EPA Needs to Act on States' Inability to Reach Nutrient Goals

 

Bill Portlock
Photo by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff.

The following first appeared in the Bay Journal.

Since 2010, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has applauded the transparency, accountability and consequences built into the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. But like any three-legged stool, take one leg away and it falls.

It is the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council's job to establish the policies and financing for the restoration and protection of the Bay and its living resources and to be accountable to the public for progress, or lack thereof. The EPA's recent interim milestone assessment suggests that the Bay cleanup is dramatically off course: Since 2009, Bay states have achieved only 29 percent of the nearly 41 million pounds of nitrogen reductions needed by 2017.

When the council meets on July 23, its actions will determine if the stool continues to stand, or whether we are in danger of repeating the decades of failed restoration efforts from the first three Bay agreements. The disappointing progress to date suggests that the stool might soon fall. The council must soon take corrective action, or the legacy of an improving Bay will be lost once again.

Although both Virginia and Maryland are making progress, the EPA's recent assessment suggests that both states face shortfalls.

Virginia missed its target for both nitrogen and phosphorus from urban/suburban runoff. And because of changes in farming production and expected increases in Virginia's poultry industry, the state might have to achieve additional reductions from agriculture.

Because Virginia's plan calls for achieving 79 percent of its pollution reduction from agriculture, CBF calls on the McAuliffe administration to ensure that farmers across the state fence livestock out of streams and plant trees to restore streamside buffers. These and other proven conservation practices not only protect streams and rivers but also boost livestock health and farm bottom lines.

Virginia must also increase funding to help localities reduce polluted runoff from streets, parking lots, lawns and buildings. Urban and suburban runoff is one of the few increasing sources of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in Virginia.

Maryland data show phosphorus pollution increasing in the Choptank watershed, and the EPA recommends that Maryland consider additional reductions.

With regards to nitrogen pollution, the state missed its 2014 milestone for both agriculture and urban/suburban runoff. The job will not get easier, as new information from the United States Department of Agriculture agricultural census, and population and land use data put Maryland off track to meet its overall nitrogen goals. As in Virginia, polluted runoff from streets, rooftops, and other impervious surfaces remains a pressing issue.

Pennsylvania is the greatest source of nitrogen pollution and missed the mark on its 2012–13 milestones and again in its 2014 nitrogen milestone goal. Not surprisingly, the largest shortfalls are in reducing nitrogen pollution from agriculture and urban/suburban runoff.

The shortfall in Pennsylvania is huge. When we look at how Bay states are coming up short, Pennsylvania is responsible for more than 75 percent of that deficit. And more than 80 percent of Pennsylvania's share of the shortfall comes from agriculture.

While Gov. Tom Wolf and his administration inherited the commonwealth's water quality problems, they are nonetheless responsible for implementing solutions. Pennsylvania needs to aggressively advance efforts to ensure farmers are complying with existing laws. At the current rate of inspections, it will take more than 150 years for each farm in the Bay watershed to be inspected once.

Given that Pennsylvania has repeatedly missed its nitrogen goals, CBF is also calling on the federal government to take action. In 2009, the EPA outlined the consequences that it could impose if jurisdictions do not implement the plans. It is time for the EPA to impose the backstops to ensure pollution is reduced.

The USDA also has a key role to play. President Obama's Executive Order committed the USDA to target funding to key watersheds to assist states in meeting two-year milestones. The USDA must, therefore, target technical and financial resources to help Pennsylvania achieve its goals.

The governors of Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania will all be in office when the 2017 deadline is reached. Their legacy will be determined by the actions they take over the next two years. Their actions need to be solely focused on implementing the Blueprint. The Executive Council can never state that it didn't have adequate forewarning about the challenges we face.

—Will Baker, CBF President

Tell your Governor and EPA in advance of the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council's meeting on July 23 that clean water restoration must move forward!

 


We're Halfway There: Fort Stover Farm


Gibson June 2015 (Page Co CD6)This is one in a series of articles about farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed who have implemented Best Management Practices (BMPs) to improve water quality and efficiency on their farms. As a result of these success stories, we're halfway to achieving the nutrient reductions needed to restore the Chesapeake Bay and its waters. View the rest of the series here.

