OP-ED: Pennsylvania leaders must step up to meet clean-water commitments
The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) latest assessment of Pennsylvania's efforts to reduce pollution and restore its waterways that flow to the Chesapeake Bay, finds that the Commonwealth has fallen dangerously short of meeting its clean water commitment.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) believes now is the time to galvanize leadership from all sectors of government, including federal partners like the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), farmers and others, to truly invest in correcting the current course and reducing pollution.
As part of the Clean Water Blueprint, Bay states developed two-year incremental pollution reduction targets, called milestones, with the goal of implementing 60 percent of the programs and practices necessary to restore local water quality by 2017 and finish the job by 2025.
EPA's review of Pennsylvania's reported progress in its 2014-15 milestones found that while on track for phosphorus reduction, there are significant shortfalls in meeting nitrogen and sediment pollution goals.
The EPA found the most significant shortfall to be in reducing nitrogen and sediment pollution from agriculture. To get back on track, the Commonwealth must reduce nitrogen pollution by an additional 14.6 million pounds, or 22 percent, by the end of this year.
The report also shows that reducing pollution from urban/stormwater runoff is off track. Using 2009 as a baseline, Pennsylvania committed to reducing nitrogen pollution from urban/suburban runoff by 41 percent by 2025. As of 2014, practices were put in place to reduce nitrogen pollution by only 1 percent.
The wastewater treatment sector has exceeded its obligations.
Agriculture is the leading cause of stream impairment, damaging more than 5,000 miles as a result of polluted runoff and eroded streambanks. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), 166 miles of York County's streams are impaired by agricultural activities.
Agriculture is also one of the least expensive sources of pollution to reduce. Farmers benefit from measures that improve water quality. For example, valuable soils and nutrients are kept on the fields with conservation tillage and cover crops.
In York County, 134 stream miles are impaired due to polluted runoff from urban and suburban development, according to DEP. Recent efforts to develop a regional plan to address the issue, led by the York County Planning Department, promise cost-effective solutions which can reduce flooding and beautify communities.
After decades of missing deadlines, Pennsylvania faces federal consequences for falling behind its clean water commitments. If efforts to reduce pollution in the Commonwealth are not meaningfully advanced, there could be significant impacts to taxpayers from increased sewage treatment costs and other actions.
Clean water counts. The health and economic benefits of achieving our clean water goals are huge. A peer-reviewed report produced by CBF showed a $6.2 billion return on investment if the Commonwealth meets its commitments.
There's still time for Pennsylvania to get back on track, if the accelerated effort begins now. Restoring water quality is a legacy worth leaving our children and future generations.
— Harry Campbell is PA executive director, Chesapeake Bay Foundation.