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Inside Pennsylvania’s Strategy for Healthier Local Streams in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

June 07, 2018 04:00 PM

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​On April 10, more than 160 Pennsylvanians met in Harrisburg to talk for six hours about one very important subject: how to improve the health of local waters in Pennsylvania’s part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

The participants, comprised of government officials, environmental advocates, business owners, academics, farmers and community leaders, produced about 30 pages of suggestions in how to better engage with the 43 counties that lie in the Chesapeake Bay watershed when developing their Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP). This dialogue speaks volumes about the new energy, ideas and level of collaboration Pennsylvania is bringing to its planning process for reducing nutrient and sediment pollution.

WIPs are detailed plans developed by the seven Chesapeake Bay watershed jurisdictions (Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia) to help guide them in meeting their pollution reduction goals under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (Bay TMDL). In the latest iteration of the WIPs—Phase III—each jurisdiction is asked to engage with their local stakeholders in their development.

Here are three key innovations energizing Pennsylvania’s Phase III WIP planning process.

Taking a bottom-up approach and involving multiple stakeholders

More than half of Pennsylvania lies within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, including all or part of 43 counties that face different challenges. “Because what makes sense in one county may not work in another, we’re working hard to create a truly bottom-up planning process,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “We’re engaging stakeholders who bring diverse views and terrific expertise to the table and are in a position to change behavior and make decisions to allocate resources. Our aim is to support and build on local priorities and initiatives. This is how we’ll ensure an implementable plan.”

Stronger state agency partnership sends a clear message of commitment

Since Governor Tom Wolf took office in 2015, his administration has brought a new degree of state agency partnership to Phase III WIP planning. Both Department of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn have joined DEP Secretary McDonnell in leading the steering committee for plan development, and are dedicating some staff resources to the cause. Committee membership was further expanded to other partners to tap into a wealth of knowledge and ensure diverse viewpoints.

Seven work groups are tackling the multiple facets of improving local stream health

The steering committee is made up of seven work groups. Four are sector-focused, and are developing nutrient reduction strategies for agriculture, forestry, stormwater and wastewater​.

The other three work groups build and support countywide planning. The Local Area Goals Work Group developed a Community Clean Water Toolbox that gives counties the tools they need to create a countywide plan. The Funding Work Group aims to develop a fiscally responsible, sustainable funding strategy to support plan implementation, including recommendations for legislative or administrative actions. The Local Engagement and Communications Work Group is developing ways to educate stakeholders on countywide goals and collaborating with those stakeholders in crafting effective strategic messages and engagement plans.

Planning for accuracy

As well as enlisting over 100 stakeholders in the steering committee and work groups, we’ve obtained broader public input from the start of the planning process. In addition to the April 10 stakeholder discussion on the countywide approach, we held a kickoff event on June 5, 2017, where a capacity crowd of 230 stakeholders provided their knowledge of the challenges and opportunities in cleaning up local streams and rivers. They generated and discussed 32 topics, and more than 50 people provided input online.

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Patrick McDonnell addresses a room of more than 160 people who showed up to a public forum on Pennsylvania's Phase III plan for pollution reduction.

Using fine-grained data and analytical tools to break down Pennsylvania’s enormous challenge by county

Thanks to a dramatic increase in the amount of high-quality, localized data and technical support from the Chesapeake Bay Program, DEP Bureau of Clean Water and Susquehanna River Basin Commission, DEP can break down its statewide pollution-reduction goals into manageable, county-sized pieces.

Based on reductions attained as of 2016, Pennsylvania anticipates further reductions in nitrogen and phosphorus levels to meet the Bay TMDL planning targets by 2025. Using the Chesapeake Bay Program’s analytical and modeling tools, we’ve broken down these amounts geographically by county. Further, we’ve grouped counties and tiered the groups by their collective impact on the Bay.

Putting it all together to equip county stakeholders to take action

The Phase III WIP process harnesses the collective power of strong partnerships, strategic data and analytical tools to equip local stakeholders to develop action plans in their county.

The Community Clean Water Toolbox

The Local Area Goals Work Group, with input from other work groups and stakeholders, compiled the essential data and information for each county to enable planning to reduce nutrients and sediment in local streams and rivers. Called the Community Clean Water Toolbox, this guide presents:

  • Reductions already achieved, progress that may be expected through state programs and remaining reductions that require local initiatives.
  • Current stream conditions and sources of nutrients and sediment by sector.
  • Maps of water monitoring stations and explanations of the trends that monitoring data are showing.
  • Suggestions for relevant, cost-effective reduction methods.
  • Recommendations for planning and engagement resources.
  • A template to record planning actions, track progress and report to DEP.

“The Community Clean Water Toolbox is a starting point to use to improve local water quality,” said Lisa Schaeffer, director of Government Relations at the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania and co-chair of the Local Area Goals Work Group. “Stakeholders aren’t required to use every tool; they can customize to meet their individual goals in partnership with the state and are encouraged to add other tools as fits their local situation.”

Before it’s rolled out to all counties, the toolbox is being piloted this summer in Lancaster, York, Franklin and Adams counties. Lancaster and York represent 25 percent of Pennsylvania’s needed pollutant reductions and are in the Susquehanna River basin. With Franklin and Adams counties in the Potomac River basin, the pilot covers a good range. The counties’ plans are due to DEP in October.

“The Clean Water Toolbox is a great one-stop shop of our water quality accomplishments and how far we still need to go, with a useful guide to resources that can help us meet our goals,” said Felicia Dell, director of the York County Planning Commission and co-chair of the Stormwater Work Group.

Partnering to tackle water pollution together, county by county

While the toolbox is a lynchpin to the local process and has generated positive interest, it’s part of an important broader context of partnership that offers other resources to local stakeholders too.

Developing a Countywide Action Plan for Clean Water​” provides an overview and steps to developing an action plan, beginning with forming a County Planning Team. Team leaders can come from government or from any organization with the commitment, credibility and capability to develop consensus.

Any county planning team can request a professional facilitator, at no charge, to help run needed meetings. In addition, an outreach group for each county provides the help of a representative from each of the seven work groups as well as technical staff from DEP, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, the Interstate Commission of the Potomac River Basin and Chesapeake Bay Program.

The Local Engagement and Communications Work Group is developing a helpful presentation of economic and community benefits that go along with the environmental benefits of improving local stream health.

With this innovative countywide approach, Pennsylvania forges ahead with a new sense of momentum and real possibility to meet its local water quality goals.​​

This post originally appeared on the Chesapeake Bay Program website​.

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