John Gibson is a man of the river. He founded one of the first canoe companies on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River in 1974. He has been sharing the beauty of the river with others ever since.

In 1980 he was floating down the river and noticed an abandoned stone house on a bluff on the east side of the river. Research, perseverance, and being at the right place at the right time gave John the opportunity to buy the 1769 German "Flurkuchenhaus" (AKA hall-kitchen house) just one year later.

Eventually he acquired the surrounding farm and placed both the historic house and land in an open space easement with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. These cultural and natural resources are now protected forever from development.

"I bought a subdivision and turned it into a farm," Gibson laughs. "It can be done . . . turning it around. When we bought the farm it was divided into 243 lots, and cattle roamed all over the place. The tenant farmer's cows would wander up- and downriver and cross the river onto other people's property—it was a real nightmare."

Fort Stover Farm has a mile and a half of river frontage. One of Gibson's first conservation efforts was erecting a fence to keep the cows out of the river.

"As soon as we put a fence up along the river, the 1985 flood took it out. I decided then to get the cows out of the flood plain all together and just use it for hay," he says.

Gibson converted 50 acres of pasture to permanent hay and no longer worries about a flood taking out one of his fences. To water the cows he installed two alternative watering stations. This was all done without state or federal cost-share assistance.

"Being on the river, I saw firsthand the damage cattle do to stream banks," Gibson said, adding, "It's a negative aspect to my customer's adventure on the river."

Today, Fort Stover Farm produces not only healthier cows but also cleaner water and a more pleasant float down the South Fork of the Shenandoah River.

—Bobby Whitescarver  
Whitescarver lives in Swoope, Va. For more information, visit his website.

A week from today our Bay cleanup leaders will be meeting in Washington. Send them a message before they meet urging they fully commit to the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint and to providing farmers with the necessary assistance they need to make their farms and our waters healthier.

 


This Week in the Watershed

DennyMotsko_1200
Clean water is in our grasp with the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. The Blueprint recently withstood a legal challenge from powerful special interest groups. Photo by Danny Motsko.

Conflict, and particularly conflict against a strong opposition, is fundamental to every good story. The story of saving the Bay is no different. Over the past several decades, voluntary commitments by states to clean their waterways were never met. Indeed, in a sea of good intentions, the water only became more polluted.

Enter the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. The states in the watershed agreed to two-year incremental milestones of pollution reduction, with the EPA having the enforcement power to impose consequences for failure. Finally, the fight for clean water had some teeth. Shortly thereafter however, powerful special interests with enormous influence attacked the new agreement.

Led by the American Farm Bureau Federation, national agricultural and development industry groups challenged the Blueprint's pollution limits in court. In September 2013, Judge Sylvia Rambo ruled affirming the legality of the Blueprint. The fight continued as the Farm Bureau group appealed Rambo's decision, this time joined by attorneys general from 21 states supporting their efforts.

A new, and hopefully final, chapter in this conflict was written on Monday, with the Third Circuit Court of Appeals denying the Farm Bureau group appeal. With this victory for clean water the work to save the Bay and it's rivers and streams continues, focusing our efforts on the implementation of the Blueprint—the Bay's best, and perhaps last chance, for real restoration.

This week in the Watershed: A Historic Victory for Clean Water, Restoring Streams, and Loving Trees

  • As already noted, the big news this week was the court ruling upholding the legality of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. With such big news and accompanying coverage, it deserves a list of its own: CBF Press Release, Associated Press, Washington Post, Think Progress, Baltimore Sun, Bay Journal
  • We couldn't agree more with this editorial, claiming the need of the EPA's enforcement powers for the success of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. (Richmond Times-Dispatch—VA)
  • Arlington County in northern Virginia has been doing great work around stream restoration. (Arlington Connection—VA)
  • As reported last week, CBF went to court in Virginia, suing the state to fence farm animals out of streams. Jon Mueller, CBF VP for Litigation, argued on July 2, "We got to where we are today [with a polluted Bay] because [agreements to clean the Bay] were non-binding." (Richmond Times-Dispatch—VA)
  • Harry Campbell, CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director, discusses the importance of trees in the fight for clean water. (The Sentinel—PA)

What's Happening around the Watershed?

