(HARRISBURG, PA)—The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has unveiled a new strategy for cleaning up its polluted waterways, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) is calling on leaders in Harrisburg to make the necessary investments to ensure its success.
"This new plan to clean up Pennsylvania's water contains all the basic, fundamental components necessary to establish the framework for success," said Harry Campbell, CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director. "Any plan is only as good as its implementation. Restoring Pennsylvania's rivers and streams requires the resources, leadership, and commitment from Governor Tom Wolf and the legislature. Only this will get the Commonwealth back on track toward meeting its clean water commitments."
In 2010, the Bay states and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set pollution limits that would restore water quality in local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay, and each state developed its own plan to meet those limits. This came after more than 30 years of failed restoration commitments.
The states also made two-year milestone commitments to take specific actions to ensure progress was being made to achieve the necessary pollution reductions. The goal is to implement 60 percent of practices to restore local water quality in the Commonwealth by 2017, and 100 percent implementation by 2025.
"The people of Pennsylvania need, deserve, and have a right to clean water," Campbell said. "But the DEP acknowledges that it alone cannot provide and protect clean water called for in the new plan without critical, additional resources."
Roughly 19,000 miles of rivers and streams in Pennsylvania have been damaged by pollution. Efforts to reduce nitrogen and sediment pollution from agriculture and urban polluted runoff remain off-track by millions of pounds. Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary John Quigley has acknowledged that the state will not meet its 2017 goal.
The new plan establishes six essential recommendations comprising a number of immediate and longer-term actions designed to get Pennsylvania back on track.
"This plan calls for a significant increase in the number of farm inspections," Campbell said. "The DEP estimates only about 30 percent of farms in the Commonwealth are currently in compliance with Pennsylvania's existing clean water laws, some of which have been in place for decades. More inspectors are sorely needed. At current staffing levels, it would take almost 57 years for each farm to be inspected just once."
In the plan, the DEP intends to utilize conservation district staff and its own staff to accelerate its inspection rate to meet the EPA recommendation of inspecting 10 percent of farms annually. DEP inspected less than 2 percent of farms in 2014.
The new plan also calls for accelerating the planting of streamside buffers, the most affordable solution for filtering and reducing the amount of harmful runoff of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution.
The plan also proposes essential steps and innovations necessary to address the challenges of polluted runoff from urban/suburban areas, including updated permit requirements and implementation plans by local governments and the development of innovative financing opportunities.
"Paying for implementation of the plan represents a funding challenge," Campbell added. According to a Penn State study, it will cost nearly $380 million per year, or $3.8 billion over the next 10 years, to implement just the agricultural practices that would get Pennsylvania back on track toward its clean water commitments for 2025. "If this new plan has a weakness, it is in identifying sustainable funding sources," Campbell added. "A new Growing Greener initiative would be a down payment for such efforts, but more resources will be needed."
Investing in clean water pays dividends. Conservation practices not only improve water quality, but can improve farm production and herd health, reduce nuisance flooding in communities, improve hunting and fishing, beautify urban centers, and even clean the air.
A 2014 economic analysis found that fully implementing Pennsylvania's clean water plans will result in an increase in the value of natural benefits by $6.2 billion annually.
Threats to human health and the economy are real consequences for Pennsylvania not keeping up with its clean water commitments. Implementing this new plan might also allow the Keystone State to avoid further repercussions from EPA, which has already withheld nearly $3 million in federal funding from the Commonwealth.
"It goes without saying that adequate funding and technical assistance are key aspects for the success of this plan," Campbell added. "This is where the Governor and legislature must step in and ensure that the Commonwealth lives up to the commitments it made to fellow Pennsylvanians."
Clean water counts in Pennsylvania. Healthy families, strong communities, and a thriving economy depend on it.