The Pennsylvania General Assembly and Gov. Ed Rendell approved bills in early July that could make up to $1.2 billion in new funding available for infrastructure improvements, including wastewater treatment plant upgrades in the Bay watershed.

One bill, sponsored by Sen. Jane Earll (R-Erie) would provide $850 million in funding for drinking water and wastewater plant improvements, flood protection projects and high hazard dam repair.

A second bill, sponsored by Sen. Ray Musto, (D-Luzerne) authorizes a $400 million bond issue referendum on the November ballot to fund drinking water and wastewater projects.

The grants, and loans stemming from those measures, could help local governments deal with the $1 billion cost of upgrading 184 plants to meet Bay cleanup goals. The tab associated with the upgrades had outraged local officials, who complained they were getting no state assistance, unlike their counterparts in Maryland and Virginia. More than 70 have joined in a suit against the state.

“These funds will help alleviate some of the burden communities face as they undertake costly upgrades to comply with federal and state requirements to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus loadings to local streams and the Chesapeake Bay,” said John Brosious, deputy director of the Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation estimated the actions would make $500 million available to provide a 50 percent match for sewage treatment plant upgrades in the watershed.

The municipal authorities association, CBF, the Farm Bureau and others formed a “fair share” coalition that pushed for more money to meet Bay cleanup goals after they were disappointed in the governor’s budget, which did not provide assistance to wastewater plants or increased support for farm conservation programs.

The coalition was less successful in boosting farm spending that had been slated for cuts, although funding was restored for some programs.

Nonetheless, coalition members said support was not adequate for many farm programs. For instance, funding for conservation districts, which provide assistance to farmers to implement conservation programs, have increased only 1 percent since 2005, despite increased demands stemming from Bay cleanup requirements.

CBF Pennsylvania Executive Director Matt Ehrhart commended the governor and General Assembly for providing more money for plant upgrades in a tight budget year. “It is disappointing, however, that the governor and General Assembly didn’t increase funding for agriculture, one of Pennsylvania’s leading industries and one of the largest sources of impairment to local rivers and streams.” Ehrhart said.