July 11

  • Enjoy a leisurely guided hike along the Gwynns Falls Trail through Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park. A guest speaker will bring to life the history of this the second largest urban park in the country. Click here to register! Deadline to register is July 7.

July 16

  • Attend the U.S. Green Building Council's National Capital Region's "A Midnight Summer's Dream" Gala. This annual fundraiser has been the premier summer networking event for the DC metro area’s green building community for over a decade. Click here for more information!

July 23

  • Join CBF for an evening of exploring the unique and beautiful lower Susquehanna River. Explore a unique stretch of the Susquehanna, paddling by plants and animals that call these unique ecosystems home while discussing how land use and pollution have affected the overall habitat of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Click here to register!

July 25

  • Folks on the Eastern Shore of Virginia are invited to learn about native plant landscaping at an exciting, educational event: "Trees, Bees, and Clean Water: Connecting the Dots." Experts will help attendees learn about the pollinating power of birds, butterflies, and bees, how to landscape to reduce polluted runoff, how to build a rain garden, and more! Space is limited and registration is required. E-mail Tatum Ford at TFord@cbf.org to reserve your spot!
  • Get on the water with a kayak trip on Bear Creek, near Baltimore. A unique experience on urban waters, you will see the impact of suburban development on the land and water, paddle close to the infamous Sparrows Point, and hear from a local environmental group about what's being done in the area. Click here to register! Deadline to register is July 17.

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


Remembering Libby Norris

Libby NorrisThe Chesapeake Bay Foundation is greatly saddened by the passing of Libby Norris, CBF's Virginia watershed restoration scientist and agricultural specialist for the past 14 years, after battling breast cancer.

Libby was highly regarded across the state for her knowledge of farming, conservation practices, and technical assistance programs that help farmers reduce runoff pollution. She built a CBF program that has assisted hundreds of Virginia's farmers, fenced miles and miles of streams, and planted thousands of acres of stream buffers and wetlands. Quite simply, thanks to Libby's good work, today there are more healthy rivers and streams, more fish, crabs, and oysters, and more clean water for all of us across Virginia.

But more than that, Libby was beloved by everyone who knew and worked with her. Famous for her good nature and ready smile, Libby befriended farm families in the Shenandoah Valley and beyond. She earned farmers' trust and provided them not only exceptional technical help but also a personal connection to the Bay.

Libby with Valley Farmer
Libby worked tirelessly with farmers across the Commonwealth.

She also got to know Bay watermen on remote Tangier Island, and hosted many farmer trips to Tangier as well as brought watermen to the Valley to meet farmers. She instinctively recognized that these two groups had more in common than they did differences and sought to build shared understanding.

Throughout her work, Libby always had two priorities: people and the environment. We at CBF know she was truly a very rare and special person who always thought of everyone on the team. She was a great teacher, mentor, and friend who remained positive no matter the challenges she faced.

Libby is survived by her husband David, daughters Colby and Dylan, her mother, brother, and a host of other friends and relatives.

One of the farmers who worked with Libby perhaps said it best:

"In life she was an inspiration to so many, a voice of reason in a sea of angry debate. In death she will be remembered as one who suffered without complaining and brought a smile wherever she went. Her legacy will be the bridges she built between opposing factions, and her headstone will be 10,000 trees growing across the Commonwealth, reminding us of what one individual can accomplish with vision and determination."

 

Watch our Farmers to the Bay—We're All in This Together video to see how Libby was so instrumental in connecting with farmers and watermen alike on critical clean water issues.

 


This Week in the Watershed

Cattle_stream
Fencing animals out of streams is one of the most effective solutions in improving water quality. Photo by Justin Black/iLCP.

The work to save the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams can be extremely complex. From wastewater treatment plant upgrades to stormwater retrofits, some of the solutions are big, intricate projects that are downright expensive. At the same time, many of the solutions—often in agriculture, the  biggest source of pollution and least expensive to reduce—are surprisingly straightforward and economical.

