PennFuture Blog

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Water is Life: Celebrating Chesapeake Bay Week

This blog is one in a series of posts during PennFuture's Water is Life Month, which explores Pennsylvania's water crisis. 

Monday marked the beginning of Chesapeake Bay Awareness Week, and in Pennsylvania, we celebrate and reflect on the critical health and importance of our local streams, creeks, and rivers, and the important role they each play in our lives. 

It’s true that the health of the Chesapeake Bay is making modest improvements, but it’s Pennsylvania’s turn to dig-in and show everyone how essential our water is to our everyday lives and why the diminishment we are seeing in local water quality cannot continue to worsen. The situation continues to be challenging, and stakes are high.  

We need to turn our focus to making healthy again the Chiques, the Conewago, the Conestoga, the Little Juniata, the Buffalo, and the Conococheague. We need to stand strong in preserving our natural heritage through angling and outdoor recreation enjoyed at Beech Creek, the Falling Spring, and the Yellow Breeches. 

From drinking clean water in Harrisburg and Wilkes-Barre, to using clean water for agriculture in Lancaster County, to swimming in a watering hole in Franklin County, to paddling through the West Branch Susquehanna and our headwaters communities in the Wilds – Pennsylvanians know that protecting and restoring our water is essential. 

This year brings an elevated purpose and role for clean water advocates and those who work in conserving our Commonwealth’s waters. As a part of the Total Maximum Daily Load –the “pollution diet” -- set forth by the federal government in 2010 to improve water quality in Chesapeake Bay, 2017 brings the midpoint assessment to see where Pennsylvania is in meeting its pollution reduction goals by 2025 in sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorous. Pennsylvania has missed its pollution reduction targets. We have decreased phosphorus pollution somewhat, but are missing nitrogen reduction significantly, putting the water we drink at risk throughout the basin, subjecting it to increased likelihood of algal blooms and other consequences.  

Over the next 18 months, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and the Department of Agriculture are working in tandem to write the next in the series of the Commonwealth’s goal documents in reaching its pollution reduction goals – the Watershed Implementation Plans, or WIPs. 

Key agencies including the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program are making strides in capturing monitoring data and collecting new information on our watersheds, with help from integral partnerships with colleges and universities, nongovernmental organizations, and local watershed associations. It takes a strong and well-oiled team to do this work. While Pennsylvania is far off-target for its 2025 goals, we can be heartened by new energy by stakeholders working on the third phase of the state’s Watershed Implementation Plan. 

Now more than ever, it is of paramount importance that our partners in recreation, sustainable agriculture, faith communities, education, and environmental conservation stand together and hold fast for the stewardship of our land and waters. We must remain engaged and push for more citizen stakeholders and advocates to remind our agencies about the severity of our clean water crisis in Pennsylvania and the need to uphold strong clean-up commitments. 

One way everyday Pennsylvanians can help this effort is to submit public comments to help develop the state plan to improve local water health in Chesapeake Bay Watershed counties until July 7. Citizens, farmers, paddlers, and advocates of all kinds are encouraged to lean in and tell DEP specifically how their lives revolve around water and how crucial clean water is. 

Unfortunately, the path forward to clean water in Pennsylvania doesn’t stop with having good plans in place. Long-needed dedicated clean water funding legislation has been difficult to establish in our General Assembly and State Senate, though the Commonwealth is charged as a trustee of our water resources, and clean water is a guaranteed right under our state constitution. Governor Wolf’s budget continues the status quo. Even more alarming, $73 million in funding at the federal level through the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program remain threatened due to President Trump’s proposed FY18 budget. 

Valuable conservation dollars spent for agricultural best management practice implementation by local  farmers are paying off. This federal funding will be cut, or totally eliminated, as will  money that flows to PA counties for conservation district staffs to work on water quality improvement, stewardship, and restoration projects. Work to establish forested riparian buffers and green infrastructure in our urban areas will suffer. Technical assistance to municipalities for stormwater requirement compliance to protect our waterways from run-off is also at stake. As Penn State found late last year, Pennsylvania needs about $300 million annually to meet its pollution reduction goals and to clean up its streams, creeks, and rivers. 

This challenge may seem formidable, but PennFuture is working hard to defend clean water policy and funding, and working with the legislature and Governor to sufficiently fund clean water. As the state lead organization for the Choose Clean Water Coalition, we are busy coordinating with partners and working with legislators in Harrisburg to pass newly introduced Growing Greener III legislation, a water usage fee to raise money for watershed restoration from waterway withdrawals, and a suite of legislation to support sustainable agriculture and a cut-back on nutrients, including Representative Mike Sturla’s Clean and Green bill, in addition to a bill that would reduce nitrogen and phosphorous in homeowner’s fertilizer bags. We have ramped up our outreach to partners in agriculture and are asking the tough questions. At the federal level, we are regularly advocating with Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation for more conservation funding through upcoming infrastructure spending, the 2018 Farm Bill, the Chesapeake Bay Program, and pass-through and stewardship project grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. We believe in clean water policy and that water is a human right for all.

The importance of state and federal funding for clean water cannot be emphasized enough. Pennsylvania needs strong support from Washington, but it is past time the state legislature move on legislation that enacts a dedicated fund for clean water. 

We at PennFuture remain vigilant and steadfast in our support for clean water funding and conservation practices, but we need your help. Join our mailing list, participate in action alerts by contacting your legislators at critical times, and join this fight. Clean water is good for Pennsylvania and great for the Bay.

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