Chesapeake Bay boosters sound alarm over funding cuts

Jason Addy
York Dispatch
  • The Chesapeake Bay Program started roughly 30 years ago over concern about water-quality in the bay
  • The program provides support for thousands of municipalities that are a part of the bay program.
  • Supporters say cuts in funding could devastate the program.

Federal funding for restoring the Chesapeake Bay is firmly in President Donald Trump’s budget crosshairs. But for those who lead the cleanup efforts in Pennsylvania, Trump’s plan to slash federal help is counterproductive and ill-conceived.

At a time when decades of research and work are finally creating measurable progress, the Chesapeake Bay cannot afford a year — or several — without federal funding, said Marel King, Pennsylvania director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission.

Students racing in canoes battle the current and their paddling skills during the 2nd Annual Chesapeake Bay Foundation PA Student Leadership Council Canoe Classic, Saturday, May 27, 2017 on the Susquehanna River at Long Level. John A. Pavoncello photo

Trump has proposed to eliminate all funding — $73 million — for the Chesapeake Bay Program, which coordinates the restoration efforts of the six bay states, including Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.

The Chesapeake Bay Program started more than 30 years ago because of concern about water-quality in the bay, and Pennsylvania has been a member since. At its inception, the program completed a multi-year scientific study, and the study’s results formed the basis for many of the policies regulating the bay, King said.

More:OPED: Science is the source of solutions

The program provides structure for thousands of municipalities that are a part of the bay program, bringing stakeholders together to coordinate their efforts and learn best practices from each other, King said.

Cutting federal funding for the program could be devastating to the officials and environmentalists who continue to use the program’s research to form policies and take action, King said.

“It takes money and it takes knowledgeable boots on the ground to get the work done,” King said. “We are really concerned about the loss of that scientific information, data-gathering and coordination of the research and information-sharing because good policy doesn’t happen without good information.”

More:Report: Chesapeake Bay health improves, but long way to go

A significant chunk of the funding Trump is seeking to cut also helps farmers and local municipalities reduce agricultural runoff — Pennsylvania’s biggest source of nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment pollution — said Harry Campbell, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s executive director for Pennsylvania.

“The simple fact of the matter is that decades of investment in Pennsylvania in clean water are actually showing real, measurable, sustainable finds of success,” Campbell said. “Investments to date are starting to see real, tangible returns in the form of clean water, but those returns are tenuous.”

The federal government might save $10 million next year by cutting the program, but the livelihoods of thousands of communities and businesses and millions of residents could be put in jeopardy, said Jana Davis, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Trust.

State help: States could try to fill a resource gap for the Chesapeake Bay Program, but the cumulative effect of Trump’s proposed cuts to other environmental agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration make it nearly impossible for states to adequately replace federal funding, Campbell said.

More:Once threatened, Bay funding included in $1.1 trillion spending bill

Maryland residents pay a fee on their sewer bills that establishes a Chesapeake Bay restoration fund, while Virginia also has a dedicated restoration fund. 

Pennsylvania isn’t investing in bay-restoration efforts at the same levels as its neighbors, which explains why the state is lagging behind the others in meeting its pollution-reduction goals, Davis said.

Fishing and ecotourism industries in downstream states such as Maryland and Virginia bear the brunt of the consequences for Pennsylvania not meeting its pollution-reduction goals, Davis said. 

Local waters: However, residents in these states should not expect those in the Keystone State to feel the same connection to the bay as they do, Davis said. 

Pennsylvanians could spur significant improvements to the bay if they took a much more local approach to clean water, Davis said.

More:Chesapeake Bay Foundation gives media first-hand look at bay

Though the northernmost reach of the Chesapeake Bay is 25 miles south of the Mason-Dixon line, Pennsylvania is responsible for much of the pollution in the bay, King said.

The Susquehanna River supplies more than 50 percent of all freshwater flowing into the bay, and Pennsylvania has the largest share of land in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, King said

“(Cleanup efforts) benefit our downstream neighbors, but we have over 19,000 miles of impaired local waters,” and almost a quarter of local waters do not meet quality standards, King said. 

If Pennsylvanians focused on implementing measures to clean up and reduce pollution in their local streams, rivers and lakes, the state’s waterways would be much cleaner as they flow downstream into the bay, King said.