Pennsylvanians in November overwhelmingly approved a $400 million bond referendum to help pay for wastewater treatment plant upgrades in the Bay watershed as well as water and sewer infrastructure improvements across the state.

The funds, which are in addition to $800 million approved by the General Assembly earlier this year, will make $1.2 million dollars available for water and sewer improvements.

The bonds were approved by 62 percent of the voters.

"Pennsylvanians from different parts of the state and from all party affiliations overwhelmingly chose to create new jobs and make an important down payment on our economic future and the quality of life in our communities," said Gov. Ed Rendell. "Our water and sewer systems-as well as other critical components of our infrastructure-are in need of substantial investments to ensure quality, dependable services that will position our economy to grow."

The push for increased funding stemmed in large part from complaints by wastewater treatment plant operators in the Bay watershed who contended that they faced $1 billion in upgrade costs to meet Chesapeake cleanup requirements with little support from the state.

They noted that Maryland and Virginia funded large portions of the upgrade costs for treatment plants in their states. This summer, several dozen municipalities filed suit against the state protesting the costs. That suit remains unresolved.

"This was truly a victory for clean water and helping our water and sewage treatment systems meet state and federal clean water mandates," said John Brosious, of the Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association. "This down payment on clean water will help reduce costs for many drinking and wastewater system ratepayers across the commonwealth, [who were] facing the prospects of rates doubling or tripling over the next few years."

Although the money will be used statewide, Bay advocates hope the state will be able to pay about half of the costs for the roughly 180 facilities that need upgrades in the Chesapeake watershed.

A diverse group representing farmers, environmentalists, local officials and members of the building community-called the Fair Share for Clean Water Coalition-has spent months advocating for help from the state to meet Bay goals.

But members of the coalition said the vote was only a first step toward dealing with Bay-related pollution.

"The job of cleaning up our watersheds is not finished with this successful vote," said Robert J. Fisher of the Pennsylvania Builders Association, a member of the coalition. "We need to do much more to fund farm conservation projects that reduce nutrients going into our rivers and streams."

The coalition has also called for:

  • Reforms to the state's nutrient credit-trading program that will help make it a viable nutrient reduction alternative that can provide environmental improvements to the Bay and sufficient future sewage capacity for new development;
  • $50 million in direct cost-share aid to farmers to install conservation practices ($35 million for Resource Enhancement and Protection [REAP] farm tax credits and $15 million in cost-share grants);
  • $10 million to county conservation districts to expand technical assistance to farmers; and
  • $10 million to restore cuts to the Department of Agriculture budget in farm programs.

The coalition includes more than 45 farm and conservation groups, businesses and local government entities, including the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association, Pennsylvania Builders Association, Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts.