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Building a Community Clean Water Toolbox: How PA Will Meet its Goals

On April 10, nearly 200 leaders from county conservation districts, agriculture, municipal governments, environmental groups, water companies, and other entities participated in a workshop focused around the state plan for improving water quality in Pennsylvania’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. 

Participants shared their expertise and aided in the development of the Community Clean Water Toolbox to draft policy and suggestions to help Pennsylvania meet its Total Maximum Pollution Reduction (TMDL) goals by 2025.  

During the conference, the group learned about planning, engagement, resource, tracking, and implementation tools that would be available to counties for developing and implementing action plans to reduce pollution runoff into our waterways. The areas in focus for initial pilot development are Lancaster, York, Adams, and Franklin County. These counties will lead the way in development and create their action plans by October. After the initial toolbox is created and implemented in these counties, it will then be further modified (as needed) for use by the other counties in the Commonwealth. 

From this meeting, there are a few points that everyone took home: We need more community engagement, Lancaster County has the most opportunity for pollution reduction in the Commonwealth, and forested riparian buffers are the most cost-effective way of meeting our pollution reduction goals.

In terms of community engagement, it will play a critical role in the state’s ability to meet its goals for the plan. The PA Department of Environmental Protection will not be enforcing compliance through regulatory oversight; instead, its aim is to have counties use the numbers presented to them to define pollution reduction goals and identify existing and proposed local initiatives that can be used to help meet them. The end game is having a county-level approach that will lead Pennsylvania in attaining its pollution reduction goals 

The second major takeaway from the event centered on the amount of nutrient and sediment runoff in Lancaster County. Due to the lack of trees in the county, and the amount of populated areas coupled with the abundance of farming, Lancaster has earned a reputation as a major load-producing geography that contributes to the condition of the Chesapeake Bay. Because of this, a major focus of the Watershed Implementation Plan Steering Committee is looking at Lancaster and York County as sites for “pilot” programs that will implement these best management practices (BMP), and then modify them as necessary after the Phase III WIP is set into motion. 

Lastly, the Steering Committee showcased a study that indicated riparian buffers to be the most cost-efficient and results-driven form of BMP that can be implemented. Riparian buffers are patches of vegetation and trees surrounding a stream or body of water that helps shade and protect the stream from the impacts of adjacent land uses. Implementing riparian buffers throughout the Commonwealth will aide in the restoration of streams by protecting the fish and inhabitants of the water and provide a natural balance to the ecosystem, because they absorb runoff and cool the temperature of the creeks and streams.

As great as these initiatives are, there is still work that needs to be done. Pennsylvania still remains nearly 60 percent behind schedule for the TMDL, funding sources for implementing clean water projects still seems out of reach, and we are woefully underperforming compared to our neighboring states. However, the leadership shown at this conference is a step in the right direction. Now comes the difficult part – translating this down to the local level and installing BMP’s on time to meet our state goals. 


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