The federal government plans to hold states accountable for meeting mandated water quality standards associated with efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, it was revealed Wednesday during a public meeting at the Genetti Hotel.
The meeting, hosted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, was held to discuss the agency's limits - called Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL - on nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment entering the bay.
A TMDL is the maximum amount of pollution a body of water can take on and still meet water quality standards.
Richard Batiuk, EPA associate director of science, called the TMDL a "pollution diet" for the bay. The federal government has determined the TMDL for the bay and assigned each of the states in the watershed, including Pennsylvania, its share of that load.
According to Robert Koroncai, the agency's Chesapeake Bay TMDL manager, waters that impact the bay most should be required to achieve the most pollution reduction.
"When you add all this up, Pennsylvania is in the middle of the road," he said. "It has a relatively moderate impact (on the bay) per pound of nitrogen and phosphorus."
Bob Koroncai, Chesapeake Bay TDML manager with the Environmental Protection Agency describes the evolution of Chesapeake Bay watershed quality requirements to a crowd in the Genetti Hotel Wednesday evening.
CRAIG S. McKIBBEN JR./Sun-Gazette
The states now must develop an implementation plan, which will include input from local governments, conservation districts and citizens, and divide its load share among counties within the watershed.
Accountability will include monitoring progress and implementing consequences from the federal government for states not meeting pollution reduction milestones, according to Koroncai.
Just what those consequences will be are to be revealed in a letter to the states in December, he said.
They could include withholding or diverting grant funding, limiting or prohibiting development, limiting or prohibiting the issuing of discharge permits, or assigning more stringent pollution standards to wastewater treatment plants, he said.
Batiuk outlined how the federal government decided to take a more active role in ensuring states complied with federal clean water standards.
In May, President Barack Obama identified the bay as a national treasure and directed the agency to take more aggressive measures to clean up the bay by making sure states complied with the federal Clean Water Act. The act prohibits states from contributing to the impairment of water in another state.
Batiuk called the Susquehanna River, which supplies the bay with about half of its fresh water, the "lifeblood" of the bay.
Pennsylvania accounts for more than 40 percent of the nitrogen and 24 percent of the phosphorus entering the bay, he said.
Agriculture accounts for half of the nitrogen and phosphorus entering the bay, while wastewater treatment plants account for 11 percent of the nitrogen and 25 percent of the phosphorus, he said.
Other contributors include development and forests.
Pollution leads to murky water and algae blooms, which block sunlight from reaching bay grasses, and depletes dissolved oxygen needed by aquatic life.
Regardless of where pollution is coming from, the goal is to make a concerted effort to reduce that pollution, Batiuk said.
"We're not interested in pointing fingers," he said. "We're trying to figure out how to take that pie and shrink it down."
During a question, answer and comment session, Russell Reitz, a former county commissioner and member of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, asked EPA officials to first account for existing best management practices in agriculture before implementing new regulations for non-point source polluters such as farmers.
Reitz added that funding should be provided to farmers to help them institute farming practices that meet mandated pollution standards.
One question put to EPA officials asked how they planned to address pollution issues with Amish farmers.
Koroncai said issues such as that would have to be addressed by the state.
Another question asked whether federal government had calculated the cost of implementing the TMDL.
Koroncai said the cost has not yet been assessed but estimated it could cost "tens of billions of dollars."
Other questions focused on the state Department of Environmental Protection's oversight responsibilities in light of significant staff cuts in the 2010 state budget.
The federal government is providing additional funding for the Chesapeake Bay that could be used by states to fill budget gaps, Koroncai said.