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Lack Of Resources, New Cleanup Goals Will Make Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Harder In PA
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The PA Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Planning Steering Committee met for the first time Monday and immediately confronted two challenges: Pennsylvania does not have enough resources to meet current nutrient and sediment reduction goals and new milestones coming as early as June will mean even more reductions will be needed.

Charged with developing Phase 3 of Pennsylvania’s Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan, the Steering Committee will coordinate the work of at least 6 workgroups each with 10 or so members to come up with the plan.

The members of the Steering Committee now are: -- Patrick McDonnell (Chair), Acting Secretary, DEP; Rep. Garth Everett (R-Lycoming) (Chair), Chesapeake Bay Commission; Cindy Dunn, Secretary, Conservation and Natural Resources; Russell Redding, Secretary, Department of Agriculture; Karl Brown, Executive Secretary, State Conservation Commission; Andrew Dehoff, Executive Director, Susquehanna River Basin Commission, Carlton Haywood, Executive Director, Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin; Paul Marchetti, Executive Director, PA Infrastructure Investment Authority.

The members of the Steering Committee can be adjusted in the future, based on the needs of the program.

The draft list of workgroups and their chairs include--

-- Local Area Goals: Lisa Schaefer, Director of Government Relations, County Commissioners Association;

-- Stormwater: Felicia Dell, Director, York County Planning Commission;

-- Agriculture:  Matt Royer, Director, Penn State’s Agriculture & Environment Center;

-- Wastewater: John Brosious, Deputy Executive Director, PA Municipal Authorities Association;

-- Forestry/Riparian Buffers: Katie Ombalski, Woods and Water Consulting, formerly with ClearWater Conservancy; and

-- Funding: Rep. Garth Everett, Chair, PA Delegation to the Chesapeake Bay Commission or his designee.

The initial, draft Game Plan for Success calls for the workgroups to be put together in April and May and have a kick-off Watershed Implementation Plan Conference on June 5 in Harrisburg to solicit ideas for what should be in the Plan.

A key consideration in the planning process is meeting the expectations the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency laid out in an interim Expectations document on January 19, 2017.

Although no one at this point knows if those will change, the 4 major expectations are--

-- Numerical Reductions: Specify the programmatic and numeric implementation commitments between 2018 and 2025 needed to achieve their Phase III WIP planning targets;

-- Comprehensive Strategies: Commit to comprehensive strategies for engagement of the full array of their local, regional, and federal partners in WIP implementation;

-- Changed Conditions: By 2025, account for changed conditions due to climate change, Conowingo Dam infill and growth, and address any related additional level of effort; and

-- Local Reduction Goals: Develop and implement local planning goals below the state-major basin scales and in the form best suited for directly engaging local, regional and federal partners in WIP implementation.

Of particular importance, Acting DEP Secretary McDonnell and others emphasized, is how the Bay states were going to make up for the nutrient and sediment trapping normally done by the Conowingo Dam just across the Pennsylvania border in Maryland on the Susquehanna River.

The U.S. Geological Survey and others have documented the fact the Conowingo Dam is not trapping the nutrient and sediments it once did-- primarily from Pennsylvania and much smaller amounts from New York and Maryland.

As a result, the pollution now going over the dam will have to be allocated as reductions needed by the Bay states increasing their nutrient and sediment reduction goals.

In addition to the Conowingo Dam, Acting Secretary McDonnell said the other big increase in reduction allocations will probably come from the growth assumptions in the Bay modeling which account for conversion of farm and forest land by development.

Both those factors will increase the already significant nutrient and sediment reductions goals Pennsylvania and the other Bay states must achieve.

As highlighted in a presentation to the Steering Committee by Veronica Kasi, DEP Chesapeake Bay Program Manager, Pennsylvania must reduce nitrogen by 19 million pounds by the end of 2017 (which Pennsylvania is not going to meet) and by a total of 34 million pounds by 2025.

Agriculture will likely be responsible for much more than 80 percent of these nitrogen reductions. Agriculture will also be responsible for 76 percent of the phosphorus reductions needed.

Not mentioned, but equally challenging, are the reductions needed for sediment pollution.  Pennsylvania has not meet its sediment pollution reduction goal since 2009.

In 2014, Pennsylvania was contributing over 2.618 billion pounds of sediment pollution to the Chesapeake Bay.  By 2025, Pennsylvania is to reduce its sediment pollution load to 1.9 billion pounds.

Just for perspective, between 1985 and 2015 Pennsylvania reduced phosphorus by 25 percent (1.4 million pounds), sediment by 15 percent (433.8 million pounds) and nitrogen by 6 percent (11.57 million pounds), respectively, according to DEP.

DEP concluded its update on the progress being made in Pennsylvania by pointing out “The technical assistance/compliance infrastructure, costs share funding are not in place to deliver these needed reductions (emphasis theirs).”

[Note: The primary reason Pennsylvania is not meeting its nutrient and sediment reduction goals is because funding for on-the-ground farm conservation and other watershed improvement projects has been cut by 75 percent over the last 14 years in programs like Growing Greener by the General Assembly and Governors since 2003.

[The only time a small portion of funding was restored in Growing Greener Program, for example, was with the adoption of Act 13 and the drilling impact fees during the Corbett Administration.

[If those investments would have continued at 2002 levels instead of siphoned off to build things like a parking garage in Scranton (according to a Joint Legislative Budget and Finance Committee report) and windmills or to balance the state budget, Pennsylvania would be in a much different place right now.

[Meanwhile, during that same period of time, the General Fund budget for the General Assembly increased by 21 percent since 2003.

[Several Steering Committee members commented that Pennsylvania has not been doing its part to meet Chesapeake Bay and water quality improvement goals statewide for some time, but wanted to focus on the task that lies ahead, not point fingers.

[The proposed Trump Administration elimination of funding for its share of the Chesapeake Bay Program was mentioned by several Steering Committee members as another challenge Pennsylvania and the Bay states must overcome.]

Kasi also highlighted the fact that because Pennsylvania has not met the existing goals for reducing nitrogen and sediment, EPA announced last year it will develop its own goals for reducing nutrients and sediment in Pennsylvania in addition to whatever other goals there may be.

Kasi noted the new, basic nutrient and sediment goals Pennsylvania must meet will probably come out in draft form as early as June and should be finalized by the end of 2017. 

States are required to submit draft Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plans to EPA in August of 2018 with final Plans due by December 2018.

Kasi said there will be multiple opportunities for stakeholders and the public to be involved in Pennsylvania’s planning process over the next 20 months.

As background, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed in Pennsylvania covers about two-thirds of the Commonwealth.

The next meeting of the Steering Committee will be on May 8 in Room 105 of the Rachel Carson Building in Harrisburg starting at 1:00 p.m.

Click Here for a copy of the draft Game Plan For Success.  Click Here for a copy of Veronica Kasi’s presentation to the Committee.  Click Here for a copy of the Steering Committee agenda and draft overview of its task assignments.  Click Here for a copy of EPA’s Interim Expectations for the Phase III Watershed Implementation Plans.

For more information, visit DEP’s Watershed Implementation Plans and Chesapeake Bay Program Office webpages.

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[Posted: April 4, 2017]


4/10/2017

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