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Lancaster County’s Road to Water Restoration

Back in April when I first began my journey at PennFuture, I published the blog Building a Community Clean Water Toolbox: How PA Will Meet its Goals. During the time, Pennsylvania had just launched its pilot program in Franklin, Adams, York, and Lancaster counties to meet its Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) requirements set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency. Since this time, significant progress has been made by each of these counties in the development of action plans to reduce pollution runoff going into our local waterways. 
Franklin and Adams counties have been meeting with the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Chesapeake Bay office to develop their toolboxes; York County has been hosting bi-weekly meetings to develop their pollution diet plan, with only a few meetings left until they release their plan to the public. Lancaster County Clean Water Partners have been convening every two weeks in the development of their toolbox, and officially released their draft strategy for restoring local water quality on Wednesday, Oct. 3. 
The draft plan, developed by the Partners, focuses on cleaning up local waters in Lancaster County, where 21 percent of Pennsylvania’s pollution reduction goals need to occur. It is a tall task, as 1,400 miles of streams in the county, or 50 percent, are considered “impaired” by the EPA. This means that the bodies of water are considered too polluted or otherwise degraded to meet the water quality standards set by the states, territories or authorized tribes in the U.S. under section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act. Coupled with this is the troubling fact that 80 percent of the pollution reduction goals need to come from the agriculture sector alone. In total, Lancaster County must reduce 11 million pounds of pollution (nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment) loading into the Chesapeake Bay by 2025. 
Who Led These Efforts?
The Clean Water Partners writing team, led by Justin Evans, Allyson Gibson, Brian Gish, Ruth Hocker, Mark Huber, Peter Hughes, Matt Kofroth, Joe Sweeney, Chris Thompson, Joellyn Warren , and many others, met every two weeks to develop the draft plans that were presented at the meeting. Over the last several months, the Partners have conducted municipal roundtables, orchestrated engineer luncheons, hosted conference calls with the Agricultural Council, and met with the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program. Their primary objective was to act as an “information hub” for all of the suggestions, and make sure that all of the information necessary to develop the draft, and solicit input from stakeholders, was centralized. 
What Does the Draft Strategy Look Like?
The draft plan focuses on six key areas that need to be addressed in order to meet compliance with the TMDL. These areas include data management, agriculture, stormwater, buffers, stream restoration, and land use and preservation. 
  • Data Management: Areas of improvement include a central location for conservation plans, restoration project permits, and grant applications. It also emphasizes the importance of improved documentation of current practices, more in-stream water quality monitoring to establish baselines, and identifying the best tools needed to achieve the goals and to measure progress and success.
  • Agriculture: In order to come to compliance and meet the 80 percent reduction goals necessary in the agriculture sector, the writing team laid out several important areas to focus on. This includes implementing better manure management practices, with a goal of reducing 25 percent of the annual application. In order to do this, they suggested introducing an end to winter spreading, and identifying and promoting the best location-specific alternate practices to deal with manure. Along with this, the team also highlighted the importance of acknowledging the need for a five to eight year phase-in period and to provide support. Other areas of improvement include building new manure storages and implementing barnyard management in priority areas, establishing a recording system of manure transport in and out of the county, increasing the number of farms who do livestock stream access management by 50 percent, increasing cover crops by 40 percent, increasing no-till and/or conservation tillage, and increasing buffer and stream restoration. 
  • Stormwater: In order to meet compliance in stormwater pollution reduction, the Partners suggested several scenarios. Identifying alternative sources of project possibilities that receive credit above compliance, developing and encouraging adoption of local land use ordinances to address stormwater more efficiently, and implementing innovative water quality projects that are effective and cost-efficient are all possibilities.
  • Buffers: In the blog I highlighted in the opening paragraph, I illustrated the importance of buffers on water quality. The Partners recognize the cost-efficient values that buffers provide, and suggest including an exemplary buffer demonstration of one to two acres in every township, creating an online map of buffer implementation to show progress, and direct landowner outreach for implementation to show progress. In conjunction with this, Lancaster County also aims to create a buffer program to complement CREP, and create and coordinate outreach campaigns for all public lands and semi-public lands to be required to install buffers.
  • Stream Restoration: The Partners outlined 50 projects plus basic, cost-effective monitoring of before and after water quality results that are shared.  
  • Land Use & Preservation: Finally, the Partners suggested implementing county planning initiatives, better growth management practices, improved planning and design, increased natural resources, open spaces and parks, and increasing tree canopy in both rural and urban areas. 
Where Does This Draft Succeed?
The draft plan written by the Partners highlights some of the key areas that have been severely lacking in the last 8 years of the Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP). Through the first two phases of the WIP (2010-2017), there was a centralized, top-down approach to regulating the counties, which solicited less input from key stakeholders and limited their ability to contribute to the development of the projects. That all changed with the Phase III WIP – as it stresses the importance stakeholder engagement and has allowed the counties to develop their own toolboxes based on the geography, urban and rural makeup, and technical assistance necessary to reach their pollution reduction goals. Lancaster’s draft strategy for restoring their local water quality emphasizes a comprehensive, grassroots, and integrated approach to reducing water pollution by bringing together a diverse set of voices with a myriad of technical expertise. 
Where Do We Go from Here?
It must be noted that these strategies are only a draft of the final product, and the final version will undoubtedly go into much greater detail of how to specifically reduce pollution based on each sector. For the last half of the meeting, the Partners solicited input in the form of roundtable discussions from the nearly 100 participants who attended. They will take the feedback they have received, continue to work on and revise the plan, and present it to the Chesapeake Bay Office in early November. 
There is still work to be done before the draft will be finalized – but, we’re in the end game now. 

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