In January, Pennsylvania announced a new, “rebooted” strategy to address its significant lack of progress in cleaning up polluted rivers and streams and to get back on track toward meeting its Clean Water Blueprint commitments.
But the budget proposed by Gov. Tom Wolf in early February lacks the resources to implement the new strategy and does not help the commonwealth meet its commitments. Pennsylvania has talked the talk, but needs to walk the walk.
Roughly 19,000 miles — 22 percent — of Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams are impaired, threatening the health, way of life and economic well-being of its citizens. According to the its Department of Environmental Protection, there are impaired waterways in each of the commonwealth’s 67 counties.
In 2010, the Bay states and the Environmental Protection Agency set pollution limits that would restore water quality in local rivers, streams and the Chesapeake Bay. Each state then developed its own plan to meet those limits. This came after almost 30 years of failed restoration efforts.
Maryland and Virginia have made progress toward meeting their clean water goals. But Pennsylvania is significantly off-track. After failing time and time again to live up to its commitments, substantial progress in reducing pollution is not possible in the state if it maintains status quo.
Agriculture is the leading source of pollution in the commonwealth, responsible for more than 5,800 miles of impairment — 30 percent. Efforts to reduce nitrogen and sediment pollution from agriculture and urban runoff in Pennsylvania are off-track by millions of pounds.
Pennsylvanians deserve and have a right to clean water.
According to the Blueprint, 60 percent of pollution reduction practices to restore local water quality in Pennsylvania and other Bay states are to be implemented by 2017, with 100 percent implementation by 2025.
Unfortunately, DEP Secretary John Quigley has acknowledged that the state will not meet its 2017 interim goal. As a result, the region will fall short of the 2017 goal as well.
Pennsylvania’s new clean water plan intends to create a culture of compliance by significantly increasing farm inspections in the state. At current DEP staffing levels, it would take more than 50 years for each farm to be inspected just once. The DEP intends to use conservation district staff and its own staff to accelerate its inspection rate to meet the EPA recommendation of inspecting 10 percent of the farms annually. Governor Wolf’s budget does not include sufficient increases in funding for either the conservation districts or DEP inspectors.
The new plan also calls for accelerating the planting of streamside buffers, the most affordable solution for filtering and reducing the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution. Again, the governor’s budget doesn’t include sufficient funding for accelerating buffer planting.
Congress, in the Clean Water Act, established consequences that the EPA may impose against states that fail to clean up their waters. Those consequences include withholding grant funding for upgrades to wastewater treatment plants, increased restrictions on industrial plant pollution discharges, and expanding the number and type of farms that are regulated. Recently, nearly $3 million in federal funding was withheld from Pennsylvania because it is well off-track in meeting its Blueprint goals. The money was restored when the commonwealth unveiled its new plan.
But, it is up to the EPA to ensure that Pennsylvania not only has a plan, but implements that plan. Otherwise, the water quality in local waters and in downstream state waters — Maryland and Virginia — will continue to degrade. That means the EPA must exercise the authority it was granted by Congress should Pennsylvania fail to meet the Blueprint goals and local water quality standards set by the commonwealth.
Living up to Pennsylvania’s clean water promises requires investment, leadership and commitment from leaders in Harrisburg. A good start would be a new round of Growing Greener funding to support the commonwealth’s efforts to reduce pollution and restore water quality.
Investing in clean water pays dividends. Conservation practices not only improve water quality, but can improve farm production and herd health; reduce nuisance flooding in communities; improve hunting and fishing; beautify urban centers; and even clean the air.
A 2014 economic analysis found that fully implementing Pennsylvania’s Clean Water Blueprint will increase the value of natural benefits by $6.2 billion annually.
Clean water counts in Pennsylvania.