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Donna Morelli is a staff writer for the Bay Journal based in Harrisburg. She's the former director of the Pennsylvania office of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Lancaster County, PA, releases preview of plan to reduce water pollution

County’s success at slashing nutrient pollution is critical to Chesapeake Bay cleanup

  • October 16, 2018

No location in the Chesapeake Bay watershed produces more animal manure than Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County, but farmers may need to stop applying that waste to fields during the winter under a locally produced plan aimed at meeting the county’s pollution reduction goals.A draft plan for reducing water pollution in Lancaster County, PA, includes proposals for reducing the application of manure to farmland. (Dave Harp)

Banning winter manure applications — long advocated by clean water advocates — is part of draft plan unveiled on Oct. 3 in a 3-page summary that calls for slashing overall manure applications in the county by 25 percent. Nutrients from animal manure, in the form of nitrogen and phosphorus, are a leading source of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and many of its tributaries.

The draft plan, produced by the Lancaster Clean Water Partners, a group of stakeholders from agriculture, business and government sectors, also calls for expanding cover crops by 40 percent, installing more stream buffers and increasing the use of no-till farming, among other actions.

It was the first preview of a watershed implementation plan written by one of the four counties piloting development of the local-scale plans in Pennsylvania, which is lagging badly in its Bay cleanup obligations. The draft was developed with help from the state Department of Environmental Protection, the EPA and the Susquehanna River Basin Commission.

Achieving nutrient reductions in Lancaster County is critical to the state’s success as monitoring data from the U.S. Geological Survey shows that it produces significantly more nitrogen runoff per acre than anywhere else in the Bay watershed.

Officials said that the plan would reduce the amount of nitrogen running into local streams by about 11 million pounds a year, but figures showing what portion of that reduction would benefit the Bay were not available.

The summary lists some general and specific goals but does not include detailed strategies outlining implementation and funding. The full draft plan is not yet complete and was not released to the public, but comments on the summary will be accepted online until Nov. 2.

“This document describes how we would reach the Bay goals, but we’re here to clean up our local water quality,” said Lancaster County Conservation District manager Christopher Thompson as he presented the summary to an audience of about 100 people. “Clean water benefits everyone and everyone has a role to play in cleaning it up.”

The federally-mandated “pollution diet” for the Chesapeake Bay, formally known as the total maximum daily load or TMDL, requires states in the Bay watershed to implement by 2025 all actions to needed to meet water quality standards. States are coming up on deadlines to update watershed implementation plans that describe how they will meet their goals, and the statewide plans will be based on localized county plans.

In Pennsylvania, 43 counties have land in the Bay watershed and are creating plans that the DEP will compile into the statewide draft plan due to the EPA in April.

The Lancaster plan addresses agriculture, stormwater, streamside buffers, stream restoration, land use and preservation, and data management. The proposal to end the land application of manure during winter includes a 5-8 year period to phase in the change and provide support to farmers for the transition. Other suggestions are to base permits on the watersheds of Susquehanna tributaries instead of political boundaries, encourage local land-use ordinances to better manage stormwater and protect existing streamside buffers, and launch an outreach program to plant 5,000 to 7,500 acres of new streamside buffers.

The draft also calls for securing 2,400 new up-to-date conservation plans for farms. And with those conservation plans, which have been required by law for more than 30 years, comes the expectation of actual implementation.

Peter Hughes, owner of Red Barn Consulting and a member of Lancaster Clean Water Partners, suggested that reducing nutrient pollution from animal manure can be at least partly solved by moving it out of the county to areas that need it for use as fertilizer.

“We don’t have a manure problem, we have a transportation problem,” Hughes said during the presentation. Transporting nutrients out of Lancaster County would help with the proposed goal of reducing the land application of manure in the county by 25 percent.

The complete draft plan, due to the DEP in November, is expected to include details on the needed pollution-prevention practices, targeted locations, resources needed or in-hand, and the organizations, governments or individuals responsible for completing different projects.

“The goal with the draft narrative was to get public input,” said Allyson Gibson, coordinator for Lancaster Clean Water Partners. “We want to know if people think if the plan is going to fly or maybe they know about research that was done 10 years ago that we should include.”

Financing the full slate of projects needed to meet the goals will likely be a challenge. DEP spokesperson Deborah Klenotic said that a workgroup is researching options for funding the work.

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About Donna Morelli
Donna Morelli is a staff writer for the Bay Journal based in Harrisburg. She's the former director of the Pennsylvania office of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).
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