(ANNAPOLIS, MD)—With only six years left for Bay jurisdictions to implement plans necessary to restore water quality in local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay, Bay jurisdictions have now sent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) their final plans that outline how the 2025 goal will be met. Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia are the largest sources of pollution damaging water quality. An assessment of those plans by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) found that, as currently designed, Bay restoration goals will not be met.
While Virginia and Maryland still have work to do, both states are largely on track to have programs and practices in place by 2025 that will restore water quality in local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay. Pennsylvania’s plan, however, is sorely deficient. It is more than 25 percent short of reaching its pollution-reduction goal for nitrogen and has an estimated annual funding gap of more than $320 million.
Investing new resources in clean water efforts will require legislative approval with support from the Wolf Administration. Unfortunately, over the last 16 years legislatures and administrations have diverted or cut roughly $3 billion in funding that supports getting practices in the ground.
“Pennsylvania has failed in the past to meet its commitments to reduce pollution. It is completely unacceptable for the Commonwealth to put forth a final plan that both misses the mark and lacks the resources to achieve the goal it put forward,” said CBF President William C. Baker. “EPA has both the authority and responsibility to either require the Commonwealth to achieve the goals it originally set or to impose consequences.”
After decades of failed voluntary efforts, in 2010 the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint was developed and a deadline for full implementation was set for 2025. Experts around the world agree it is our best, and perhaps last chance for success.
What makes the Blueprint different than previous attempts is that it has teeth. It includes pollution limits and requires the Bay states and District of Columbia to design and implement plans to meet them. It also ensures accountability and transparency through two-year, incremental goals called milestones, and sets a goal of having the programs and practices in place by 2025 that will result in a restored Bay.
EPA has committed to providing oversight and enforcement of the Blueprint. If any jurisdiction fails to take the appropriate actions, EPA has said it will impose consequences. It has the authority to increase the number farms that it regulates by extending permit coverage to smaller farms, review state-issued stormwater permits to ensure that they are adequate, and condition or redirect EPA grants.
The largest problem in Pennsylvania is reducing pollution from agriculture. Agriculture is an integral part of the Commonwealth’s culture and economy. Pennsylvania’s plan focuses on improving farm soil health through cover crops and no-till planting, planting forested buffers alongside streams, and many other proven conservation tools and practices that not only reduce stream pollution, but often increase agricultural production. However, Pennsylvania’s elected leaders have failed to adequately invest in helping implement those practices on the more than 33,000 family farms in the watershed.
“Unlike past plans, Pennsylvania’s plan reflects the two years of extensive engagement and collaboration among farmers, townships, conservationists, and many others. And, for the first time, will establish detailed countywide action plans for the 43 counties in Pennsylvania’s bay watershed. Yet, the plan falls short in meeting nitrogen pollution reduction commitments and, critically, lacks the funding necessary for implementation,” said CBF Pennsylvania Executive Director Harry Campbell.
“When the region’s leaders meet next month to assess progress in Bay restoration, it is essential that they, along with the EPA, work to close the financial gap in Pennsylvania by developing dedicated state and federal funding sources to address agricultural pollution,” Baker added. “They must also ensure that those resources are directed to the most cost-effective practices and focused on areas that are generating the most pollution.”
Virginia’s plan is on track to achieve its 2025 goals, provided it accelerates efforts to reduce pollution from agricultural sources and growing urban and suburban areas, while continuing progress in the wastewater sector.
The Commonwealth submitted a strong, detailed, and practical plan to reach the 2025 goals. However, the plan also underscores the additional work that lies ahead, especially to further reduce pollution from wastewater, agriculture, and stormwater. Success depends on Virginia’s General Assembly investing significantly in programs that address this pollution.
For farms, the plan prescribes a deadline for keeping livestock out of all permanent streams and requires detailed plans to reduce pollution from the vast majority of cropland. For developed areas, the Virginia plan includes strong support for programs that manage stormwater pollution, expanding protection from development for sensitive areas, and additional action to reduce pollution from lawn fertilizer. For the wastewater sector the plan will enhance pollution reduction from key regions, better balancing the efforts across the Commonwealth.
“Virginia has developed a strong plan for achieving its longstanding goal of restoring local rivers, streams and the Chesapeake Bay. We applaud the Northam Administration for its hard work and commitment. Putting that plan into action will require renewed dedication from localities, farmers, developers, and citizens across the watershed,” said CBF Virginia Assistant Director Peggy Sanner. “We now look to our state legislators for necessary legislation and for adequate, reliable funding of the key programs that reduce pollution from wastewater, stormwater, and agriculture. The 2020 General Assembly session is our best chance to ensure the investments and programs are in place to achieve these goals by 2025.”
Maryland is also on-track to meet its overall pollution-reduction targets by 2025, due in large part to investments to upgrade sewage treatment plants, which have exceeded goals, and in farm management practices. Pollution from developed lands and septic systems continues to increase, challenging the long-term health of Maryland’s waterways.
While the Blueprint provides a path to the 2025 goals, it is short on strategies to maintain them. The plan relies on annual practices that are less cost effective and don’t provide as many benefits for our climate and our communities as permanent natural filters.
In agriculture, the plan relies heavily on annual practices such as cover crops and manure transport that require significant investment year after year. The state, instead, needs to balance this investment with an increasing emphasis on long-term natural filters such as forested stream buffers and grazing livestock on permanent pasture.
Maryland is lowering expectations to reduce runoff from urban and suburban development in the final phase of its plan. The plan expects Maryland's 10 most developed counties and Baltimore City to treat runoff from impervious surface at about half the pace required over the previous eight years. The effort is not making enough progress to reduce stormwater runoff—pollution from developed areas that is continuing to grow. Not only does this put local water quality at risk but by 2025, stormwater is predicted to contribute more pollution to the Bay than sewage treatment plants in Maryland.
“Maryland must lead by example. In this case, that means helping farmers transition crop land to permanent pasture and working with them to plant streamside forest buffers to reduce agriculture pollution. In our cities and towns, we can no longer delay needed improvements to reduce polluted runoff generated from buildings, driveways, and roads. These long-term enhancements to our farms and neighborhoods will reduce pollution and begin to insulate Maryland against climate change,” said CBF’s Maryland Executive Director Alison Prost. “However, the focus during this final push to reach the 2025 cleanup goals must rightly include Pennsylvania. The Commonwealth’s lackluster pollution reduction efforts exacerbate the summer dead zone, funnel trash into Maryland, and harm the Bay’s marine life.”
“This is a critical moment in the 30-year effort to save this national treasure,” Baker said. “As we enter the late innings of the game, the potential for real success is close. We could see a restored Bay in our lifetime. The alternative would be a national disgrace.”