Report: Pa. improving, but behind clean water goals

David Weissman
  • CBF 2016 report gives Chesapeake Bay's health a 34, or C-minus, score, two points higher than 2014.
  • Pennsylvania is only state in watershed significantly behind in its 2017 pollution-reduction goals.
  • EPA can penalize states financially that don't meet required goals.

The health of the Chesapeake Bay is improving, according to a recent report, but Pennsylvania's efforts are lagging behind other states in the watershed — and financial penalties might be coming as a result.

The Susquehanna River is shown looking north from Safe Harbor Dam.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation released its biennial report Thursday detailing the findings of its scientists, who examine data for 13 health indicators in three categories: pollution, habitat and fisheries, according to a news release.

The scientists grade each indicator on a scale 1 to 100 and combine those scores to deliver an overall assessment of the bay's health.

The Chesapeake Bay received an overall score of 34, which the foundation equates to a C-minus, an improvement of two points over 2014, the report shows.

The report references the Clean Water Blueprint, which includes the federal agreement between each of the six watershed states and the District of Columbia to implement state-specific cleanup plans.

Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland comprise about 85 percent of that watershed, according to CBF president William Baker, and Virginia and Maryland are mostly on track to meet their 2017 and 2025 goals.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency set pollution standards for each state that are supposed to be 60 percent complete by the end of 2017 and 100 percent complete by the end of 2025.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has already acknowledged that Pennsylvania likely won't meet its 2017 milestones.

For example, one 2017 goal was for Pennsylvania to reduce its nitrogen pollution by 40.7 million pounds per year, but the state's actual reductions have only been 18.7 million pounds per year, according to CBF's most recent data.

York County is the second-highest contributor, behind Lancaster County, of nitrogen pollution in the state, the report states.

Per the agreement, the EPA is allowed to impose fines on any state that does not meet its goals.

Seeking Clarity: Penalties loom for Pa.'s failure to meet fed water pollution standards

B.J. Small, spokesman for the Pennsylvania CBF, said there's no way of knowing how much, when or if the federal government will impose any fines against the state.

The EPA had previously withheld nearly $3 million in federal funding to the state due to its inaction on the cleanup plan, but that money was released to Pennsylvania when the DEP announced efforts to reboot the program at the beginning of 2016.

Baker said he doesn't know what the future of the blueprint holds with President-elect Donald Trump's administration set to take control, but he emphasized the importance of the EPA in addressing the Chesapeake Bay's health.

"We have to address the Chesapeake Bay as a system," Baker said, "and the only jurisdiction of government that has the ability to address pollution in the entire watershed is the federal government."

Baked added that it's important to keep up the positive progress because it can all easily be undone by states losing sight of their goals.

The foundation is aiming for a score of 40 on its report by 2025 and a score of 70 in the future, which would indicate a "saved" bay, Baker said.

A 100 score would indicate the bay was back to the way it was before foreign settlers started occupying America, which Baker said he knows isn't feasible.

— Reach David Weissman at or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.