(ANNAPOLIS, MD)—A new Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) report examining the state of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint found both good and bad news. While no state is completely on track, Maryland and Virginia are close to having the programs and practices in place to restore water quality and meet the 2025 goal. Pennsylvania, however, has never met its nitrogen reduction targets and its current plan to achieve the 2025 goal is woefully inadequate, detailing only two-thirds of actions necessary to achieve its goal.
"A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and that is also true for the partnership working to restore water quality across the region," CBF President William C. Baker said. "Today, unfortunately, Pennsylvania's link is not only weak, it is broken."
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.
The good news is that the Blueprint is working: Grasses are increasing, the dead zone is getting smaller, and blue crab populations are rebounding. But recovery is fragile. And the road to finishing the job is steep. However, many of the practices to reduce pollution will also sequester carbon and help slow climate change.
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. Our peer-reviewed economic analysis found that the economic benefits provided by nature in the Chesapeake Bay watershed will total $130 billion annually when the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint is fully implemented.
The Environmental Protection Agency (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.
"Pennsylvania has failed to uphold its promise to reduce pollution to its surface and ground waters since the six state Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint was launched in 2009," Baker added. "If EPA does not hold Pennsylvania accountable, CBF and others must consider legal action."
CBF assessed Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia's milestone progress to date and whether or not states are implementing the pollution-reduction commitments they have already made. Together, these three states are responsible for 90 percent of the pollution fouling the Bay and its rivers and streams.
Each of the states have drafted a new Clean Water Blueprint (formally known as a Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan) detailing how they will finish the job. Where we identified shortfalls, we are making recommendations on what is necessary in their new plans to achieve the goal.
To see our full report including the details of efforts to date, visit: www.cbf.org/stateoftheblueprint
Virginia 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. Virginia has a strong roadmap for success; the key is implementation.
The Commonwealth released a strong but doable draft plan to reach the 2025 goals. However, the plan also underscores the additional work that lies ahead, especially to further reduce pollution from agriculture and stormwater.
Virginia's Blueprint shows exactly what actions are needed to accelerate the pace of reductions of all sources of pollution to our waters. The plan relies on expanding existing programs that have proven successful, as well as new initiatives.
For farms, that includes keeping livestock out of all permanent streams and requiring detailed plans to reduce pollution from the vast majority of cropland. For developed areas, that includes strong support for programs that manage stormwater pollution, expanding protections for sensitive areas from development, and additional action to reduce pollution from lawn fertilizer. To address climate change, Virginia is a leader in the region by accounting for anticipated pollution increases from extreme weather.
"The State of the Blueprint report indicates overall progress in Virginia, especially by wastewater treatment plants," said CBF's Virginia Executive Director Rebecca Tomazin. "But a good plan is just the first step. We need to make sure that Virginia's Blueprint remains strong, and that funding is in place to achieve these goals. Now is the time to let Virginia's leaders know that implementing a strong Blueprint is our great opportunity to ensure clean water for future generations."
The coming days are critical to success as Virginia finalizes its last update to its Blueprint. The public is invited to submit comments to: [email protected]
Maryland is on-track to meet its overall nutrient 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.
Maryland has a long track record of investing in clean water, which has put the state on a path to reach pollution reduction goals for nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment in the third phase of its Clean Water Blueprint. The reductions will mostly be made through a combination of wastewater treatment plant upgrades and reducing pollution from agriculture.
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 Blueprint relies heavily on annual practices such as cover crops and manure transport that require significant repeated investments. The state should transition its investments to increase long-term natural filters such as forested stream buffers and grazing livestock on permanent pasture. While the state is planning to subsidize farmers to plant nearly 500,000 acres of cover crops each year, it is only committing to plant 1,200 acres of new riparian forest buffers and move 2,500 acres of crop land into pasture.
Maryland is lowering expectations to reduce runoff from urban and suburban development in the third phase of the Blueprint. The draft 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 draft cautions that the reduced pace may even be slower because new MS4 permits for these jurisdictions have not yet been finalized. The effort is not making enough progress to reduce stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces—pollution from developed areas that is continuing to grow. By 2025, stormwater is predicted to contribute more pollution to the Bay than wastewater in Maryland.
"It's reassuring to see Maryland has developed a path to meet its pollution reduction goals by 2025," said CBF's Maryland Senior Scientist Doug Myers. "But the state is putting an emphasis on costly annual practices such as cover crops and street sweeping to meet the goals when it should be focusing on sustainable efforts that will reduce pollution long-term. Those efforts include converting row crops to permanent pasture, reducing stormwater runoff in our cities before it erodes streams, and creating streamside forest buffers and wetlands to absorb and treat what does run off the landscape. Bigger goals for long-term, permanent practices will reduce climate change impacts and maintain clean water beyond 2025."
The Commonwealth is significantly behind in implementing the pollution reducing practices necessary to achieve the 2025 goals, particularly from the agricultural and the urban/suburban stormwater sectors.
Wastewater treatment plants have met and exceeded goals and targets for making reductions by 2025. But agriculture and stormwater efforts have fallen significantly behind. While most farmers embrace conservation, a lack of financial and technical support has stifled progress. Keeping soils, nitrogen, and phosphorus on the land instead of in the water is good for soil health, farm profitability, and life downstream.
Pennsylvania's draft Blueprint to reach the 2025 goal does not achieve the nitrogen pollution reductions necessary to meet its obligations. The draft plan would achieve roughly 22.7 million pounds of nitrogen reduction each year, or about 67 percent of the goal of achieving 34.1 million pounds.
Also, the resources to implement the plan do not currently exist. As drafted, the plan estimates the need for $486 million a year to implement it. Compared to existing resources, there is a shortfall in annual funding of nearly $257 million. Although the plan contains several proposed funding sources, none have been passed. The Administration and Legislature must act.
"Agricultural activities are the largest identified source of stream pollution. The limited success has been due to a lack of adequate technical and financial assistance to farmers," said CBF Pennsylvania Executive Director Harry Campbell. "Now is the time for the Commonwealth to show leadership and make the necessary investments to ensure that Blueprint goals are met. If it does not, EPA must enforce the Blueprint and impose consequences."
Pennsylvania has also not established a programmatic milestone accounting for growth and new sources of pollution such as population growth and conversion of forest and farmland to development.
The public is invited to submit comments to: [email protected]