New Director Of DEP Chesapeake Bay Office Wants To Move Quickly On Implementation
Jill Whitcomb, DEP’s new Chesapeake Bay Office Director, said she is looking forward to using the high level of energy and stakeholder buy-in generated in developing Pennsylvania’s Chesapeake Bay Phase 3 Watershed Implementation Plan to move quickly on implementation.
Whitcomb said her background working for a county conservation district prepared her well to take on her current challenge.
“My career started at the local level. I worked with farmers and other landowners with an emphasis on solving problems and coming up with solutions that benefit them and the environment,” said Whitcomb. “I’ve expanded my relationship building skills in my years at DEP, working with agriculture, municipal, and construction industry stakeholders, and it remains an important part of my job.”
“We worked very hard with stakeholders to develop the [Chesapeake Bay] Watershed Implementation Plan. Their input and buy-in are its biggest strength,” she explained.
Whitcomb said she also hopes to build on the natural connection people have to their local waterways.
“Many people feel a strong attachment to their local streams and rivers. I’ve seen this first-hand. They want to enjoy the benefits of healthy waters now, in their lifetimes, and also preserve them for their future generations,” said Whitcomb. “The first benefits we will see implementing the Plan will be in Pennsylvania for our residents.”
She noted conservation of agricultural, natural, and scenic lands; mitigation of potential flooding; and increased habitat functions as some of those benefits.
A critical part of implementing the watershed plan is taking the lessons learned from the first four counties-- Lancaster, York, Adams and Franklin-- that piloted the county clean water planning process last summer and applying them to the next tier of counties—Bedford, Centre, Cumberland, and Lebanon—as they start their planning process.
“We are now focused on getting counties the people, funding and data management tools they need to take the next steps in implementing their plans,” said Whitcomb. “Another benefit of this approach is that many of the steps outlined in the Plan can also be implemented statewide, because we have water quality improvements to make across the state.”
“We learned from county leaders that more staff time needs to be devoted to their planning process,” Whitcomb said. “We will shortly be announcing funding to support local coordinators in the eight counties in Tier 1 and II to help them engage stakeholders in developing and implementing their plans for local water quality improvements.”
“The pilot counties also asked for more flexibility in getting funding to implement projects. We responded by offering block grants to the counties that have already developed their plans,” said Whitcomb.
Lancaster County is getting about $453,000; York, $137,000; and Franklin, about $100,000.
“In addition, we’re allocating funding out of the Growing Greener program specifically for projects in the Bay watershed,” Whitcomb said. “We want to maximize the use of all the resources we have to meet our obligations.”
But funding remains a key challenge. On the question of additional funding, Whitcomb pointed to Gov. Wolf’s proposed Restore Pennsylvania initiative and the PA Farm Bill just passed by the General Assembly last year.
“Restore Pennsylvania would provide significant funding for the kinds of local stream restoration projects we need to implement our [Chesapeake Bay] Watershed Implementation Plan,” said Whitcomb. “The Pennsylvania Farm Bill that just passed also provides funding targeted to the Chesapeake Bay Watershed in several different ways.”
On data management, “DEP is working with contractors to make sure the data systems meet the needs of the counties in terms of reporting all the good work they are doing,” said Whitcomb.
“Penn State will also be doing another survey of farmers this winter to gather more information on voluntary conservation measures they’ve installed that may count toward our pollution reduction obligations,” she noted.
A 2016 Penn State survey identified a variety of water quality best management practices that farmers in the watershed have voluntarily put in place.
“At the January 30 meeting of the [renamed] Phase 3 WIP State Team, we’ll review what we’ve recently accomplished toward our goal, discuss our implementation strategy, and outline next steps,” said Whitcomb.
“Everyone who served on the Steering Committee is staying on to serve on the State Team, with the exception of a few folks who retired from their positions,” Whitcomb said. “We very much appreciate their dedication in volunteering their time to be part of this effort.”
“I’m encouraged by the good momentum we have in Pennsylvania for the watershed and excited to move into the implementation phase and begin to see results,” she added.
The January 30 Phase III WIP State Team meeting will be in Room 105 of the Rachel Carson Building in Harrisburg from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m.
For those who cannot attend in person, Click Here to register to participate online via WebEx. Join by conference call by calling +1-415-655-003, 798 387 703.
For more information and available handouts, visit the DEP’s Pennsylvania Chesapeake Bay State Team webpage.
For more information on how Pennsylvania plans to meet its Chesapeake Bay cleanup obligations, visit DEP’s PA’s Phase 3 Watershed Implementation Plan webpage.
Click Here for a summary of the steps the Plan recommends.
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[Posted: January 24, 2020]
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