(ANNAPOLIS, MD)—The Chesapeake Bay Foundation's (CBF) assessment of progress made implementing milestone commitments in 2016 found Maryland and Virginia largely on track to meet commitments for reducing pollution and Pennsylvania falling significantly short in reducing nitrogen pollution.
"While there is significant room for improvement in all the states, it is important to note that reduced pollution is benefitting the Bay. Over time, the dead zone is getting smaller, Bay grasses are at record levels, and oysters are rebounding," said CBF President William C. Baker. "The success all three states have had in reducing pollution from sewage treatment plants is important, but it also masks shortfalls in each of the states' efforts to reduce pollution from agriculture and urban/suburban runoff. Continued federal and state investments will be key to success on the state level, and we know the payoff will be significant."
Under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, the states have committed to implementing 60 percent of the practices necessary to restore the Bay by 2017, and 100 percent by 2025. Over the next year, the states and EPA will assess progress and develop new plans to achieve the 2025 goal.
The two-year milestones provide transparency and accountability for restoration efforts. This assessment is for the first year of the 2016-17 milestone period.
CBF's assessment looked at the practices the states put in place in 2016, as well as selected programs each state has designed to achieve the long-term goals.
Pennsylvania is significantly off track in reducing nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from agriculture as well as urban/suburban runoff. Progress in reducing pollution from sewage treatment plants is on track. Overall progress to reduce nitrogen pollution is significantly off track, but efforts to reduce phosphorus and sediment pollution are only slightly off track.
Pennsylvania's re-boot committed the Commonwealth to develop and implement an agricultural compliance and enforcement strategy. As part of that strategy inspections were to be conducted on 10 percent of its farms annually. With funding from the Chesapeake Bay Program and other sources, over 1,100 farms were visited between October 2016 and March 2017, an inspection rate below what is needed to visit 10% of farms. However, the pace of inspections has increased now that the process is more established. Roughly 70% of the farms had the required plans. These inspections, however, only assess whether the required plans exist, not whether they are implemented—a major shortfall of state efforts to date.
Pennsylvania also committed to counting and reporting on agricultural practices that are not government funded. A recent Penn State study reported many practices that the Commonwealth had not counted.
Pennsylvania's efforts to reduce pollution from urban/suburban runoff are showing mixed success. The Commonwealth is significantly off track in reducing pollution from nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment. To help jumpstart reductions, the Commonwealth has implemented specific, numeric goals in permits for small municipalities.
"Pennsylvania's pollution reduction strategy has shown some progress and the Commonwealth is in the process of developing a new watershed implementation plan to carry it toward the 2025 goals," said CBF Pennsylvania Executive Director Harry Campbell. "But the Commonwealth is considering yet another budget that falls well short of providing the investments necessary for success. Pennsylvania will only be successful with sustained investments in the right places and on the right practices."
Maryland is slightly off track reducing nitrogen pollution from agriculture, while on track to remove phosphorus and sediment pollution. Urban/suburban efforts have fallen far short for nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment. Maryland's efforts to upgrade sewage treatment plants are on track. Thus, overall efforts to reduce nitrogen pollution are slightly off track, while pollution reduction efforts for phosphorus and sediment are on track.
While seeing success in wastewater treatment plants, Maryland is significantly behind in reducing pollution from septic systems. Technologies exist to significantly reduce nitrogen pollution from septic systems, however the state has stopped requiring those technologies to be used for new systems more than 1,000 feet from tidal waters.
There are requirements in Maryland for large municipalities to develop plans and implement technologies to reduce urban/suburban runoff by replacing 20 percent of impervious surfaces with practices that absorb and filter rainwater. While the Maryland Department of the Environment has reviewed those plans, it has not taken action to correct deficiencies. In addition, draft permits for smaller municipalities fail to require any restoration actions in the next five years.
Maryland is implementing its agricultural phosphorus management tool, which will limit the application of phosphorus on land that already has excess phosphorus. Current programs to match excess manure with farms where it can be used safely may need to be expanded.
"We can feel proud that Maryland got off to a strong start in this epic project to restore the Chesapeake and that state leaders remain committed to the Blueprint. From streams in Western Maryland to tidal creeks on the Eastern Shore, we see evidence of cleaner water. But the job is far from done," said CBF Maryland Executive Director Alison Prost. "We must work together to find solutions for polluted runoff in our cities and suburbs, for failing septic systems in rural areas, and for problems from sprawl development. Given the uncertainties around federal leadership on this effort, we urge the General Assembly and the Hogan Administration to tackle the challenges head-on for our benefit and for the benefit of future generations of Marylanders."
Virginia is on track to meet its phosphorus goal for agriculture, and slightly off track for nitrogen and sediment. The Commonwealth is significantly off track in meeting nitrogen and sediment goals for urban/suburban runoff, while only slightly off track for phosphorus. Due to its success with upgrading sewage treatment plants, overall, Virginia is on track for reducing nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, and slightly off track for sediment.
Virginia's efforts to reduce pollution from urban/suburban runoff are continuing to fall short of its goals. While new permits have been issued for both large municipalities and smaller jurisdictions, permit requirements are not sufficient to achieve the necessary pollution reduction by 2025.
Virginia's agricultural programs have made steady progress, but there is room for improvement. A program funding 100 percent of the costs to fence cattle out of streams was so successful that there is a backlog of more than 400 farmers waiting for funding. And Virginia's agricultural certainty program has resulted in the approval of 300 plans, covering more than 65,000 acres of cropland. However, implementation of these plans is lagging, Adoption of cover crops is below targets and implementation of forest buffers is also off track.
"It's not often that we celebrate overachievements, but the incredible progress made in upgrading Virginia's wastewater treatment plants allows the Commonwealth to remain largely on track for meeting goals to reduce pollution in our waterways," said CBF Virginia Executive Director Rebecca LePrell. "However, the road doesn't stop here. As we approach 2025, the success of wastewater treatment plants should serve as a model for addressing challenges in cutting polluted runoff from agriculture, cities, and suburbs. As state elections near, I hope Virginia's next governor will work with legislators to ensure stable and adequate investment in farm conservation practices and support for local governments to reduce polluted runoff."