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Pennsylvania's Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Half of the land area of Pennsylvania drains to the Chesapeake Bay from four major river basins, and Pennsylvania comprises 35 percent of the entire Chesapeake Bay Watershed. A watershed is an area of land where all the water (surface and groundwater) flows to the lowest point – usually a stream, lake or river. The Susquehanna River is the largest tributary to the bay, providing 90 percent of the freshwater flow to the upper bay and half of the total freshwater flow to the bay. Simply stated, the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay cannot be restored without Pennsylvania's support. But even more important, local water quality in Pennsylvania must be restored.

Citizens are participating in community meetings and outdoor projects in 43 counties in Pennsylvania’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed to determine actions that will reduce three types of nutrient pollutants running into PA waterways: nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment.

When it rains, these pollutants run off surfaces such as farm fields, streets, and parking lots and go right into streams and rivers.

Stormwater runoff has contributed to the impairment of more than 11,400 miles of streams in Pennsylvania's part of the watershed, and it heads downstream to damage the Chesapeake Bay as well.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires Pennsylvania and our neighbors in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed—Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New York, Virginia, and West Virginia—to reduce these pollutants by specific amounts by 2025.

Chesapeake Bay Program

Pennsylvania's Local Water Quality

For any strategy to succeed, that it is imperative that local water quality be our primary focus and concern. Local water quality improvements directly translate into cleaning the Bay and meeting the federal TMDL requirements. Pennsylvania's obligation not only stems from federal court decrees, but also from Pennsylvania's Clean Streams Law and the Pennsylvania Constitution, which declares that clean water is a right for all Pennsylvanians. Restoring and maintaining local water quality is a shared responsibility.

Chesapeake Unscripted

If you could grant one wish for the Chesapeake Bay, its rivers, or its watershed, what would it be? Residents of Harrisburg, Pa., talk about what the Bay and the nearby Susquehanna River mean to them, and what they hope to see in the future.

Bay Awareness Week

Susquehanna River Story

Pennsylvania's 2025 Goals:

  • Nitrogen: Reduce by 34 million pounds per year
  • Phosphorus: Reduce by 0.7 million pounds per year
  • Sediment (soil): Reduce by 531 million pounds per year

A challenge this size requires many partners and a game plan. Three state agencies—DEP, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources—are coordinating a process to develop Pennsylvania's Phase 3 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan, known as the "Phase 3 WIP."

Cheseapeake Bay Watershed

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

The mandatory pollutant reductions necessary to meet EPA's TMDL goals must be achieved by the year 2025.

Knowing that Pennsylvania has not met EPA's requirements to reduce water pollution under the requirements of federal court orders and regulations, the Wolf administration is working to focus and increase resources and technical assistance, reinvigorate partnerships, and create a culture of compliance in protecting Pennsylvania's water quality.

Pennsylvania must change its approach for the Chesapeake Bay.

Cheseapeake Bay