One of these solutions is fencing animals out of streams. This prevents streamside erosion and keeps manure out of our waterways, making a dramatic difference. In Virginia however, the state is failing to protect its streams, rivers, and the Bay by allowing animals from large livestock farms unfettered access to streams. We're taking the state to court, asking that stream fencing, one of the most effective best management practices, is implemented and enforced on all large livestock farms.

In the end, ideas are only as good as their execution. Throughout the watershed we will continue to fight for common sense solutions to save the Bay and its rivers and streams for us and future generations.

This week in the Watershed: Going to Court for Fences, Pennsylvania, and Solar

  • CBF's Merrill Center is getting 370 solar panels installed on its roof! The project will reduce the building's energy usage by 30 percent. (Capital Gazette—MD)
  • CBF is suing the state of Virginia to require large livestock operations to fence off rivers and streams from their animals. (Associated Press)
  • More info on CBF's legal action to challenge Virginia's rules for large livestock farms. (CBF Press Release—VA)
  • As has been reported, Pennsylvania is off track on pollution reduction. (York Dispatch—PA)
  • There is a clear consensus that Pennsylvania needs to accelerate its pollution reduction efforts. (Republican Herald Editorial—PA)
  • Harry Campbell, CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director, writes that while Pennsylvania has fallen behind on its clean water commitments, there's still time for Pennsylvania to get back on track. (York Dispatch—PA)
  • CBF President Will Baker discusses the critical importance of the Susquehanna River and the need to save it for both Pennsylvanians and the Chesapeake Bay. (Huffington Post)

What's Happening around the Watershed?

July 9

  • 10,000 potted trees at CBF's Clagett Farm's Native Tree and Shrub Nursery need a little TLC! Come volunteer to help maintain these trees that will eventually be planted as a buffer against erosion, and a way to mitigate nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment runoff into the Bay! Contact David Tana at MDRestoration@cbf.org to register.

July 11

  • Enjoy a leisurely guided hike along the Gwynns Falls Trail through Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park. A guest speaker will bring to life the history of this the second largest urban park in the country. Click here to register! Deadline to register is July 7.

July 16

  • Attend the U.S. Green Building Council's National Capital Region's "A Midnight Summer's Dream" Gala. This annual fundraiser has been the premier summer networking event for the DC metro area’s green building community for over a decade. Click here for more information!

July 25

  • Folks on the Eastern Shore of Virginia are invited to learn about native plant landscaping at an exciting, educational event: "Trees, Bees, and Clean Water: Connecting the Dots." Experts will help attendees learn about the pollinating power of birds, butterflies, and bees, how to landscape to reduce polluted runoff, how to build a rain garden, and more! Space is limited and registration is required. E-mail Tatum Ford at TFord@cbf.org to reserve your spot!

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


Pennsylvania Leaders Must Step up to Meet Clean Water Commitments

The following first appeared in the York Dispatch.

Lenz_1200
Agriculture and polluted runoff from sprawl development are two of the leading causes of water pollution in Pennsylvania. Photo by Garth Lenz.

The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) latest assessment of Pennsylvania's efforts to reduce pollution and restore its waterways that flow to the Chesapeake Bay, finds that the Commonwealth has fallen dangerously short of meeting its clean water commitment.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) believes now is the time to galvanize leadership from all sectors of government, including federal partners like the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), farmers and others, to truly invest in correcting the current course and reducing pollution.

As part of the Clean Water Blueprint, Bay states developed two-year incremental pollution reduction targets, called milestones, with the goal of implementing 60 percent of the programs and practices necessary to restore local water quality by 2017 and finish the job by 2025.

EPA's review of Pennsylvania's reported progress in its 2014-15 milestones found that while on track for phosphorus reduction, there are significant shortfalls in meeting nitrogen and sediment pollution goals.

The EPA found the most significant shortfall to be in reducing nitrogen and sediment pollution from agriculture. To get back on track, the Commonwealth must reduce nitrogen pollution by an additional 14.6 million pounds, or 22 percent, by the end of this year.

