PEC welcomes Harry Campbell, PA Executive Director, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, as the first author in its guest blog series.
A significant challenge to restoring the Chesapeake Bay is the disconnect that Commonwealth residents perceive with the nation’s largest and most important estuary. That the Bay is not geographically located within our borders leaves it out of sight, out of mind for most Pennsylvanians.
The pollution damaging the Bay is also damaging local rivers and streams, and the fish and other critters that live there. Pollution reduction efforts can restore water quality and the life it sustains.
A grassroots effort in Lancaster County has restored seven miles of Lititz Run from its sad state of degradation.
In 1990, the once-sparkling Warwick Township waterway was impaired by development, and agricultural and urban runoff. Since then, a cooperative effort has led to the planting of trees along the streambank to cool the water, farmers fencing cattle out of streams, and porous pavement being installed to absorb rainwater. A local bank even placed buffers in its parking lot to prevent warm summer rain from flowing into the stream and spiking its temperature.
As a result, the state has redesignated all of Lititz Run as a cold-water fishery, which means the spring-fed stream can support trout and an underwater ecosystem of aquatic insects that survive only in good-quality water. Indeed, young wild trout are being found in sections of Lititz Run. Some over 24-inches are being caught and released.
So, we focus on the sources, causes, and remedies for roughly 19,000 miles of impaired rivers and streams in the Pennsylvania. Agricultural runoff is the largest source of stream pollution in Pennsylvania and the Bay, and the least expensive overall to reduce. Acid mine drainage is the second leading source of stream impairment here. Urban/suburban runoff is the third leading source.
As part of its Clean Water Blueprint, Pennsylvania developed two-year incremental pollution-reduction milestones. The commitment is to implement 60 percent of the programs and practices necessary to restore local water quality by 2017, and finish the job by 2025.
In reviewing Pennsylvania’s progress in its 2014-15 milestones, EPA found the Commonwealth to be on track for phosphorus reduction goals, but significantly behind in meeting nitrogen and sediment pollution goals. How significant is the challenge? To get back on track, the Commonwealth must reduce nitrogen pollution by an additional 14.6 million pounds, or 22 percent, by the end of this year. At this point, an impossible task.
Consider the significant loss of economic opportunity. Achieving pollution reduction goals in the Blueprint would result in an additional $6 billion to Pennsylvania’s economy.
The federal government has outlined a number of “consequences” if Pennsylvania continues to fall behind. EPA could require additional upgrades to sewage treatment plants, at great expense to ratepayers. They could also require even more pollution reduction from urban/suburban areas, again at great expense to taxpayers.
In more basic terms, consider the effects of Pennsylvania pollution on the blue crabs that we love so much north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Total numbers of Chesapeake blue crabs are up slightly this year. But the nitrogen and phosphorus pollution feed algae blooms that create huge dead zones, reducing food supply that crabs need, and driving them into shallower water where they are more likely to be caught. Both the algae blooms and sediment pollution reduce sunlight penetration necessary for Bay grasses to grow. Those grasses provide shelter for juvenile crabs to escape from predators.
Clean water counts in Pennsylvania and the Chesapeake Bay. Reducing pollution here will provide human health and economic benefits for Pennsylvanians, as well as helping restore the Chesapeake Bay.