of a lack of resources available to assist them.
Lancaster County dairy farmers Tim and Frances Sauder have applied for state and federal funding and would like to install seven acres of streamside buffer, add manure storage and a composting facility, and address polluted runoff that occurs when heavy rains overwhelm a culvert on the farm.
"We made decisions on how we farm, in order to protect the watershed," Tim Sauder said. The Sauders operate Fiddle Creek Dairy on 55 acres in Quarryville. The dairy is comprised of 15 cows and produces two kinds of yogurt. They have owned for farm for four years.
"Our decisions really start with looking around and seeing what is sustainable here. What's good for this land," Frances Sauder added. "We want to farm in a way that's good for all layers of life, the water, the land, the plants, and the human community. There's no easy answer and we're humbled by that."
The Chesapeake Bay Executive Council, including the EPA Administrator, the Governors of Virginia, Maryland, New York, Delaware, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, the Mayor of Washington, D.C., and the Chair of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, will be meeting on October 4 to identify restoration challenges moving forward.
"There is a growing consensus that Pennsylvania must prioritize its efforts and this analysis provides a road map to do just that," said Baker. "When Bay leaders gather in October, we expect them to take real action to reduce nitrogen pollution in Lancaster and other key Pennsylvania counties. If Pennsylvania does not meet its commitments Bay restoration efforts will fail."
If Pennsylvania meets its commitments, a peer-reviewed economic analysis commissioned by CBF found that implementing the Blueprint would increase nature's benefits in the Commonwealth by $6.2 billion annually through cleaner water, cleaner air, hurricane and flood protection, improved recreational opportunities, and more.