Pennsylvania's Blueprint for Clean Water

McLaughlin Farm Pennsylvania Cover Crops

Employing no-till farming, as practiced on the McLaughlin Farm in Perry County, Pennsylvania, improves soil health and farm profitability.

BJ Small/CBF Staff

Is Pennsylvania on track to meet its 2025 pollution-reduction commitments?

Overall, Pennsylvania is not on track to achieve its 2025 goals. The Commonwealth is significantly behind in implementing the practices necessary to reduce pollution, particularly from agriculture and urban and suburban stormwater. The wastewater sector, however, is one area of noteworthy success.

See where things stand in Pennsylvania below and learn about the current and future challenges we face. Then, take action for a strong, fully funded clean water plan for restoring Pennsylvania's creeks and rivers. The final phase of the Keystone state's Blueprint is critical to Pennsylvanians' health, economy, and way of life.

Pennsylvania's Progress Toward Pollution Reductions

We used EPA's scientific model to estimate pollution reductions made between 2009 and 2018 and if those reductions are on a trajectory to meet the 2025 goals. Pennsylvania's pollution-reduction progress is summarized in the table below. As of press time, new sediment targets from the states had not yet been established. (Key)

Nitrogen Phosphorus
Polluted Runoff
& CSO††


red projected loads more than 20% off target or pollution is increasing
yellow projected loads within 10-20% of target
green projected loads within 10% of target


* No contribution from this source sector
Urban & Suburban
† † Combined Sewer Outflow


Evaluating Pennsylvania's Key Milestone Commitments

After examining EPA's scientific model to estimate pollution reductions (see chart above), we looked at how well the states have implemented the programmatic commitments they made in their two-year milestone goals—in other words, the practices and programs they will use to get the job done. The following is our analysis of each commitment.


Why it's important: Pennsylvania exceeded the 2017 Blueprint goals for wastewater and is on pace to meet its 2025 Blueprint goals ahead of schedule, largely by installing better technology at treatment plants or purchasing credits that reduce their contribution to nitrogen and phosphorus pollution.

Commitment: "Cap Loads" for NPDES Permits, and Wastewater Optimization Program at Privately-Owned Treatment Works

Progress: On Track

Steps taken: Pennsylvania achieved this milestone by including pollution limits for wastewater treatment plants in their National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, which regulate water pollution. The Commonwealth continues to cut pollution through the Wastewater Optimization Program, which encourages wastewater plants to make low-cost operational improvements that decrease phosphorus and nitrogen pollution.

Steps needed: Pennsylvania could require further pollution reductions from wastewater plants, but even the best available treatment technology will not make up for lagging progress in the agriculture and stormwater sectors.

Polluted Runoff

Why it's important: Many of Pennsylvania's small, local stormwater systems—called MS4s—have undersized and aging infrastructure. As more land is developed, polluted runoff is increasing.

Commitment: Complete initial reviews of Chesapeake Bay Pollutant Reduction Plans that were submitted in September 2017

Progress: Slightly Off Track

Steps taken: The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) implemented a stormwater permit requirement for roughly 350 MS4s to produce Pollutant Reduction Plans that address water quality problems in local streams and the Bay—a substantial step toward meeting Blueprint goals. The Commonwealth reviewed approximately three-quarters of the plans, but it formally approved only one-third, delaying implementation.

Steps needed: The Commonwealth must approve the plans and jumpstart implementation to make this initiative successful.

Commitment: Provide guidance to encourage inter- and intra-municipal MS4 collaboration to achieve pollutant reduction in localized areas

Progress: Slightly Off Track

Steps taken: Pennsylvania produced guidance to help MS4s meet their pollution reduction goals through collaborative efforts with neighboring municipalities or nearby farmlands. Communities in Blair and Luzerne Counties and the Chiques Creek watershed are taking this approach. However, the guidance was issued in late 2018 and it is still early to gauge its effect.

Steps needed: So far, most municipalities continue to address pollution independently, forgoing opportunities for cost-savings and coordination with neighboring local governments. Municipalities should increase their collaboration to collectively reduce local pollution.


Why it's important: Agriculture dominates much of Pennsylvania's land in the Bay watershed. Efforts to reduce pollution from farms—an essential component of Pennsylvania's Blueprint—continue to lag.

Commitment: Implement Agricultural Compliance and Enforcement Strategy

Progress: Slightly Off Track

Steps taken: The Commonwealth has been verifying that farms have the required plans in place to control pollution from erosion, manure, and fertilizers. They inspected nearly 3,000 farms representing about 10 percent of agricultural lands in 2017-2018.

Steps needed: The inspections only assessed if the plans exist. Moving forward, Pennsylvania must also ensure the plans address all water quality concerns and are fully implemented. A process to assess implementation will be drafted in 2019, followed by a pilot program.

Commitment: Approve a revised P-index planning tool to be used for nutrient management planning efforts

Progress: On Track

Steps taken: Penn State University is leading an update to the Phosphorus Index (P-Index), a tool used to identify farm areas that present a high risk of phosphorus pollution. The update, developed through thorough research and on-farm testing, should be available later this year.

Steps needed: The tool will provide valuable information to help farmers manage fertilizer and manure applications and should be used to identify practices that reduce polluted runoff.

Accounting for Growth

Commitment: None

Progress: Off Track

Why it's important: The loss of forests and farmland to development, additional livestock and poultry farming, and increased vehicle emissions can all add pollution to Pennsylvania's local streams and the Bay.

Steps taken: Pennsylvania did not establish a stand-alone milestone to account for growth. Managing growth and land use in the Commonwealth is especially challenging because planning is decentralized across more than 1,100 municipal governments.

Steps needed: Local governments could reduce water pollution from development by updating planning and zoning policies that preserve sensitive landscapes; writing ordinances that limit the creation of hard surfaces and preserve trees and forested buffers; and managing stormwater using today's science and engineering. Climate change, particularly extreme rainfall, makes it imperative to address these challenges.

Finishing the Job in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania is on pace to achieve pollution goals for wastewater. But to meet its overall Blueprint goals and improve local rivers and streams, the Commonwealth must fully address pollution from agriculture and urban and suburban runoff.

As currently drafted, the Commonwealth's final Blueprint falls roughly 34 percent short of its goal to reduce nitrogen pollution and is less than half funded.

A lack of sufficient technical and financial support, coupled with a poor agricultural economy, is a significant barrier stopping farms from adopting the conservation measures needed to reduce pollution. There is a need for a dedicated cost-share program and a significant increase in resources to implement priority conservation practices.

Moreover, the legislature has so far approved none of the proposed funding sources identified in the draft Blueprint, leaving an estimated shortfall of $257 million through 2025. If there is any chance of success, this must change.

If it does not, Pennsylvania runs the risk of increased federal enforcement, such as increased regulations for livestock operations, industrial and municipal stormwater sources, and wastewater treatment plants. EPA could also shift or withhold grant funding, among other actions.

Keystone 10 Million Trees Partnership

Streamside forested buffers, with native trees and shrubs planted along the waterway, are one of the most cost-effective practices for reducing nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution in both rural and urban landscapes. Pennsylvania committed to plant 95,000 acres of forested buffers by 2025. To reach this ambitious goal, CBF is coordinating a partnership that will galvanize the expertise, experience, and muscle of national, regional, state, and local agencies; conservation organizations; outdoor enthusiasts; businesses; and citizens committed to improving Pennsylvania's communities, economy, and ecology. These buffers will support natural ecosystems, provide wildlife habitat, stabilize streambanks, improve soil health, and draw carbon from the atmosphere, in addition to capturing nutrient and sediment runoff before it reaches the water. Find out more at

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