Chesapeake Bay clean-up: Pennsylvania lagging in reducing pollution

The federal Environmental Protection Agency issued a largely positive assessment Friday of efforts to stem the flow of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution into the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the United States. 

Cutting those pollutants from farms, sewage treatment plants and municipal and suburban stormwater systems has been key to the recovery of the bay and the bounty of oysters, crabs and striped bass it produces.

“Collectively, the bay watershed jurisdictions have made considerable progress in reducing pollution to the bay and the local waters that lead to the bay,” the EPA said. “That progress has been demonstrated in measurable ways, including record acreage of underwater grasses and the highest estimates of water quality standards attained in more than 30 years.”

There was some rain on that parade, however. Looking at you, Pennsylvania.

Though the Keystone State has removed 17 waterbodies in the Susquehanna River watershed from the impaired waters listing for nutrients and/or sediment, the EPA said, the state is way off track in meeting goals to reduce agricultural and suburban and urban runoff.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed. Image from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Those categories earned the state a “backstop” rating for those categories, meaning EPA “identified substantial concerns with a jurisdiction’s actions” to meet the agreed-upon total maximum daily load for the bay. The TMDL is a “pollution diet” to restore the bay and the waterways that feed into it.

State-specific limits were part of the federal-state Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, established in 2010. And the states committed to having practices in place to achieve 60 percent of the reductions by 2017 and to finish by 2025.

“In the next legislative session, Pennsylvania must enact a dedicated cost-share program for farmers that supports conservation practices like streamside forested buffers. This would directly help family farms by keeping vital soils and nutrients on the land instead of in the water,” said Harry Campbell, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Pennsylvania executive director. “The result would be cleaner streams and healthier, more productive soils. It’s a win-win. But unless Pennsylvania legislature increases investment in reducing pollution, EPA will have no choice but to act.”

More information here.

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Robert Zullo
Robert has been winning and losing awards as a reporter and editor for 13 years at weekly and daily newspapers, beginning at Worrall Community Newspapers in Union, N.J., where he was a staff writer and managing editor. He spent five years in south Louisiana covering hurricanes, oil spills and Good Friday crawfish boils as a reporter and city editor for the The Courier and the Daily Comet newspapers in Houma and Thibodaux. He covered Richmond city hall for the Richmond Times-Dispatch from 2012 to 2013 and worked as a general assignment and city hall reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from 2013 to 2016. He returned to Richmond in 2016 to cover energy, environment and transportation for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He grew up in Miami, Fla., and central New Jersey. A former waiter, armored car guard and appliance deliveryman, he is a graduate of the College of William and Mary. Contact him at [email protected]