HARRISBURG — Now that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has outlined its final “pollution diet” for states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, Pennsylvania’s top environmental and agriculture officials say the state is ready to do its part to improve water quality.
Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger and Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said Pennsylvania’s plan provides a reasonable assurance that it can clean up the water flowing into the bay while keeping industries in the watershed viable.
Hanger said that while the state has already reduced its nitrogen contributions to the bay by 28 percent, phosphorus by 46 percent, and sediment by between 38 and 46 percent, more work remains to be done.
The total maximum daily load, or TMDL, the EPA imposed today, he added, specifies the additional pollution reductions that are necessary to bring the bay back to good health. The EPA’s final, enforceable allocations call for Pennsylvania to reduce by 2025 annual nitrogen discharges to 76.8 million pounds; phosphorous discharges to 2.7 million pounds; and sediment to between 0.95-1.05 million tons per year.
“Pennsylvania has long been committed to doing its part to restore the bay’s health,” said Hanger. “We’ve reduced the pollution flowing into the Chesapeake from our waters by millions of tons. While wastewater treatment operators, developers and farmers can share some credit for these successes, there’s still work to be done. Our plan makes sure we do it in a way that keeps industries viable in the state, creates new opportunities, and is attainable and measurable.”
Pennsylvania’s plan, referred to as a watershed implementation plan, or WIP, calls for continuing existing programs that have proven effective and, in some cases, improving the capacity to track and expand those efforts; implementing new programs that take advantage of advanced and innovative technologies; and enhancing common sense compliance efforts, particularly for nonpoint sources such as agriculture and stormwater runoff from development.
Hanger noted that the state is not requiring wastewater treatment plants to make further reductions in line with a commitment DEP made in 2006 with its point source strategy. That strategy was incorporated into the state’s WIP.
“Wastewater treatment plants have made considerable investments to upgrade facilities and cut discharges,” said Hanger. “This plan does not place additional expectations on those facilities; it lays out a framework for ensuring other sectors of our economy are making their share of reductions.
“Every sector of our economy that has had a stake in this matter has had a seat at the table in developing this plan. We’re convinced we can achieve what’s expected of us.”
Pennsylvania will improve its ability to track nutrient and sediment reductions made by farmers and other land managers through the plan. Until now, usually only those best management practices, or BMPs, that were associated with a federal or state grant program were reported to the Bay Program, which meant many improvements went unnoticed.
“Many farmers voluntarily install conservation BMPs without state or federal financial assistance simply because they are good management decisions,” said Redding. “It is vitally important that these privately funded BMPs be identified and reported to ensure that the agricultural community’s nutrient and sediment reductions are fully credited.”
Improving communications and cooperation with farmers and partners like county conservation districts will be critical to the success of this effort, Redding added.
DEP recently funded a pilot tracking project in Lancaster and Bradford counties to better assess the type and level of BMPs farmers are implementing, and to explore the effectiveness of various tracking and reporting methods. The results will then be used to develop a uniform reporting tool to better capture the pollution reductions from these previously unreported efforts.
Pennsylvania’s plan also calls for using new and innovative technologies to reduce pollution. The state has proposed creating a $100 million program—funded by the federal government, states within the bay watershed and other key stakeholders—that would finance four to eight manure-to-energy projects, for example, each year. Each project could remove close to 1 million pounds of nitrogen from the Chesapeake Bay.
DEP and the Department of Agriculture have been working with a number of companies to look for ways to install technologies like manure treatment, methane digesters and electrical co-generation equipment on dairy, poultry and hog farms. These technologies can help reduce nutrient pollution while also producing electricity and marketable soil products that create additional revenue streams for farmers and rural communities.