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Pennsylvania Watershed Restoration: Reason for Optimism?

Climate Justice

A feature article Sunday in the Philadelphia Inquirer, by Sandy Bauers, describes the impressive restoration of the Lititz Run, a stream located in the Lower Susquehanna Watershed in Pennsylvania.  Lititz Run flows into the Susquehanna River, which contributes about 40 percent of the nitrogen in the Chesapeake Bay, as well as a significant amount of phosphorous and sediment. Efforts to curb runoff, change agriculture practices, and upgrade sewer treatment plants by the local community changed the run from a fetid, polluted waterway into a healthy, permanent habitat for trout. The water quality in the stream has improved significantly over the last ten years: nitrogen has been reduced by 47 percent, along with nearly 10-percent reductions in sediment and phosphorous.

The agriculture sector contributes the largest share of pollution into the Chesapeake Bay, amounting to 42 percent of the nitrogen, 45 percent of the phosphorous, and 60 percent of the sediment.  The other giant contributors are the urban and suburban sectors, which together contribute 16 percent of the nitrogen, 31 percent of the phosphorus, and 19 percent of the sediment. While restored forests and stream buffers and other management practices have reduced the pollution load from agriculture, the pollution load from the urban and suburban sector has increased. The population in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed has grown by 8 percent, but the amount of impervious surface, or surface that prevents natural absorption of rainwater by the ground, has increased by 41 percent.

CPR has worked extensively on Chesapeake Bay issues, proposing to strengthen accountability in the Bay Program and among states.  In a June 2009 publication, Reauthorizing the Chesapeake Bay: Exchanging Promises for Results, CPR President Rena Steinzor and Executive Director Shana Jones recommended:

  • Requiring the USDA to disclose the location of publicly funded conservation projects and practices on agricultural land;
  • Withdrawing permitting authority and Clean Water Action (CWA) section 319 funding from any state that fails to make substantial progress in meeting two-year milestones; and
  • Addressing nonpoint source pollution by requiring each state to provide reasonable assurances and an implementation plan that it will meet milestones.

Today the EPA and other federal agencies will release a series of draft reports on the Chesapeake Bay examining issues such as the impact of climate change; stormwater management practices; and the existing federal regulatory programs, including the CWA. As mandated by President Obama’s executive order on the Chesapeake Bay, these drafts are the precursors to official reports due in November, and those reports will be subject to formal public comment. Chuck Fox, the EPA’s Senior Chesapeake Bay Advisor, has said that the draft reports may contain more provisions to deal with urban and suburban runoff from existing developments and to bring more concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) into compliance under the CWA.

Stay tuned for more soon on these draft reports from EPA.

Climate Justice

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