The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection submitted the final state Phase 3 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It includes significant new funding from the 2022-23 state budget to support and accelerate the progress partners are making on water quality improvement.
“This well-grounded plan reflects and advances the extraordinary actions to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution launched by local partners across Pennsylvania’s share of the watershed during the Wolf Administration,” said DEP Acting Secretary Ramez Ziadeh.
Evaluating the previous version of the plan, EPA highlighted the need for more state funding to enable farmers to modernize to best management practices (BMPs) that reduce nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution in streams, rivers, and lakes.
The state budget provides $320 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to the Commonwealth Financing Authority to enable municipalities statewide to carry out water and sewage treatment projects. It provides $220 million in ARPA funding for a new Pennsylvania Clean Streams Fund.
The Pennsylvania Clean Streams Fund will establish a new Agriculture Conservation Assistance Program to help farmers implement water quality best management practices (BMPs). The Clean Streams Fund will also enable DEP to reinvigorate the Act 167 Stormwater Management Planning Program to provide grants to municipalities to plan and carry out stormwater runoff reduction measures. The fund will support DEP’s abandoned mine drainage reclamation, the Department of Agriculture’s assistance to farmers for development and implementation of nutrient management plans, and urban tree planting by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
All these initiatives will help improve the health of Pennsylvania streams and rivers, preserve topsoil and farm viability, lessen flooding in fields and neighborhoods, and support outdoor recreation and tourism and their considerable related economies.
“The significant budget funding is a tremendous boost to Pennsylvanians who are working to reduce water pollution and all who enjoy the benefits of healthy waters,” said Ziadeh. “We hope future administrations will sustain this unprecedented momentum.”
In addition to including the new state funding, the final Phase 3 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan reinforces that Countywide Action Plans are the keystone of Pennsylvania’s pollutant reduction strategy, achieving the largest nitrogen reduction in the plan: 16.8 million pounds.
The final plan also quantifies nutrient and sediment pollution reductions attained by several state programs that, until now, have not been fully counted. More than 15 million pounds of sediment, 611,000 pounds of nitrogen, and 19,000 pounds of phosphorus have been removed from local waters through the DEP Nutrient Credit Trading Program; Chapter 105 construction-related wetland restoration, establishment, or preservation; industrial and construction stormwater management; the DEP Act 537 Sewage Facilities Program; municipal waste landfills; and land recycling.
The final plan continues to call for EPA computer modeling of bay pollution levels to be updated to include BMPs that Pennsylvania landowners put in place over 10 years ago and BMPs that have been installed in Pennsylvania on a geographic scale larger than what the model currently accommodates.
Monitoring and other data show water quality improving in Pennsylvania. The U.S. Geological Survey 2020 Nutrient Report shows long-term improving trends on nutrient levels in the Susquehanna and Potomac river basins.
Recent EPA research on nutrient-use efficiency over time shows Pennsylvania’s nutrient use is moving in a positive direction: Levels of agricultural surplus nutrients are decreasing, as farmers are applying fertilizer more effectively and efficiently.
The draft 2022 Pennsylvania Integrated Water Quality Report shows 77 stream miles in Pennsylvania’s share of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed restored to standards for drinking water, aquatic life, fish consumption, or recreation. This includes 32 miles of aquatic life use restoration in the Bennett Branch Sinnemahoning Creek, a tributary to the West Branch Susquehanna River, which is the largest recorded acid mine drainage restoration in Pennsylvania history.
Like the other jurisdictions in the watershed — New York, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia — Pennsylvania committed to having programs and practices in place to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution levels by 2025. Pennsylvania committed to reduce nitrogen by 32.5 million pounds and phosphorus by 0.85 million pounds.