Is Pennsylvania dead weight in effort to restore the Chesapeake?

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation announced its biennial “State of the Bay” report, which brought both good and bad news to the concerned public of the commonwealth.

On the bright side, the bay’s health improved by six percent, bumping it up to a 34, or the equivalency of a C- on an academic report card. This improvement is credited to continued implementation of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, as well as below normal rainfall, which meant less nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment runoff issues occurred.

On the downside, however, a score of 34 is still shy of the 2025 goal of 40, and ultimately 70, which would represent a saved Bay. Much of that has to do with Pennsylvania’s slow compliance with water quality improvement measures.

“We continue our call for an acceleration of pollution reduction efforts, especially in Pennsylvania, further protection and restoration of vital natural filters and habitat, and the very best, science-based fisheries management possible,” said Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William Baker.

“While that will be a heavy lift, it is imperative for all 18 million of us who live in the Bay watershed to keep the pressure on,” Baker said. “Our elected and appointed leaders need to build on the momentum that has been achieved thus far.”

According to the report, the Clean Water Blueprint requires that the Bay states decrease pollution on local creeks, rivers, and the bay itself. State and local governments have agreed to achieve specific, measurable reductions by 2025 to restore water quality.

While Virginia and Maryland are on track to achieve their 2017 mid-term goals of 60 percent of practices in place, Pennsylvania is significantly behind, largely due to its failure to meet the goals it set for reducing pollution from agriculture.

This announcement follows a “mixed feelings” December news release from the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission reporting a slight improvement in smallmouth bass populations on the Susquehanna River – the main artery to the Chesapeake.

Surveys conducted over the past four years have indicated an increase in adult smallmouth bass compared to severely reduced numbers in the previous eight years. Keep in mind, the commission was forced to impose mandatory catch and release regulations since 2011 in an effort to preserve the fishery.

“Although we are cautiously optimistic about the population numbers we have observed over the last four years, our sampling is still finding young-of-the-year smallmouth bass displaying clinical signs of disease,” said John Arway, commission executive director.

“We continue to urge the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to list the river as impaired in its final review of the 2016 Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report submitted by the state Department of Environmental Protection.”

In that report, DEP made the recommendation to not list the Susquehanna as impaired, mirroring its previous recommendations in 2012 and 2014.

The DEP submits an updated report every two years to EPA for approval. Adding the Susquehanna to the list as a “high priority” impaired waterway would trigger a two-year timeline, requiring DEP to develop a comprehensive plan to identify the causes and sources of pollution and put together a cleanup plan consistent with the Clean Water Act, presenting obvious challenges.

Keeping nitrogen and phosphorus on the land where they are helpful, instead of in the water where they’re harmful, is the core of Pennsylvania’s Clean Water Blueprint, according to Chesapeake Bay Foundation Pennsylvania Executive Director Harry Campbell.

“But implementation of practices to do so are dependent upon adequate investments in pollution reduction and enforcement,” he said.

“It is important that comprehensive and sustainable investments toward cleaning up Pennsylvania’s 19,000 miles of impaired streams focus efforts in the right places, with the right practices, and engages the right people and communities.”

If Pennsylvania hopes to make its 2025 Clean Water Blueprint goals, thereby pitching in to do its part in cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, it better start by getting its act together and making moves to fix the problems that exist- no matter how big or small.

After all, the first step to solving a problem is admitting a problem exists in the first place.

 

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