EPA: Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort is mostly on track

Ben Finley
Associated Press

NORFOLK, Va. – Efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay are mostly on track, but challenges remain as farm manure and city stormwater continue to flow into the nation’s largest estuary, the Environmental Protection Agency said Friday.

The EPA released an assessment on the headway that states are making to reduce pollution. Last year marked a halfway point toward the implementation of the federally mandated “pollution diet” for the Chesapeake Bay by 2025.

Cosmo Servidio, a regional administrator for the EPA, said in a statement that “considerable progress” has been made. And he noted the record comeback of the bay’s underwater grasses, among other positive signs of higher water quality.

But states in the watershed, which runs from New York to Virginia, had not reached all of their collective goals at the 2017 halfway point, according to the EPA’s assessment.

The agency has required states to cut phosphorous, nitrogen and sediment pollution, which has come from sewage treatment plants and runoff from farms and cities. Those pollutants have contributed to the bay’s notorious oxygen dead zones, which limit plant and animal life.

The dead zones have been shrinking. And overall, the states reached 2017 benchmarks for reducing phosphorous and sediment.

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But nitrogen pollution is still too high. And much of it is coming from manure and stormwater runoff.

Fishermen spend the early morning hours casting in the upper Chesapeake Bay where the Susquehanna River flows in at Havre de Grace, MD, Wednesday, April 12, 2017. Clearing waters, increased underwater grasses and a decreased dead zone mean more fish.  John A. Pavoncello photo

Pennsylvania in particular must do more to prevent animal waste from reaching streams and rivers, the assessment said. (The Susquehanna River flows from Pennsylvania into the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland).

In a statement, the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation demanded that Pennsylvania dedicate more funding to help farmers. For example, the foundation said the state could help pay for the planting of forested buffers along streams.

“If the state legislature does not fund efforts to reduce pollution in its next session, EPA must hold Pennsylvania accountable,” foundation president William Baker said.

Deborah Klenotic, a spokeswoman for Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, said major efforts are underway to reduce runoff in the state, including increased funding to help farmers.

For instance, she said Pennsylvania has a statewide initiative to plant 95,000 acres of forest buffers. Farm inspections have increased. And the state is using data to focus on areas where efforts will be the most impactful.

The states in the bay’s watershed are Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia as well as the District of Columbia.