Clean Water Starts Here

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Pennsylvania's clean water starts with our thousands of small creeks and streams.

Many of these small waterways — known as tributaries — flow into the Susquehanna and Potomac Rivers, which contribute over 50 percent of the freshwater in the Chesapeake Bay.

Unfortunately, more than water flows in Pennsylvania's tributaries.

Nutrient and sediment pollution from agriculture, sewage treatment plants, stormwater runoff and poorly planned development are among the greatest threats to the health and water quality of local waterways and the Bay. Although nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment occur naturally, in high concentrations they become pollutants.

Excess nutrient pollution causes massive algae blooms in rivers and water bodies. When the algae die and decompose, they consume oxygen in the water, creating dead zones that cannot support aquatic life. Excess sediment also prohibits sunlight from reaching underwater vegetation and chokes out other bottom-dwelling organisms when settling. Bay grasses die off due to blocked sunlight and crabs and oysters die due to a lack of oxygen.

Air pollution from vehicles and power plants, toxics from industrial facilities, and forest and wetland loss are also threats to the Bay. It’s no wonder the Chesapeake Bay is listed as dirty or “impaired” under the federal Clean Water Act.

The Bay states of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania, along with the District of Columbia and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have known about the serious decline of the Chesapeake Bay for 25 years. Since 1983, they have participated in the regional Chesapeake Executive Council whose mission is to guide policy for the restoration of the Bay.


PA in the Bay.

More than half of Pennsylvania is within the bay's watershed, which means half of the total land in Pennsylvania drains to the Chesapeake Bay. What we do on our land impacts the quality of our water.

Two major watersheds of the Bay are in Pennsylvania and make up 40 percent of the entire Bay watershed.

  • The Potomac covers 1,600 square miles.
  • The Susquehanna covers 21,000 square miles.

In 1987 the first nutrient reduction goal was set to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus by 40 percent by the year 2000.

The goal went unmet and a new goal was set for 2010 to remove the Bay from the federal "impaired" water body list. That goal went unmet too. As a result of missing the 2010 pollution reduction goals, the EPA officially declared that the Chesapeake and its tidal waters are not meeting water-quality standards that protect the life in the Bay and public health in the region.

Realizing the failure to meet these goals, a new plan to put the entire 64,000-square-mile watershed on a pollution diet was established in 2010. This pollution diet, known as a total maximum daily load or TMDL, sets limits on the amount of pollution waterways may receive and still meet water-quality standards. In addition to the pollution restrictions there are enforceable and measurable goals to track restoration progress.

Public participation is critical to the development of a TMDL. Although the federal government typically takes the lead, individual states create local cleanup plans and the public has an opportunity to respond and comment.  Local insight can provide a broader picture of what is happening in local watersheds.

If we want clean water in Pennsylvania we need to ensure that meaningful nutrient and sediment reduction goals are set and followed for our local waterways.

PennFuture is working to ensure clean water for the Chesapeake Bay by keeping waterways clean right here in Pennsylvania and serving as Pennsylvania's lead for the multi-state Choose Clean Water Coalition.

This coalition of over 200 regional non-profits and funders is seeking federal leadership to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay and all of its waters.

Our goal is clear — clean water.

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