The report also shows that reducing pollution fromurban/stormwater runoff is off track. Using 2009 as a baseline, Pennsylvania committed to reducing nitrogen pollution from urban/suburban runoff by 41 percent by 2025. As of 2014, practices were put in place to reduce nitrogen pollution by only one percent.

The wastewater treatment sector has exceeded its obligations.

Agriculture is the leading cause of stream impairment, damaging more than 5,000 miles as a result of polluted runoff and eroded streambanks. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), 166 miles of York County's streams are impaired by agricultural activities.

Agriculture is also one of the least expensive sources of pollution to reduce. Farmers benefit from measures that improve water quality. For example, valuable soils and nutrients are kept on the fields with conservation tillage and cover crops.

In York County, 134 stream miles are impaired due to polluted runoff from urban and suburban development, according to DEP. Recent efforts to develop a regional plan to address the issue, led by the York County Planning Department, promise cost-effective solutions which can reduce flooding and beautify communities.

After decades of missing deadlines, Pennsylvania faces federal consequences for falling behind its clean water commitments. If efforts to reduce pollution in the Commonwealth are not meaningfully advanced, there could be significant impacts to taxpayers from increased sewage treatment costs and other actions.

Clean water counts. The health and economic benefits of achieving our clean water goals are huge. A peer-reviewed report produced by CBF showed a $6.2 billion return on investment if the Commonwealth meets its commitments.

There's still time for Pennsylvania to get back on track, if the accelerated effort begins now. Restoring water quality is a legacy worth leaving our children and future generations.

—Harry Campbell, CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director

Are you a resident of Pennsylvania? Make your voice heard, and tell your County Commissioners to pass a resolution saying Clean Water Counts in Pennsylvania!


A Huge Job Ahead

Asylum_Township
The Susquehanna River near French Azilum. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A version of the following originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Save the Bay Magazine. What appears below is a slight update.

Ten thousand years ago, before the last ice age receded, a river, not yet named the Susquehanna, emptied into the ocean 30 to 50 miles to the east of what is now Hampton Roads, Virginia. The continental shelf was all dry land back then.

The ocean levels rose, flooding the coastal low lands until the current coastline was set. The banks of that river also flooded, forming what is now the tidal main stem of the Chesapeake Bay.

So think of it this way: The Chesapeake is no more than the tidal section of the Susquehanna River. The connections between the upstream, free-flowing portion of the Susquehanna and the tidal section down river (the Bay) are inseparable.

The free-flowing part of the Susquehanna supplies a full 50 percent of all the fresh water entering the tidal Chesapeake—the equivalent of all the other rivers combined.

From its beginnings in Cooperstown, New York, the river runs 444 miles until it crosses the fall line and becomes tidal at Havre de Grace, Maryland. All totaled, there are 36,000 miles of streams and creeks in the Susquehanna network. As Susan Stranahan wrote in her epic Susquehanna: River of Dreams, "No other eastern U.S. river delivers more water to the Atlantic Ocean than the Susquehanna. On an average day, that amounts to 25 billion gallons, enough water to supply the needs of every household in the United States, with a billion gallons left over."

The Susquehanna's fresh water is critical to the health and function of the estuary. In fact, the very definition of an estuary is routed in the collision of fresh and salt water. That collision can create a unique and rich ecosystem. From CBF's Bay "textbook," Turning the Tide, an estuary is, "capable of sustaining more life, more productivity for its size than virtually any other place on Earth."

Essential fresh water, yes, but the mighty Susquehanna delivers something else to the Bay—lots of pollution. On an annual basis, some 117 million pounds of nitrogen, 4.4 million pounds of phosphorus, and a whopping 2.4 billion pounds of sediment. Every year.

Pennsylvania itself designates 20 percent of the roughly 86,000 miles of its streams in the Commonwealth as "impaired." Forty percent of the impaired rivers and streams that serve as a source for drinking water are impaired because of agricultural runoff. Although this water is treated, cleaner water at the source would be easier and less costly to treat. In addition, up to 60 percent of the wells in the lower Susquehanna watershed have nitrate levels above human health standards. 

Watershed wide, agriculture is the leading source of pollution.

Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania has inherited a regulatory program that is not enforcing current laws. Only five inspectors are employed to review the practices of over 45,000 farms. At the current rate of five inspectors, it would take about 170 years to inspect all of Pennsylvania's farms just once.

Something has to change.

There is a huge job ahead for Pennsylvania. In order to comply with its Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint commitments and Clean Water Act mandates, the Commonwealth has declared that it must reduce more than 70 percent its nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution by the end of 2017. This will be a huge challenge. It is also one that will pay equally enormous environmental and economic benefits for Pennsylvanians as well as for Maryland and Virginia residents downstream. 

According to CBF's economic report, fully implementing the Blueprint will deliver an annual increase of more than $6.2 billion in ecosystem services to Pennsylvania and, region wide, over $22 billion annually.

Throughout the Bay's six-state, 64,000-square-mile watershed, there are significant challenges ahead. But just as Pennsylvania proudly owns the vast majority of the free-flowing Susquehanna, so too is it responsible for the largest share of pollution reduction required to save the Bay. We are heartened by the Wolf Administration's commitment to address these challenges, a commitment that we will not only encourage, but monitor.

—Will Baker, CBF President

Learn more about EPA's latest assessment of Pennsylvania's pollution-reduction efforts, and how it is dangerously behind on its commitments. Then stand up for clean water across Pennsylvania and beyond by taking action here!

 


This Summer, the Crab Bake You Save May Be Your Own

The following first appeared in the Patriot News.

Blue Crab in Widgeon Grass Bed_1200
Grassy habitats are critical for blue crab survival. Photo by Jay Fleming/iLCP.

Crab cakes. Crab soup. Crab Imperial.

Encrusted with a favorite seasoning or lightly broiled as cakes, by the pound or by the bushel, we love our crab meat.

Blue crabs are one of the tastiest and more resilient species that come from the Chesapeake Bay and their fate is the hands of Pennsylvanians.

The good news is total numbers of blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay are up slightly this year, after the 2012-2013 survey indicated a drastic loss down to 300 million.

The 2015 Chesapeake Bay winter crab dredge survey shows populations of juvenile and adult blue crabs have gone up to 411 million. Most notable is how adult females have clawed their way from 68 million to 100 million.

Blue crab populations fluctuate because of a witch's brew of factors like severe winters, the harvest, and pollution.

Chesapeake Bay watermen supply as much as one-third of the nation's blue crabs each year. About 75 percent of the Bay's adult blue crab stock is harvested. As for Mother Nature, there is little any of us can do to control the weather.

But pollution control is within our grasp. Driven by our commitment at CBF to improve water quality in Pennsylvania as well as the Bay, we cannot think of delicious crab meat without also thinking of crabgrass.

A dense lawn is one of the more effective barriers against what many Americans consider intrusive and offensive crabgrass.

Applying lawn fertilizer can help get the job done. But the runoff of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment is the leading cause of impairment of 19,000 miles of Pennsylvania waterways.

Agriculture is the largest source of that pollution. Urban and suburban runoff are also key sources.

Pennsylvania delivers half of the freshwater that flows into the Bay. It's easy to see how what we do in Pennsylvania, through agriculture and what we put onto our lawns, affects the health of the Bay and its blue crabs.

The presence of nitrogen and phosphorus in the Bay encourages the explosive growth of algae. Algal blooms darken the water and block light, killing underwater grasses that re-oxygenate the water and provide critical shelter for crabs.

"Dead zones" are formed when blooms fed by polluted runoff quickly die and decay, sucking up oxygen. In order to find oxygen, crabs move to shallow waters where they are caught more easily.

These "Dead zones" also destroy or inhibit the growth of clams and worms, an important food source for crabs.

The Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint is a plan that sets pollution limits for Pennsylvania and the Bay.

Pennsylvania has developed an individual plan to achieve those pollution reduction goals and committed to two-year milestones that outline the actions it will take to achieve success.

Achieving pollution reduction goals and improving water quality in Pennsylvania, with a sensitivity toward how we handle pollution, can ensure an ecosystem in the Bay that supports a healthy blue crab population.

