Pennsylvania's waters have been slowly and steadily improving, thanks to conservation efforts to reduce stormwater runoff, soil erosion, and pollution from many sources. In fact, since 1985 Pennsylvania has reduced its nitrogen load to the Chesapeake Bay by about 15.1 million pounds. But the Commonwealth is still far short of meeting its Clean Water Blueprint, which requires an additional reduction in nitrogen loads by 34.1 million pounds by the end of 2025.
In a process initiated in June 2017, seven workgroups including state and local government leaders, farmers, conservation organizations, scientists and researchers, and federal agency partners, along with a steering committee led by the Pennsylvania Departments of Environmental Protection, Agriculture, and Conservation and Natural Resources, worked to develop the Draft Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan (Phase III WIP).
The result is a collaborative, multipronged approach that, for the first time, includes approaches for creating county-scale plans, strategies for community outreach and engagement, and a financial and personnel needs and opportunities assessment.
Agricultural practices represent the largest identified source of pollution impacting many of Pennsylvania's rivers and streams, as well as the Bay. As a result, of the 20 practices in the WIP III draft, four out of the top five are exclusively focused on agriculture.
The top five practices in terms of nitrogen reductions are:
- Planting forested riparian buffers along agricultural and urban/suburban streams.
- Agricultural compliance with existing state clean water laws.
- Adoption of agricultural practices that improve soil health, improve water retention, and help farms improve profitability.
- New or expanded manure storage facilities.
- Planting grassed riparian buffers along agricultural streams.
Additional efforts include urban/suburban stormwater reduction initiatives, optimization of wastewater treatment plants, and other practices.
Two Critical Shortcomings
Unfortunately, the draft plan contains two shortcomings that must be addressed:
- It does not achieve the nitrogen load reductions necessary to meet Pennsylvania's Chesapeake Bay obligations. Despite proposing over 20 new or expanded initiatives, the plan would only achieve roughly 22.7 million pounds of nitrogen reduction each year, or about 67 percent of the 34.1 million pounds goal. According to the plan, the Commonwealth would, however, exceed its goal for phosphorus reduction.
- The resources to implement it do not currently exist. As drafted, the plan estimates the need for $486 million a year until 2025 for implementation. However, compared to existing resources, there is a shortfall in funding of nearly $257 million a year. Although the plan contains several proposed funding sources, none of them have been passed by the legislature.
The Phase III WIP needs to be fixed and funded before it's finalized. Otherwise, the Commonwealth runs the risk of increased federal enforcement and compliance efforts, such as, but not limited to increased regulations on livestock operations, industrial and municipal stormwater sources, and wastewater treatment plants, and shifting or withholding EPA grant funding.
|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|
For our 2019 evaluation of Pennsylvania's progress on its milestone commitments, see Pennsylvania's Blueprint for Clean Water.
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