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PA in the Balance

Acting Secretary Patrick McDonnell joined Dept. of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding and motivated leaders from throughout Pennsylvania's agricultural and environmental communities at the second "Pennsylvania in the Balance" conference on October 12, 2016. The conference was reconvened to provide a collaborative forum to help expand existing and advance new, innovative solutions developed at the first conference last March. The goal of this group is to help ensure vibrant, productive agriculture while meeting water quality goals for the Commonwealth's rivers and streams and the Chesapeake Bay.

Opening remarks by Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell

October 12, 2016, PA Farm Show Complex, Harrisburg, PA

Thank you for inviting me to open the second PA in the Balance meeting. And thank you to everyone who participated last year. Last year's meeting brought together a diverse and important group of people to discuss the challenges we face in our commitment to restoring Pennsylvania's local waters, the waters in our backyards and on our farms, and ultimately the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay.

Protection of our water resources is one of the most important efforts that we can undertake. Easier said than done, given all of the priorities that we collectively face each day in the work that we each do. We need to look beyond this familiar call to action and dig into the realities of how we get it done here in Pennsylvania.

What remains clear is that Pennsylvania has been, and continues to make strides towards protecting and improving local water quality. We are pleased to see reports from the Chesapeake Bay Program that estimated nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment going into the Bay have all dropped and that water quality at many of our monitoring stations is continuing to improve. We are proud to be able to show that nutrient and sediment loadings to the Chesapeake Bay have all dropped. Phosphorous has decreased by 25 percent, nitrogen by 6 percent, and sediment by nearly 15 percent.

However, while the results of our work so far have been encouraging, we know that there is still much more to do. This is why all of you are here today. I am sure you can agree with me that while a majority of our farmers are doing the right thing, and working to ensure that they are using safe and sustainable strategies to reduce runoff of pollutants, we must make sure that every producer is working to minimize their impact to local water quality.

To that end, last year Governor Wolf announced a Chesapeake Bay Restoration Strategy to focus our efforts to maintain the quality of Pennsylvania's local water supply. This strategy outlined how Pennsylvania would work to accelerate its progress, continue its good work, and meet our goals.

This strategy is a collaborative effort between Pennsylvania's Departments of Environmental Protection, Agriculture, Conservation of Natural Resources, and a variety of important stakeholders. We all came together to outline how Pennsylvania would continue to protect our waters, and continues to work together to coordinate plans, policies, and resources.

Pennsylvania's strategy relies on a mix of technical and financial assistance, technology, expanded data gathering, improved program coordination and capacity and – when necessary – stronger enforcement and compliance measures.

Together, we have been able to craft a plan that combines elements that are proven to work; that focuses on putting high-impact, low-cost best management practices in place and identifying more of these in watersheds impacted by agriculture or stormwater, and works towards meeting EPA's goal of inspecting 10 percent of farms in the watershed, ensuring development and use of manure management and agricultural erosion and sediment control plans, and making sure that we are enforcing these standards in our communities.

In addition, earlier this month, Governor Wolf showed his commitment to this effort by announcing a new federal and state partnership with USDA and EPA to accelerate our progress towards achieving our goals and improving Pennsylvania's, and the Chesapeake Bay's, water quality.

Left to right: Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell attends the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council with Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding, Governor Tom Wolf, and Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Dunn on October 4, 2016.

To strengthen this partnership, he announced an additional commitment of $12 million in state funds in this fiscal year to further the implementation of the Restoration Strategy and help reach our 2025 nutrient and sediment reduction goals. This funding will provide:

  • $2.5 million for additional riparian forest buffer funding (DCNR)

  • $4 million to implement high priority agricultural conservation practices (DEP/PDA)

  • $1 million for agricultural practices installed through projects implemented by Conservation Districts from PA Department of Agriculture

  • $1.5 million to help farmers finance the development of the state-required nutrient/manure management or agricultural erosion and sediment control plans through a conservation plan reimbursement program (DEP)

  • The remaining $2.8 million will be directed from existing sources, programs and funds from the three agencies and matching funds

However, this is just a start. It is time to start planning next steps, to plan towards 2025 and the Phase 3 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan, or WIP. With this in mind, some very early findings from the Chesapeake Bay Program Midpoint Assessment indicate that:

  • Pennsylvania is still responsible for 69% of the remaining basin-wide nitrogen load reductions

  • Agriculture will likely be responsible for as much, if not more, than 80% of those reductions

  • A minimum of an additional $80 million per year in cost share monies will be needed if we are to be successful.

Here is my challenge to you today. A lot of excellent work went into your initial conference and the themes and initiatives that resulted from that conference. It is time to build on that work and start laying the framework that puts Pennsylvania in a good position to address the commitments and expectations that will result from this Midpoint Assessment. We need to start now to plan for the development; and, more importantly, the implementation of the WIP.

Strong themes and action-oriented items came out of the first PA in the Balance meeting and subsequent report. Today, we need to focus in on a few key actions that we can accomplish collectively in order to move forward productively.

To get us started, I would like to offer the following framework:

  1. Let's not fall back to "more of the same." For 30 years we have been relying on activities such as training, outreach and technical assistance. Let's build on the concept you created in your first session around a "Three Pronged Approach" that combines implementation with enforcement, where needed. Training, outreach and technical assistance all are key components, but it is time to stop devoting resources only to these activities unless they can be directly linked to on-the-ground accelerated implementation of practices that lead to actual reductions and water quality improvement.

  2. Let's build on your concept to "Develop Plans, Partnerships and Leadership in Priority Watersheds" to accelerate BMP implementation in targeted, high-priority areas. We need to continue to develop and deploy effective targeting in high-priority areas that support community-based and locally led approaches to conservation.

  3. Of course, funding is key. Any ideas you can develop to collaboratively explore innovative new incentive programs and funding opportunities or more effectively utilize existing funding sources will obviously be a step in the right direction.

In conclusion, I think we can all agree Pennsylvania's agriculture community will play an active role and be in the spotlight as we move forward. The Bay Phase 3 Watershed Implementation Plan has to be finalized by the end of December 2018 and implemented by 2025. We need to create a timeline today and in subsequent forums with these deadlines in mind. The priorities we set today and going forward for the action plans and set of initiatives has to be driven with these legal requirements in mind.

The importance of this effort cannot be overstated and the safety and quality of our water cannot be gambled with. I am proud to be a dedicated partner in the effort to safeguard local water quality and I want to thank all of you for your support of Pennsylvania's efforts and commitment to improving local water, and the waters of the Chesapeake Bay.

Thank you.

-- Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell