State misses milestone mark

While there’s been a great deal of progress made in the past 25 years toward cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, no state within the bay’s watershed – including Pennsylvania – is on track to meet the interim 2012-13 milestone goals of pollution reduction practices.

Pennsylvania failed to be on track on five of eight practices which were set in 2009, according to the Pennsylvania Milestones 2012-13 Interim Progress report. The failure to reduce pollution not only impacts the bay’s health, creating a 40-percent dead zone in the summer, but local waterways as well. More than 19,000 miles of streams in the state don’t meet water quality standards, said Harry Campbell, executive director of the state office of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

If nothing changes, the ultimate goal to fully implement pollution-reduction practices by 2025 will not be met, he said.

Agricultural sources are the first cause, impairing 5,705 miles of state streams; followed by acid mine drainage, impairing 5,596 miles; and urban and suburban stormwater runoff, impairing more than 3,000 miles, Campbell said.

The state needs to issue permits faster for wastewater treatment plants, said John Surrick, Chesapeake Bay Foundation director of media relations. Forest buffers, conservation tillage, farm acres with nutrient management plans and urban tree canopy goals significantly missed the mark largely due to a lax tracking system by the state, Campbell said.

Conservation plans, barnyard runoff control and stormwater infiltration practices all exceeded the mid-term goal.

The good news is that while there has been a historical decrease in oysters and blue crab, more recently, oysters have expanded in some areas, and there are reproducing trout populations in state streams, thanks to pollution-reduction efforts, Campbell said.

Still, the system still is dangerously out of balance, Campbell said. Nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution produce a host of environmental issues. The sources are numerous: animal waste and fertilizer, runoff from urban and suburban development, wastewater treatment plants and septic systems.

For the blueprint to really work, Surrick said, it needs to be directed at the basin level, not just state by state, and ideally reported at the county level.

Overall, the report doesn’t give the most rosy impression, Campbell said, but there is hope with another year to catch up.

“We have the tools in the toolbox” to do it, he said. But reporting and tracking mechanisms need to be improved, stream-side forests incentivized, and how the information is delivered to farmers changed so they can play a greater role.

“Although the bay is still dangerously out of balance, it is improving,” Campbell said.