Last week, more than 200 Pennsylvanians representing local governments, the farming community and other stakeholders gathered to share ideas for a plan to best achieve federally mandated water pollution reductions in the state’s 43 counties in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. The state is playing a “catch-up role” in meeting most Chesapeake Bay Program goals.
The agricultural sector accounts for the lion’s share of the clean water challenge, noted State Ag Secretary Russell Redding. “The plan developed from today’s listening session must recognize the co-equal goals of improving water quality while preserving healthy and viable farms.
“We know that many farmers have been voluntarily implementing best management practices on their own sites,” Redding noted, citing positive success stories, such as the best management practices some farmers have initiated on their own. “The 2016 survey [completed by 6,782 farmers in 41 counties] tracked and quantified impressive on-farm measures taken at the farmers’ own expense,” he added.
Pennsylvania has made significant progress toward meeting U.S. EPA targets, particularly since launch of the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Strategy. That plan includes:
• inspecting 10% of farms in the Bay watershed annually
• putting new high-impact, low-cost BMP projects on the ground in watersheds that are currently impaired by agriculture or stormwater
• considering the establishment of mandatory reporting requirements for the agriculture sector
• identifying legislative or regulatory changes that’ll provide additional tools and resources to meet the 2025 total maximum daily load reduction goals
• seeking new funding sources to potentially make available several hundred million dollars to devote to local water quality issues
Considerable work remains to be done. Pennsylvania is mandated to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment levels in waters in its Bay watershed counties by 2025. The Commonwealth fell considerably short of its Phase 1 goal set in 2010, and of the Phase 2 goal set in 2012.
The Ag Department, along with the departments of Environmental Protection and the Conservation and Natural Resources are leading the charge. “We need healthy farms,” affirmed DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “We need economic development, jobs and thriving businesses. All of this depends on clean water sources.”
To succeed, the plan must be locally implementable, he added, accounting for economic realities as well as environmental benefits of clean local waters. This makes on-the-ground, committed action essential.
Discussions were centered around recommendations of the steering committee leading development of the Phase 3 of Pennsylvania’s Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan. Breakout groups discussed initiatives believed needed in agriculture, forestry, funding, local planning, stormwater and wastewater to improve the health of local streams, rivers and lakes.
For those who couldn’t attend in person, a public online comment period is open through July 7 on DEP eComments. In fact, more input on the following questions is invited.
• What key elements need to be included for this effort to be a success?
• What priority issues must be addressed in the Phase 3 WIP for you to consider it a success?
• Is there a particular initiative, action, partnership or training that would aid this effort?
• Are there possibilities for continuing and enhancing current projects or initiatives?
Written comments should be submitted by e-mail to [email protected] or by mail to the Department of Environmental Protection, Policy Office, Rachel Carson State Office Building, P.O. Box 2063, Harrisburg, PA 17105-2063.