A down payment for cleaner waters
Work to clean and protect local waters received a welcome boost recently, when Congress finalized a fiscal year 2020 budget that includes $85 million for the Chesapeake Bay Program.
This is possible, thanks to Pennsylvania’s elected leaders in the U.S. House and Senate. Our health, wellbeing, and quality of life will be better because of the $12 million increase in investments.
The Chesapeake Bay Program serves a critical role in conveying and collaborating with the local, state, and federal partners that make up the 64,000-square-mile watershed, of which roughly half of Pennsylvania’s land along with 33,000 farms and 1,000 local governments are a part. -It is the glue that holds the multi-state clean-up effort together and provides essential oversight to ensure that all are doing their part.
It also serves a critical role in supporting local clean water efforts in Pennsylvania through grants awarded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF). For 2019, nearly $8 million in NFWF investments and matching dollars will pay dividends throughout the Commonwealth’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
These grants support the farmers, sportsmen and women, conservation leaders, and local communities working hard every day to restore and protect Pennsylvania’s land and water.
As a new state budget proposal approaches, our General Assembly and Governor Tom Wolf need to seize the moment and act decisively to invest in critical practices, programs and guarantee the right of every Pennsylvanian to clean water.
Pennsylvania’s latest Clean Water Blueprint contains many notable improvements over previous ones. But it falls short. It achieves only 72 percent of the pollution reduction needed and will require significantly more investment than the Commonwealth has provided to date. In fact, Pennsylvania’s most recent plan identifies a $320 million annual shortfall in clean water funding.
Unfortunately, by consistently underfunding clean water efforts since the federal-state partnership was launched in 2009, Pennsylvania’s elected leaders have failed to uphold their promise to sufficiently reduce pollution to its surface water and groundwater. And today, the Commonwealth has roughly 40,000 miles of polluted stream miles and is far behind in meeting its commitments.
As federal legislators have for the Bay Program in the fiscal year 2020 budget, the Commonwealth needs to step-up its investments of financial and technical resources that support the many deserving family farmers, community leaders, and others who work tirelessly to restore and protect our rivers and streams.
With 2019 Bay Program grants from NFWF, roughly 4,500 farmers in Pennsylvania will learn more about the benefits of soil health.
In Lancaster County, more streamside buffers will be planted, and more miles of streams restored next year. More barnyard improvements and buffers will be made possible in the Cocalico Creek Watershed. Lancaster County schools will have a plan to maximize water quality benefits and reduce and improve runoff.
In Schuylkill County, Good Spring Creek will develop a watershed restoration plan, and green infrastructure will be detailed and designed for Liberty Hollow Run for the Borough of Northumberland.
The Commonwealth must do its part during this watershed moment to provide the vital financial and technical resources, and build on the momentum of a Bay Program boost in order to reach Blueprint success.
Any delay in supporting the many deserving boots on the ground that are working hard for cleaner water – farmers, conservation districts, sportsmen and women, and others – means another day of potential losses from stormwater flooding. Fewer trees and cover crops will be planted to keep soil and polluted runoff on the land instead of in the water.
There is return on such investments. Economic analysis indicates that achieving the Clean Water Blueprint will result in more than $6.2 billion in additional natural benefits each year for the Commonwealth.
We thank all Pennsylvania members of Congress who voted for the fiscal year 2020 spending package. We are especially grateful to Sen. Bob Casey and Reps. Dan Meuser, Lloyd Smucker and Chrissy Houlahan for signing onto a bipartisan letter urging budget negotiators to include the House-passed $85 million for the Bay Program. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Matt Cartwright has been a strong advocate and leader in helping ensure Pennsylvania receives important funding. This is a win for Pennsylvania.
We look forward to working with legislators at the local, state, and federal levels, so we might leave a legacy of clean water for future generations.
Harry Campbell is Pennsylvania executive director, Chesapeake Bay Foundation.