EDITORIAL: Water quality alarms sound

York Dispatch
  • This week, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation released the results of water testing.
  • Those results sound yet another alarm in the cacophony of warnings statewide.
  • Pennsylvania is woefully behind in its water quality remediation efforts.

The alarm bells continue to sound, yet no matter how urgent the clarion call, Pennsylvania lags behind when it comes to preserving our precious waterways.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation intern Myrannda Kleckner collects a water sample at Willow Mill Park on the Conodoguinet Creek in Cumberland County this summer. CBF’s study of polluted runoff found elevated levels of bacteria in some southcentral Pennsylvania waterways.

In the last week, the nonprofit preservation organization Chesapeake Bay Foundation announced that testing for polluted runoff at swimming, fishing and boating locations in south-central Pennsylvania found levels of bacteria in the water that “in some cases were more than 10 times over health standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency, especially after heavy rains.”

Fourteen water samples collected by the foundation at each of 10 locations from June to mid-August were tested for E. coli and fecal coliform bacteria by the ALS Environmental Laboratory in Middletown. Sample sites were chosen in order to gauge input by agriculture, urban and suburban and mixed land uses, CBF reports.

Half of the freshwater that flows into the Chesapeake Bay comes from the commonwealth, according to a release from the foundation.

“We hope the takeaway from this study is that we all must do more to reduce polluted runoff and to use caution when considering going into the water within 48 hours of a heavy rain,” said Harry Campbell, CBF’s Pennsylvania executive director.

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Simply put, it is imperative that the state ramp up efforts if it is to reach a 2025 goal of having a Department of Environmental Protection Blueprint for remediation 100 percent complete.

More immediately — and urgently — the state is not expected to reach the 60 percent completion goal by 2017.

Pennsylvania is especially far behind on forest buffers that keep pollution out of waterways, nutrient management to provide crops with nutrients at the right time and rate to make sure they are most effective, and urban infiltration practices to capture and store rainwater and storm runoff.

We're seeing some effects of the pollution already in the dramatic decrease of the smallmouth bass population in the river.

If the state doesn't cleanup the waterways, the EPA could impose penalties under the Clean Water Act, which could mean forcing the state's wastewater treatment plants to increase their technology, which the taxpayers will pay for.

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Perhaps 2025 feels further away than it is, and this is why the alarm bells are sounding to an awfully slow response. Perhaps we lack the political will to save our waterways when a bombastic political season feels oh so much more entertaining.

These beautiful natural resources are something all Pennsylvania residents enjoy. We should all work together to help clean them up. To learn more, or get involved, check out the Chesapeake Bay Foundation online at www.cbf.org.