In 2019, Pennsylvania and neighboring states began the third phase of their work to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, our shared downstream resource. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assigned pollution reduction goals to Pennsylvania, and we have until 2025 to reach them. Our neighbors in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New York, West Virginia, and Virginia also have goals to meet.
This document, formally known as the "Phase 3 Watershed Implementation Plan," (Phase 3 WIP for short) spells out how the state government will work in partnership with other governments and the private sector to meet our goals by 2025.
This document is a team effort. In addition to state government officials, hundreds of individuals representing local government, universities, businesses, agriculture, and environmental organizations contributed their time and expertise. As DEP prepared this draft, we were guided by the principle that clean water is "Great for PA, Good for the Bay." We see the Phase 3 WIP planning as an opportunity for us to serve our residents and businesses — cleaning up our water, lowering flood risks, and improving the quality of life in our community.
There are 43 counties in Pennsylvania streams and rivers that run to the Susquehanna, the Potomac, and eventually the Chesapeake Bay. Most of the work called for in this document will be done there. Early in the process, the Commonwealth decided to help leaders in these counties determine the best way for them to clean up their fair share of the pollution. Four counties went first — Lancaster, York, Adams, and Franklin. The other 39 counties are following, benefitting from the lessons learned in the pilot counties.
Pennsylvania's efforts to reduce nutrients running into the Chesapeake Bay began in 1985. In 2009, the EPA set expectations for PA and neighboring states (Maryland, New York, West Virginia, Delaware, Virginia, and Washington D.C.) to meet by 2025. Each state's plan for meeting their Phosphorus (P) and Nitrogen (N) reduction goals is outlined in Watershed Implementation Plans' (WIP).
In 2009 Pennsylvania submitted its Phase 1 WIP to EPA. The goal of the Phase 1 WIP was to identify pollutant sources and develop source specific solutions to achieve reductions. In 2011, Pennsylvania submitted its Phase 2 WIP to EPA. The development of the Phase 2 WIP relied heavily on public input and the inclusion of adaptive management principles in the plan. Both the Phase 1 WIP and Phase 2 WIP led to significant reductions in Pennsylvania's nutrient load to the Bay, but more work is needed.
There is a lot of progress to be proud of! Many streams that once ran orange with abandoned mine pollution are now places where residents gather to swim, fish, boat, and play. Pennsylvania has cut the amount of phosphorus pollution going downstream by more than one third, and the amount of nitrogen pollution by about one sixth.
However, there is more to do. Of the nearly 49,000 assessed miles of streams in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, 11,446 still need to be cleaned up. By 2025, Pennsylvania must reduce nitrogen pollution levels by 34 million pounds per year; phosphorous levels by .7 million pounds per year; and sediment levels by 531 million pounds per year.
The WIP Funding Workgroup estimates that the current public investment in waterways cleanup in the areas upstream of the Chesapeake are in the neighborhood of $197 million per year. The total investment needed to achieve the 2025 goals is estimated to be $521 million per year — an annual gap of $324 million.
There may be consequences if we fall short. First and foremost, failing to restore Pennsylvania's impaired waters will mean that our drinking water resources, outdoor recreation, wildlife, and public health and safety are simply not good enough. Local communities will continue to suffer from pollution-related problems such as stormwater and flood damage, contamination in drinking water sources, fouled waterways, and lost opportunities for families to enjoy the outdoors together.
If EPA determines that Pennsylvania can't meet its goals on its own, it may step up federal enforcement and compliance efforts. For example, it could:
- Begin setting new nitrogen and phosphorus numeric water quality standards on streams and rivers in the state
- Require more animal feeding operations, industrial and municipal stormwater sources, and urban areas to get Clean Water Act permits
- Establish stricter nutrient or sediment reductions for those that already have permits
- Redirect its grant funding away from the state's priorities to its own priorities
Pennsylvania's state neighbors and environmental organizations could attempt to force these actions in court if they believe that the Commonwealth is failing to do its fair share.
The Phase 3 WIP spells out how Pennsylvania will avoid these consequences and achieve its goals, because "Clean water is great for PA, and good for the Bay."