EDITORIAL: We must do our part to help Chesapeake Bay

York Dispatch, York Dispatch
  • The Chesapeake Bay has been listed as "dangerously out of balance."
  • The Chesapeake Bay Foundation recently gave the bay a score of 34 on a 100-point scale.
  • The Susquehanna River is a major source of pollution into the bay.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed is a national environmental treasure.

It must be protected.

Lest you think this issue isn't a York County problem, think again.

The health of the Chesapeake Bay is improving, but is still "dangerously out of balance," according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

The Susquehanna River, which rolls past the county's eastern border, and the bay are two integral parts of one large ecosystem. According to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), the bay, essentially, is the river's valley floor. It's the tidal portion of the Susquehanna. So, any pollution that is dumped into the Susquehanna will have a direct and detrimental impact on the bay. They are completely interconnected.

That's why the health of the bay should be of vital importance to York-area folks. Over the decades, our industries, wastewater treatment plants and farmers helped pollute the Susquehanna, and eventually, the Chesapeake. So we must play a pivotal role in cleaning up the bay.

These days, the primary source of bay pollution is agricultural, and to their credit, many local farmers are doing their best to alleviate the pollution problem, despite the sometimes substantial costs. For instance, the CBF has highlighted farmers who employ best management practices. That includes Bob and Maggie Cahalan of southern York County.

Because of the efforts of folks such as the Cahalans, the bay is slowly being nursed back to health. That is good news.

The CBF has issued its biennial State of the Bay report for the past 18 years. The first report gave the bay's health a grade of 23 (on a 100-point scale, with 100 returning the bay to its original “pristine” condition). The most recent report, released last week, showed a grade of 34, or a C-minus.

That's not a great grade, but it's the best grade in the history of the report and two points better than the 2014 report. Still, the CBF lists the bay as being “dangerously out of balance.”

The goal of the CBF is to get the grade up to 70, or “saved.” The CBF says it's impractical to restore the bay to “pristine” condition.

The bad news, at least for Pennsylvanians, is that our state “lags far behind its pollution-reduction goals,” according to the CBF.

The report refers to 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 the CBF, and Virginia and Maryland are mostly on track to meet their 2017 and 2025 goals. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets 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.

York County is the second-highest contributor, behind Lancaster County, of nitrogen pollution in the state, the report states. Under the agreement, the EPA is allowed to impose fines on any state that does not meet its goals.

There's no way of knowing if Pennsylvania will be fined, but the EPA had previously withheld nearly $3 million in federal funding to the state because of its inaction on the cleanup plan. That money, however, was released to Pennsylvania when the DEP announced efforts to reboot the program at the beginning of 2016.

Report: Pa. improving, but behind clean water goals

So Pennsylvania's lack of action could hit us where it really hurts — in the wallet.

Of course, there will soon be a new man in charge in the White House and he has already nominated a new head of the EPA — Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt — who has been described as a friend to the fossil-fuel industry, a climate-change doubter and an opponent to the EPA's “activist agenda.”

What that means for the future of the Chesapeake is still to be determined.

What has been determined, however, is that the bay needs our help, immediately.

Pennsylvania in general, and York County specifically, must do what is necessary to help heal the bay.

So far, according to the CBF, we haven't done our fair share. That needs to change.

We helped caused the problem. We need to be a part of the solution.