On May 17, the Pennsylvania Chesapeake Bay Watershed Planning Steering Committee approved a draft county clean water toolbox and county-level clean water planning process to pilot in four central Pennsylvania counties this summer. The action follows a decision made by the Committee on December 4 to pursue county-level nutrient reduction targets.

Clean Water Toolbox

As part of the meeting, a workgroup of the Committee gave a presentation and took comments on a county clean water toolbox that outlines a suggested county-based planning process for identifying clean water issues and tools counties can use to address those problems. The toolbox reviews the full range of programs and potential initiatives to reduce pollution, including state and local financial assistance; outreach and technical assistance; and state permitting, compliance, and enforcement initiatives. Each county will receive information about the county nutrient reduction targets and estimates of what each tool would achieve locally in terms of reductions.

The Committee voted to send the draft clean water toolbox to four pilot counties this summer—Adams, Franklin, Lancaster, and York—to begin field-testing the county clean water planning process. Lancaster and York counties alone represent opportunities to make 25 percent of the nutrient reductions required to meet clean water obligations in the Chesapeake Bay watershed in Pennsylvania, according to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

The draft timeline outlines a five-month schedule for developing a county-based pollution reduction action plan to be ready in October, with support from DEP staff and other partners. Once refined, the county planning process will be shared with the other 39 counties in Pennsylvania’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Draft Outline of Planning Process

There was also a presentation on a draft fact sheet to local partners in counties on the clean water planning process and the opportunities to be involved locally. To get some of the flavor of the proposed planning process, here’s a portion of the draft fact sheet that is subject to further revisions:

The County Role in Developing A Community Clean Water Plan

First, thank you for all of the local improvements that are leading to cleaner water throughout much of Pennsylvania. The efforts of partners at all levels of government and community have led to positive change both locally and for downstream neighbors.

You may know that Pennsylvania’s waterways are in need of all of our help. Approximately 19,000 miles of these waters are impaired, but right now, we have a unique opportunity to turn this around.

As a state rich in water and one with important economies centered around tourism and agriculture, not to mention the millions of residents that rely on our water sources for drinking water, it is extremely important to protect and improve our local water quality.

For the first time, communities can prioritize clean water efforts based on local understanding of the waterways and community needs.

Local involvement in the cleanup of local waterways gives you a say in how it gets done, how improvements are prioritized, and which mix of cost-effective solutions are utilized. There are many benefits to implementing best management practices (BMPs) and clean water, such as:

  • Increased health and vitality to our many sport and recreational fisheries;
  • More miles of streams usable for recreation such as kayaking and swimming;
  • Maintaining or increasing water suitable for drinking water while possibly reducing treatment costs in the long term; and
  • Improved conditions at local farms by retaining soil and improving soil and herd health.

Ultimately, your involvement and commitment to your community gives us the best chance at achieving clean water in the Commonwealth.

Who: Anyone who cares about water quality and the role it plays in a healthy and vibrant community. County-level groups and programs like conservation districts and planning groups, and other local groups and clubs. Statewide partners such as Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Agriculture, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and the United States Environmental Protection Agency can and will provide technical assistance throughout the planning process.

What: Development of county-specific community clean water plans to assist Pennsylvania in meeting local clean water goals and federal clean water requirements by engaging each of the 43 counties within the Bay watershed. Through the Chesapeake Bay Agreement, Pennsylvania is required to meet the total maximum daily load (TMDL) reduction goals.

Where: Forty-three of Pennsylvania’s counties—those that lie in the Susquehanna River Basin—contribute pollution to the River and the Bay. Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware, and Washington D.C. are all required to meet Chesapeake Bay TMDL reduction goals.

When: Now. The sooner improvements are made, the sooner the benefits are realized. The EPA and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania signed the Chesapeake Bay Agreement in 2010 with a deadline to meet TMDL reductions by 2025, in just seven years.

Why: Local water quality improvement will mean more livable communities and recreational opportunities for Pennsylvania residents and tourists. When we improve local waterways, we in turn also provide multiple benefits to the Chesapeake Bay.

How: Get involved. The success of this effort will come down to leadership at the local level. While we have technical resources, data to analyze, tools to aid in prioritization and technical assistance to offer, we need a leader at the local level to connect with local stakeholders and maintain momentum that is built.

Why Is This the Right Time?

Pennsylvania has over 86,000 miles of waterways. Unfortunately, over 19,000 miles are impaired. It is extremely important to protect and improve our local water quality, for our economies such as agriculture and tourism, for clean drinking water, and to ensure clean water for future generations.

The beginning of Pennsylvania’s clean water efforts date back to the signing of the original Chesapeake Bay Agreement in 1983. Improvements are happening in local waterways and in those waters that reach the Bay, just not quickly enough to meet our current federal obligations under the most recent Agreement, signed in 2010.

In 2010 the EPA developed Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) for each of the jurisdictions within the Bay watershed. The timeline for meeting the pollution reductions outlined in the TMDL is 2025.

The TMDL requires jurisdictions to develop a Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) that outlines how pollution reductions and obligation will be met by 2025. Pennsylvania developed a WIP that was intended to start us on our efforts and then developed a Phase 2 WIP to further those efforts.

The final step in that process is the Phase 3 Watershed Implementation Plan or WIP 3, as it is often referenced. The Watershed Implementation Plan will guide efforts through 2025, and is being developed from the “ground up” with the involvement of many local partners.

Why Focus on Local Involvement and Partnerships?

In past efforts, Pennsylvania looked at the development of the Watershed Implementation Plan as a state obligation but did involve the various sectors that were impacted in the development. This time the development is being done with involvement and planning at the local level.

One key decision point that has been made by the various stakeholders involved in the process is that plans will be developed and implemented at the county level. In doing so, for the first time, local communities have the ability to prioritize efforts based on their understanding of the waterways and community. This does not mean that there are any obligations placed on county governments. The WIP remains a set of state level obligations, but it clearly makes sense to break down those obligations.

No one understands your community, local economy, local waterways and your ability to rise to a challenge better than you. Your involvement in the cleanup of local waterways gives you say in how this gets done, how improvements are prioritized and which mix of cost-effective solutions are chosen within your county.

In recognizing the challenge ahead, we should also recognize the opportunity. While Pennsylvania has an obligation to meet, that obligation can be met in a variety of ways, some more beneficial than others, and some that could come with additional costs. The importance of local leadership, particularly a leadership group with an established relationship with the local community, cannot be overstated, as trust will be a critical component of our success as a whole.

Assistance from state and federal technical experts is available to help guide these local planning efforts.

Click here for the full draft fact sheet.

Identifying Co-Benefits Of Conservation Practices

Part of the county-level clean water planning process is helping communities identify the economic and public health co-benefits of best management practices to reduce water pollution in agricultural, forest and urban and suburban settings.

The presentation to the Steering Committee highlighted, as an example, the co-benefits of forested buffers and the co-benefits of healthy watersheds.

The next scheduled meeting of the Chesapeake Bay Steering Committee is July 10 to review the final results of the Technical and Financial Assistance Scoping Scenarios.  Secretary McDonnell said revised state nutrient reduction target may or may not be ready at that point.

For more information and available handouts, visit the Chesapeake Bay Steering Committee webpage.  Each meeting of the Steering Committee is recorded and available online.