This article ran in the Spring 2022 issue of Hourglass Quarterly. View the full publication here.
In 2010 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandated the six Chesapeake Bay states, including Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia develop plans to reduce pollution to the Bay by 2025. This effort, known as Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), included pollution limits for nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment, and milestones to achieve those reductions. The EPA also included additional restrictions and mandates if not achieved.
So with less than four years remaining, what is the progress and what does this mean for Lancaster County?
The State of the Blueprint
According to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s recently released “2021 State of the Blueprint” report, if progress continues at its current pace, the Bay partnership will not achieve the required pollution reduction by 2025. Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia account for roughly 90% of the Bay’s pollution, and while Maryland and Virginia are mostly on-track to meet their commitments per the report, Pennsylvania is lagging behind. From 2009 to 2020, watershed states reduced the amount of nitrogen reaching the Bay by 40%, leaving 60% of the work to be accomplished in five years.
Pennsylvania’s Challenges & Successes
Much of the shortfall is in Pennsylvania, largely because the great majority of nutrient and sediment runoff comes from the 33,000 farms and increasingly developed areas in Pennsylvania’s portion of the Bay drainage. According to the Bay models, all states have struggled to control farm runoff. Pennsylvania developed a Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) to address the reductions they need to achieve.
In the TMDL, Pennsylvania is required to reduce nitrogen loads by 32.5 million pounds and phosphorus by 0.85 million pounds. As of 2020, Pennsylvania has reduced nitrogen pollution by 6.77 million pounds and phosphorus pollution by 0.3 million pounds.
According to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, more than 90% of Pennsylvania’s remaining pollution reductions must come from agriculture. While farmers are adopting conservation practices and eager to do their part for clean water, a massive influx of technical and financial assistance is still required to provide the resources to put these practices in place at the scale and pace necessary.
Across the watershed, the wastewater sector remains the one area of noteworthy success. However, the loss of farms and forests to development, coupled with more severe storms linked to climate change, pose new challenges for stemming rising pollution from urban and suburban runoff.
In January the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection updated Pennsylvania’s Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) to outline how the state will meet its 2025 targets. Yet funding remains a significant challenge. As proposed, the plan estimates the need for $521 million a year until 2025 for implementation. However, compared to existing resources, there is a shortfall in funding of nearly $324 million a year. Although the plan contains several proposed funding sources, none of them have been passed by the legislature.
Local Solutions: Lancaster County a Key Component
Lancaster County is responsible for 21% of Pennsylvania’s total reduction goals. The Lancaster Countywide Action Plan, managed by the Lancaster Clean Water Partners and the Lancaster County Conservation District, outlines Lancaster’s path for reducing 11.7 million lbs. of nitrogen and 524,000 lbs. of phosphorus by the 2025 deadline. The Lancaster Clean Water Partners, and countless community members, have shown incredible leadership in collaborating and implementing on-the-ground solutions to provide clean and clear water for our community.
Lancaster’s Plan centers around four initiatives:
- Riparian buffers
- and Data management and monitoring
Overall: Current State of Lancaster’s Clean Water Goals
Lancaster County is working hard to achieve clean water for its residents, future generations, and neighbors downstream. With increasing momentum, capacity, and success stories, Lancaster is demonstrating unprecedented collaborative leadership. But it has a long way to go. More miles of impaired streams exist in Lancaster County than any other county in Pennsylvania according to a 2022 draft report by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Of the 1,432 stream miles assessed in Lancaster County, 1,286 miles — or 89.4% — are considered impaired. A waterbody is considered impaired when it fails to meet standards that allow for regular uses, including supporting recreation and aquatic life, as well as providing drinkable water and consumable fish, according to DEP.
A December 2021 snapshot of Lancaster County’s Action Plan shows current loading rates are 25.7 million lbs of nitrogen and 1.16 million lbs of phosphorus annually. By 2025 Lancaster County needs to reduce 10 million lbs of nitrogen and 358,000 lbs of phosphorus. Lancaster County has developed a plan to reduce 7.26 million lbs of nitrogen by 2025, which is 73% of the goal and 345,000 lbs of phosphorus, which is 96% of the goal.
“Organizations across Lancaster County have been making incredible progress towards our common goal of clean and clear water by 2040,”said Allyson Gibson, Director of Strategic Partnerships and Programs at Lancaster Clean Water Partners. “We have seen fantastic success, but we have a lot of work to do ahead of us. Lancaster County is the biggest opportunity for restoration success in the Bay watershed. Only through collaborative efforts and innovative approaches will we see that success, so we invite everyone to participate as part of the solution.”