The 25-year effort primarily by Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia to clean up the Chesapeake Bay has been marked by repeated failures to achieve long-term pollution reduction goals. After acknowledging in 2008 that a goal set in 2000 to restore the bay to health by 2010 would also fall woefully short, the states agreed to a new date for achieving a restored bay – 2025. And for the first time, they agreed to hold themselves accountable to rigorous new two-year pollution reduction goals to allow them to measure their progress toward getting pollution down to levels that would clean up the waters of the bay and its tributaries.
The first day of reckoning arrived this year for the 2009-2011 milestone goals, and the states submitted reports to the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which oversees the Chesapeake Bay cleanup program, that reveal their success at keeping the bay cleanup on track. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and the Choose Clean Water Coalition (CCWC) released an analysis of those milestone reports to evaluate whether or not the states are on track in implementing key water pollution reduction strategies they are relying on to meet the goals. The groups noted general problems with data sources, some estimates and assumptions with all the agencies involved including the EPA. However, they were able to present a snapshot of where the states are in their cleanup efforts.
In Pennsylvania the Chesapeake Bay cleanup is primarily a Susquehanna River cleanup. The Susquehanna delivers 50 percent of the bay’s fresh water, so Pennsylvania needs to save the river to save the bay. The CBF/CCWC analysis shows that while Pennsylvania is making some progress in reducing pollution to the Susquehanna, the state is lagging in implementing some key cleanup measures it is counting on to reach the overall cleanup goals, most notably in getting farmers to meet some regulatory requirements. According to the analysis, Pennsylvania achieved only four out of ten key milestone goals.
Farmers who use manure as fertilizer are required to have nutrient management plans that detail how much manure they are spreading and how much nitrogen and phosphorus the crops use, and the Pennsylvania milestone goal was to have those plans for 129,250 acres of farmland. Pennsylvania missed this milestone - only 59 percent of those acres are covered by a nutrient management plan. That puts Pennsylvania only 7 percent of the way toward reaching the final 2025 goal. All farmers are required to have conservation plans designed to protect water quality. Pennsylvania’s two year goal was to get farmers to do conservation plans for 327,559 acres of farmland and Pennsylvania was able to reach only 46 percent of that goal and only 10 percent of the final 2025 goal.
Cities, towns and townships in the Susquehanna basin are having a hard time meeting the stormwater management goals and only achieved 1 percent of the two-year milestone. Putting stormwater controls in place can be prohibitively expensive for local governments. A lack of funding, confusion over what is required and a lack of good data are hampering the stormwater control efforts.
Pennsylvania made a lot of progress meeting its nutrient pollution reduction goals from wastewater treatment plants. Upgrades at sewage treatment plants have produced reductions greater than the 2-year milestone goal. In fact, sewage treatment plants have fully met the 2025 phosphorus pollution reduction goal.
The pollution that is degrading the Susquehanna and contributing to the decline of the bass is largely the same pollution that has degraded the bay. Pollution from agriculture, primarily the disposal of manure on farm fields, is still the biggest source of the river’s and the bay’s woes. It’s also the hardest to control as success depends on individual farmers adopting farming practices that reduce polluted runoff and soil erosion.
To clean up the river and save the bay, Pennsylvania will need to do even more to educate farmers about the new pollution control requirements, provide financial help to get pollution controls on the ground and then hold farmers accountable for implementing them.