Pa. House panel talks challenges of cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, local waterways
Pa., which comprises 35% of the bay’s watershed and most of its largest tributary, the Susquehanna River, still needs to eliminate 31 million pounds of nitrogen from its Bay-bound waterways
Reducing nutrient pollution from the Susquehanna River, viewed here from the Pinnacle Overlook in Pennsylvania, is critical for restoring water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. (Bay Journal photo by Karl Blankenship)
From permitting reform to stream-side fencing legislation, the House Environmental Resources & Energy Committee heard from experts and advocates on Monday about the challenges facing efforts to clean up Pennsylvania’s impaired waterways.
With more than 27,000 miles of impaired waterways in the commonwealth, and a looming 2025 Chesapeake Bay pollution-reduction deadline, a proposed bill to eliminate a state prohibition on stream-side fencing was discussed as one possible solution to furthering Pennsylvania’s waterway clean up efforts.
Under state law, a waterway is considered impaired if it doesn’t meet water quality standards.
House Bill 677, which is sponsored by state Rep. Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster, would allow municipalities to require fencing between livestock herds and streams in an effort to reduce pollutants in local waterways.
Supporters of the bill say it will reduce contaminants in local waterways and help the commonwealth meet its 2025 goal of reducing nitrogen and phosphorus levels in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
“Implementing conservation practices like stream-side fencing will not only benefit farmers and achieve healthier local waters in the cleaner Bay, worth an estimated $130 billion in economic, public health and environmental benefits, but it will make significant gains towards the nation’s climate goals and improve the well being of more than 18 million people that call the watershed home,” Trisha Salvia, a staff attorney for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, told lawmakers.
In 2010, the six states in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed — New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, and West Virginia, as well as the District of Columbia — agreed to develop plans to limit the amount of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay by 2025 as outlined in the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.
Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, which collectively account for nearly 90% of the Bay’s pollution, are not on track to meet the 2025 pollution-reduction goals, a 2022 report from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation concluded.
Pennsylvania, which comprises 35% of the bay’s watershed and most of its largest tributary, the Susquehanna River, still needs to eliminate 31 million pounds of nitrogen from its Bay-bound waterways.
“Pennsylvania really has, even without any bay shoreline, an enormous influence on the health of the bay, Marel King, Pennsylvania director at the Chesapeake Bay Commission said, noting that the biggest challenges to hitting those goals continue to be farmland and stormwater runoff.
“Whatever we’re doing to improve water quality and Chesapeake Bay is going to improve water quality here at home and vice versa. If we just focus on improving our own local waters, and creating a healthy watershed, the bay itself will benefit as well,” King said.
Chris Hoffman, president of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau told lawmakers that the Farm Bureau is not against the stream-side fencing bill as a matter of best practices, but Hoffman said it is worried that it creates add costs for the commonwealth’s farmers without the opportunity for cost-sharing measures.
“When you start looking at mandating different types of BMPs, it creates costs,” Hoffman told the committee. “We’re not against the BMP but it adds a lot of costs for a farmer in a very economic downturned time.”
Those costs, Hoffman said, “could actually create an environmental or economic issue that could put farmers out of business.”
The bureau is working with lawmakers to find a compromise on the bill, Hoffman said. “We’re working on trying to come up with some language that will actually get us there.”
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