April 8, 2021

PennFuture Releases New Report to Get Pennsylvania Back on Track toward Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Goals

PennFuture Releases New Report to Get Pennsylvania Back on Track toward Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Goals

HARRISBURG, Pa. (April 8, 2021) - We are at an inflection point for Pennsylvania’s efforts to save the Chesapeake Bay.

What policymakers in the Keystone State do—or more importantly, what they do not do—over the next five years will determine not only the fate of many of the Commonwealth’s rivers and streams in the Susquehanna and Potomac River Basins, but also the fate of America’s largest estuary and third largest in the world.

With that sense of urgency in mind, PennFuture today released a policy agenda designed to give Pennsylvania lawmakers a roadmap to fund clean water programs and to get us back on track toward meeting our obligations to clean up the bay.

Titled “Underfunded and Polluted: Solutions to Fund Clean Water in Pennsylvania and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed,” our report puts forth a legislative agenda that, if acted upon, would provide the technical assistance, agency support, and public investments needed to put Pennsylvania on the path toward meeting the Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, or the so-called “pollution diet” goals, by its 2025 end date.

Pennsylvania plays a key role in helping to save the bay.

To that end, the Susquehanna River provides half of all the freshwater that flows into the Chesapeake Bay, and there are more than 15,000 miles of polluted streams within Pennsylvania’s portions of the Susquehanna and Potomac River Basins alone.

Our water pollution problem has become so severe that Pennsylvania is required to reduce its load of pollution into the Susquehanna River by 34 million pounds of nitrogen and 756,000 pounds of phosphorus by 2025. 

Unfortunately, Pennsylvania’s history in attaining these results has been murky to date. Our leaders have lent support to plans for years to achieve clean water, but haven’t found the mechanisms to fully implement them. 

The hope is that our report will be the missing link to bridge that gap toward clean water. 

“Our report is intended to get Pennsylvania back on track toward meeting its clean water goals and, ultimately, saving the Chesapeake Bay,” said PennFuture President and CEO Jacquelyn Bonomo. “Each one of us benefits by having access to clean water, yet the Commonwealth continues to fall short of its obligations to reduce water pollution. We know the path forward. Now it is incumbent upon the General Assembly to invest in our communities and provide the funding needed to clean up our rivers and streams.”

Specifically, we recommend policy solutions and funding amounts that would result in the reduction of pollution from its major source—agriculture lands—as well as stormwater runoff and forestry-related practices. We also recommend that our state agencies are funded properly and operating with sufficient capacity to carry out the programs and assistance needed to accomplish state pollution goals.

The report also identifies funding mechanisms that are available to state legislators to help  achieve these policy goals, including a severance tax on natural gas extraction, eliminating the sales tax exemption for bottled water, levying a fee on single-use plastic bags, and establishing a water use fee for large commercial operations in Pennsylvania, among others. 

"For far too long, Pennsylvania's legislature has failed to properly invest in our waterways," said PennFuture Campaign Manager Renee Reber, who authored the report. "Today, PennFuture is changing that narrative. Our new report shows that making the necessary investments is possible and we provide legislators with the tools to do so. State investments in clean water are investments in our economy, farmers, towns, and public health. The time to act is now."

The pathways spelled out in our report complement efforts already underway in the state Capitol, as two bills with bipartisan support could soon come up for a vote in Harrisburg. 

The first is SB 251 which seeks to implement new standards and regulations on lawn fertilizer application across Pennsylvania, while SB 465 would create a statewide Agricultural Conservation Assistance Program to help more farmers and landowners implement practices to combat nonpoint source agricultural runoff to our streams, creeks, and rivers. We will be watching these bills closely and doing our part to support them. 

Now is a critical time for state leaders to uphold our right to clean water, and to strongly support Pennsylvania's recreation businesses and farmers. Now is the time to invest in our waterways.

To read the report, please click here.

Addition Quotes from Partner Organizations

“With 86,000 miles of streams, Pennsylvanians are surrounded by a unique and precious resource. But for far too long, efforts to protect and restore Pennsylvania’s waterways have suffered from a crippling lack of investment by the state legislature. And this failure is felt downstream, as efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay are futile unless Pennsylvania makes significant strides reducing pollution entering its waterways. We urge Pennsylvania’s legislature to make the necessary investments to realize clean water and the multitude of benefits it provides.” Mariah Davis, Acting Director, Choose Clean Water Coalition

"Pennsylvania’s rivers have shaped the history of this country. They are critical to healthy people and ecosystems across the Commonwealth and beyond. It is time to treat and invest in them accordingly. The recommendations in PennFuture's report create a clear roadmap for healthier rivers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and benefits to clean water statewide.” Jen Adkins, Director of Clean Water Supply for American Rivers

“Investing in the Commonwealth’s waterways is key to a healthy environment and a prosperous economy. Northeastern Pennsylvania has seen rivers, like the Lackawanna, degraded to an almost unrestorable condition at the hands of industry and poorly managed stormwater runoff, but thanks to the assistance of properly executed environmental programs and funds, these rivers have the chance to persevere. A properly executed WIP3 program has the potential to protect and enhance the tributaries to the Susquehanna River and ultimately save the Chesapeake Bay from further degradation.” Bernie McGurl, Director of the Lackawanna River Conservation Association

"Funding the Phase 3 WIP is imperative for healthy streams and rivers in Pennsylvania and protecting the economic vitality of our Pennsylvania farms. Through our Turkey Hill Partnership, we estimate the average cost of farm improvements to protect water quality is $150,000 per farm. This is a cost that our producers simply cannot afford. As an alliance of communities, companies, and conservationists, we urge the Pennsylvania legislature to make a long-term investment in Pennsylvania's economic sustainability through the Phase 3 WIP as PennFuture recommends." Jenna Mitchell, Pennsylvania State Director and Agriculture Program Director at the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay

“Trout Unlimited is dedicated to conserving, protecting and restoring Pennsylvania’s wild trout fisheries and their watersheds, a mission that begins with protection of waters in our own backyards. Pennsylvania’s outdoor recreation economy depends on clean water, yet without adequate state funds, many waters remain polluted, robbing citizens of the opportunity to enjoy our aquatic resources. We can significantly increase the pace of on-the-ground restoration through projects like riparian buffers and other initiatives that decrease pollution to our local waterways and eventually to the Chesapeake Bay. This report contains key recommendations for funding, resource agency needs, and legislative initiatives that are key tools to be used in reaching the goal of cleaner, healthy waters throughout the Commonwealth.” Jennifer Orr-Greene, Eastern Policy Director, Trout Unlimited


PennFuture is leading the transition to a clean energy economy in Pennsylvania, fighting big polluters with legal muscle, enforcing environmental laws, and supporting legislative policy that protects public health. PennFuture is engaging and educating citizens about the realities of climate change, and giving them the tools needed to influence lawmakers on the issues. Visit www.pennfuture.org for more information.

Jared Stonesifer
Director of Media Relations