PENNSYLVANIA UPDATE

From the Desk of Harry Campbell Winter 2016


Pennsylvania Must Invest in its New Clean Water Plan

Pennsylvania Executive Director Harry Campbell. CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director Harry Campbell. 

Pennsylvania has unveiled a new strategy for cleaning up its polluted waterways. But it will take the necessary investments from leaders in Harrisburg and a unified effort across the Commonwealth for the plan to succeed.

While this "rebooted" effort establishes a framework for success, it is just the first chapter of a long story.

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) acknowledged that it alone cannot provide and protect clean water as called for in the new plan. Its success requires resources, leadership, and commitment from Governor Tom Wolf and the legislature to get Pennsylvania back on track toward its clean water goals.

In 2010, the Bay states and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set pollution limits that would restore water quality in local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay, and each state developed its own plan to meet those limits. This came after more than 30 years of failed restoration commitments.

The states also made two-year milestone commitments to take specific actions to ensure progress was being made to achieve the necessary pollution reductions. The goal is to implement 60 percent of practices to restore local water quality in the Commonwealth by 2017, and 100 percent implementation by 2025. DEP Secretary John Quigley has acknowledged that the state will not meet its 2017 goal. 

Pollution has damaged roughly 19,000 miles of rivers and streams in Pennsylvania. Efforts to reduce nitrogen and sediment pollution from agriculture and urban polluted runoff remain off track by millions of pounds. 

The new plan defines six immediate and longer-term actions designed to get Pennsylvania back on track. 

It intends to establish a culture of compliance and significantly increase the number of farm inspections. At current DEP staffing levels, it would take almost 57 years for each farm to be inspected just once. The DEP intends to utilize conservation district staff and its own staff to accelerate its inspection rate to meet the EPA recommendation of inspecting 10 percent of farms annually. DEP inspected less than 2 percent of farms in 2014.

The new plan also calls for accelerating the planting of streamside buffers, the most affordable solution for filtering and reducing the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution.

The plan also addresses the challenges of polluted runoff from urban/suburban areas, including updated permit requirements and implementation plans by local governments, and the development of innovative financing opportunities.

If this new plan has a weakness, it is in identifying sustainable funding sources. According to a Penn State study, it will cost nearly $380 million per year, or $3.8 billion over the next 10 years, to implement just the agricultural practices that would get Pennsylvania back on track to meet its clean water goals for 2025.

Investing in clean water pays dividends. Conservation practices not only improve water quality, but can improve farm production and herd health, reduce nuisance flooding in communities, improve hunting and fishing, beautify urban centers, and even clean the air.

A 2014 economic analysis found that fully implementing Pennsylvania's clean water plans will result in an increase in the value of natural benefits by $6.2 billion annually.

Adequate funding and technical assistance are critical to the success of this plan. The governor and legislature must step up and ensure that the Commonwealth lives up to the clean water commitments it made to fellow Pennsylvanians.

Clean water counts in Pennsylvania. Healthy families, strong communities, and a thriving economy depend on it. 

—Harry Campbell
Pennsylvania Executive Director
Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Do you want healthy streams and rivers in Pennsylvania? Sign our Clean Water Counts petition!

 

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