Pennsylvania's Watershed Implementation Plan

Charting Pennsylvania's course to clean water

To clean up the Bay, we must improve the health of the local streams and rivers that feed into it.

The Challenge

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 11 to 13 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 million pounds by the end of 2025.

Unprecedented Collaboration

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 Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan (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.

Priority Practices

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 final Phase III WIP, four out of the top five are exclusively focused on agriculture.

The top five practices in terms of nitrogen reductions are:

  1. Planting forested riparian buffers along agricultural and urban/suburban streams.
  2. Agricultural compliance with existing state clean water laws. 
  3. Adoption of agricultural practices that improve soil health, improve water retention, and help farms improve profitability.
  4. New or expanded manure storage facilities.
  5. 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 plan contains two shortcomings that must be addressed:

  1. 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 73 percent of the 31-million-pounds goal. According to the plan, the Commonwealth would, however, exceed its goal for phosphorus reduction.
  2. The resources to implement it do not currently exist. As proposed, the plan estimates the need for $521 million a year until 2025 for implementation. However, compared to existing resources, there is a shortfall in funding of nearly $324 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. 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.

For more details, go to Pennsylvania's Chesapeake Bay Plan website >>

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

For our 2019 evaluation of Pennsylvania's progress on its milestone commitments, see Pennsylvania's Blueprint for Clean Water.


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