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Tracking Pennsylvania's Progress

photo of sun setting over Chesapeake Bay


In 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established a Total Maximum Daily Load, (TMDL), to address chlorophyll-A, dissolved oxygen and clarity impairments within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. A TMDL is a regulatory term in the U.S. Clean Water Act, describing a value for the maximum amount of a pollutant that a body of water can receive while still meeting water quality standards.

Pennsylvania's progress in meeting the TMDL goals is tracked through the development of two-year milestones (currently 2020-2021), which estimate the expected level of implementation of Best Management Practices (BMPs) and expected programmatic improvements to occur over the milestone period. A TMDL Mid-point Assessment was conducted in 2017. EPA expected that this assessment would show that a 60 percent of load reductions needed to reach the TMDL was put in place. The assessment found that Pennsylvania did not achieve its statewide 2017 targets for nitrogen, phosphorus, or sediment. Failing to restore Pennsylvania’s impaired waters will mean that our drinking water resources, outdoor recreation, wildlife, and public health and safety will remain impacted. Local communities will continue to suffer from pollution-related problems such as stormwater and flood damage, contamination of drinking water sources, fouled waterways, and lost recreation opportunities.

Additionally, if EPA determines that Pennsylvania cannot meet its goals on its own, EPA has stated it may increase federal enforcement and compliance efforts. The EPA Expectations for the Phase III Watershed Implementation Plans has outlined possible consequences including:

  1. New nitrogen and phosphorus numeric water quality standards for streams and rivers in Pennsylvania;
  2. More animal feeding operations, industrial and municipal stormwater sources, and urban areas to obtain Clean Water Act permits;
  3. Stricter nutrient or sediment reductions for those that already have permits;
  4. Redirection of EPA grant funding away from the state’s priorities to its own priorities.

The Mid-point assessment showed that Pennsylvania did meet its 2017 reduction goal with the Wastewater Sector and is on track to meet the 2025 goals without any more enhancements.

According to EPA, Pennsylvania has committed to reduce its annual nutrient and sediment pollution loads by 34 million pounds of nitrogen per year, 0.7 million pounds of phosphorus per year and by 531 million pounds of sediment per year by 2025.

DEP is in the process of creating The Pennsylvania Clean Water Tool to enable citizens, counties, and state agencies to transparently view and share measurable progress toward implementing Pennsylvania’s Phase 3 Watershed Implementation Plan. (currently in development).

TMDL and Milestones

Pennsylvania's BMP Verification Program

The Chesapeake Bay Program has called for increased transparency and scientific rigor in the verification of the best management practices that are implemented as part of the states' Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) and the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL).

To respond to this request, Strengthening Verification of Best Management Practices Implemented in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed: A Basinwide Framework, Report and Documentation from the Chesapeake Bay Program Water Quality Goal Implementation Team's BMP Verification Committee (Verification Framework) (Chesapeake Bay Program 2014), was developed. The Verification Framework is intended to serve as a guide for the states to document the methodology for verification of BMP installation, function, and continued effectiveness of practices over time. This Verification Framework provides the requirements for reporting and documentation of practice verification for the states to follow. Specific guidance is provided for each of the source sectors (agriculture, forestry, urban stormwater, wastewater, wetlands, and streams).