—Harry Campbell, CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director

Are you a resident of Pennsylvania? Make your voice heard, and tell your County Commissioners to pass a resolution saying Clean Water Counts in Pennsylvania!


Partnerships on Susquehanna County Farm Advance

Cattle-fence-1200
Fencing cattle out of streams is critical for both water quality and the cattle themselves. Photo by BJ Small/CBF Staff.

Beef cattle lounge in the shaded corner of a trampled barnyard near fencing that shields fresh grass and a newly-planted swath of seedlings on both sides of the narrow creek. Up the slope and north of the barn, workers hammer away at the framework for the concrete of a manure storage area. Orange flagging marks parameters of a new, adjacent concrete barnyard.

The Bennett farm on Toad Hollow Road, near Montrose, Susquehanna County, is a hub of activity by local, state and federal partnerships intent on improving farm efficiency, maintaining the health of the herd, and protecting the water quality of Roe Creek that ambles through the property.

Less than a year after fencing was installed and trees were planted in the spring, progress is easy to see. "The stream banks will show the most immediate improvement," Chesapeake Bay Foundation restoration specialist Jennifer Johns said. "Beef cattle, weighing an average of 1,500 pounds can do substantial damage to the banks. Their exclusion alone will decrease sediment loss significantly."

Claude Bennett, now 80, ran the farm starting in 1953. He bought it in 1964 when he was told the only way he could get a loan to put an addition onto the barn, was to own it. He milked cows on it until 1984. His son, Terry, has taken over daily operations of the 240-acre property and is actively participating in restoration. Today the farm grows mostly hay, and sells only a few cows.

"We're doing this to keep the streams clean and keep the nitrogen back out of the streams," Terry Bennett said of the fencing. "People look at it and say 'why did you fence the creek?' We did it to keep the cattle back away from the creek."

Forested buffers, like the one along Roe Creek, are among the most cost-effective pollution-reduction tools. Streamside trees trap and filter nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment, Pennsylvania's most problematic pollutants, before they can run off into waters like Roe Creek, the Susquehanna River, and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay.

CBF assisted with the planting 1,400 trees and shrubs on 12 acres, creating forested buffers along the creek and on a hillside. Funding came from the Commonwealth's Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). CREP pays 90 to 140 percent of the installation cost and annual rent, which is usually $40 to $240 per acre, per year.

The Bennett project also qualified for CBF's Buffer Bonus program and a Growing Greener grazing grant, which earned it $27,500 to go toward the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) for the barnyard and grazing practices that are not cost shared. EQIP provides financial and technical assistance and is funded by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

CBF, Pheasants Forever, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), USDA, and Susquehanna County Conservation District joined forces to provide technical and financial support.

CBF collaborated with DEP on installation of more than 7,700 feet of fencing to keep the 80 cows and 30 calves out of 77 acres that includes the creek and woodlots.

"Funding sources come and go, but ambitious counties work collaboratively with their partners to piecemeal and piggyback available programs to make the projects workable and affordable," Jennifer Johns added. "Partnering with agencies like the local conservation districts, Pheasants Forever, NRCS, and DEP is critical and just makes sense. So many successful projects would not have been completed without these valued and essential partners."

Runoff of nutrients and sediment, particularly from agriculture, is the largest source of impairment to Pennsylvania waterways. Best Management Practices (BMPs) like those at the Bennett farm advance efforts to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution and meet the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

The Blueprint includes science-based limits on the pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams. It also includes Pennsylvania's plans to achieve those limits and a commitment to two-year milestones that outline the actions it will take to achieve success. The Commonwealth must have 60 percent of its practices in place by 2017 and 100 percent by 2025.

Pennsylvania must continue to move forward in its commitment to reduce pollution by implementing BMPs like those on the Bennett farm. Clean water is a legacy worth leaving future generations.

—B.J. Small, CBF's Pennsylvania Media and Communications Coordinator

Are you a resident of Pennsylvania? Make your voice heard, and tell your County Commissioners to pass a resolution saying Clean Water Counts in Pennsylvania!


When They're Debating the Budget, Wolf and Lawmakers Can't Forget Chesapeake Bay

The following first appeared in the Patriot News.

Boyincreek_1200
A boy takes a dip in a creek near Lightstreet, PA. Photo by Michelle Yost.

Amid budget discussions about a natural gas severance tax, increasing personal income and sales taxes, escalating education spending, and infusing distressed pensions, Rep. Garth Everett, R-Lycoming, wanted to know how the Wolf administration plans to meet Pennsylvania's obligation for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.

At the House Appropriations Committee hearing on March 11, Acting Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Quigley agreed that the Commonwealth is off-target for achieving its cleanup milestones and acknowledged the need to "reboot" efforts on behalf of the Bay.

Gov. Tom Wolf's proposed budget includes funding increases for the departments of Environmental Protection, Conservation and Natural Resources, and Agriculture.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is anxious to learn how those investments will be prioritized and progress accelerated toward meeting the Commonwealth's water quality commitments.

Now part of the appropriations dialog, the critical nature of meeting milestones set forth in the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint must be more than an afterthought.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation urges Wolf and legislators to honor the Commonwealth's commitment when imminent, tough decisions are to be made.

The Clean Water Blueprint for roughly half of the rivers and streams in Pennsylvania that make up the Chesapeake Bay watershed, is a combination of science-based pollution limits for waterways and state-devised cleanup plans, and two-year milestones.

By the end of 2017, the Commonwealth must have 60 percent of the pollution practices outlined in the Blueprint in place.

Unfortunately, a number of recent assessments by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), CBF, and the Choose Clean Water Coalition have all concluded that Pennsylvania's efforts to meet commitments are falling short in key areas—agricultural and urban/suburban polluted runoff.

But Pennsylvania's deficiencies on reducing pollution from agriculture are particularly worrisome.

Let's be clear: Pennsylvania's farmers have made substantial progress in reducing pollution in the last 30 years. We commend them for that. But the science indicates that more needs to be done to clean up our rivers and streams.

In fact, agricultural activities are the largest source of pollution to the Commonwealth's rivers, streams, and the Bay. But on average, it's also the least expensive source of pollution to reduce.

Still, there are estimates that no more than 30 percent of farmers are currently meeting Pennsylvania's existing clean water laws. Some of these rules have been in place for 20 or more years.

A recent EPA report concluded that ensuring farms are meeting existing clean water laws would substantially increase pollution reduction.

But the agency also found that Pennsylvania does not have a consistent approach, a comprehensive strategy, or sufficient resources to ensure farms are meeting existing requirements.

Ensuring farms meet or exceed Pennsylvania's clean water laws requires more than just resources for inspectors, however.

It requires investing resources in outreach and education to farmers about their obligations and, critically, the technical assistance to design and implement pollution reducing practices like streamside forest buffers or barnyard runoff controls.

In his inquiry, Everett asked why Wolf's proposed $675 million bond issue was not dedicated to water quality cleanup, instead of for alternative energy and other uses.

At a recent Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming, asked the same question.

While Pennsylvania's leaders conduct budget negotiations, it is distressing that elected officials in Congress are proposing deep cuts to the very investments the Commonwealth and our farmers are counting on.

This is simply unacceptable. We call on the Governor, legislature, and Pennsylvania's farmers and conservation community to urge our representatives in Washington not to go down that path.  

Saving the Bay and restoring local water quality will not just benefit us; clean water means a healthier Susquehanna, less flooding, purer drinking water, better health for us and our children, and a legacy for future generations.

Economically, a peer-reviewed report produced for CBF documents a $6.2 billion return on investment if the Commonwealth achieves the Blueprint. 

Pennsylvania cannot afford to backtrack on the right of its people to have clean water. Clean water counts.

There are ramifications should the federal government decide to intervene in order to achieve the clean-up goals. Ratepayers and taxpayers could bear the consequences.

CBF urges our leaders to provide the resources and the will to meet Pennsylvania's commitment to clean water.

—Harry Campbell, CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director

Are you a resident of Pennsylvania? Make your voice heard, and tell your County Commissioners to pass a resolution saying Clean Water Counts in Pennsylvania!