For Chesapeake Bay, Pennsylvania remains a problem

Bird and marsh grass along the Chesapeake Bay. Image via the Virginia Office of Natural Resources.

Three states account for about 90 percent of the pollution that makes it into the Chesapeake Bay. Of those, Virginia and Maryland are largely living up to their commitments to meet goals to improve water quality.

 

Not so much the other state, according to a report issued Tuesday by the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

“A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and that is also true for the partnership working to restore water quality across the region,” CBF President William C. Baker said in a statement. “Today, unfortunately, Pennsylvania’s link is not only weak, it is broken.”

The Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint includes pollution limits and requirements for the bay states and the District of Columbia to meet them, under the oversight of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which has the authority to crack down on laggards by increasing the number of farms that it regulates, reviewing stormwater permits and the ability to “condition or redirect” EPA grants.

“Pennsylvania has failed to uphold its promise to reduce pollution to its surface and ground waters since the six state Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint was launched in 2009,” Baker said. “If EPA does not hold Pennsylvania accountable, CBF and others must consider legal action.”

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

According to the foundation, Pennsylvania wastewater treatment plants have exceeded targets for cutting the amount of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus that make into waterways that drain to the bay.

“But agriculture and stormwater efforts have fallen significantly behind,” the foundation said in a statement.  “While most farmers embrace conservation, a lack of financial and technical support has stifled progress. Keeping soils, nitrogen, and phosphorus on the land instead of in the water is good for soil health, farm profitability and life downstream.”

Excess nutrient levels, from wastewater, stormwater and agricultural runoff, fuel algae blooms that create low oxygen “dead zones,” killing underwater grasses and the bay life they support.

“Agricultural activities are the largest identified source of stream pollution. The limited success has been due to a lack of adequate technical and financial assistance to farmers,” said Chesapeake Bay Foundation Pennsylvania Executive Director Harry Campbell.

“Now is the time for the commonwealth to show leadership and make the necessary investments to ensure that blueprint goals are met. If it does not, EPA must enforce the blueprint and impose consequences.”