CBF: Pennsylvania Still a Problem with Nitrogen in the Bay

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The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) assessment of progress made implementing milestone commitments in 2016 found Maryland and Virginia largely on track to meet commitments for reducing pollution and Pennsylvania falling significantly short in reducing nitrogen pollution.

“While there is significant room for improvement in all the states, it is important to note that reduced pollution is benefitting the Bay. Over time, the dead zone is getting smaller, Bay grasses are at record levels, and oysters are rebounding,” said CBF President William C. Baker. “The success all three states have had in reducing pollution from sewage treatment plants is important, but it also masks shortfalls in each of the states’ efforts to reduce pollution from agriculture and urban/suburban runoff. Continued federal and state investments will be key to success on the state level, and we know the payoff will be significant.”

Under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, the states have committed to implementing 60 percent of the practices necessary to restore the Bay by 2017, and 100 percent by 2025. Over the next year, the states and EPA will assess progress and develop new plans to achieve the 2025 goal.

The two-year milestones provide transparency and accountability for restoration efforts. This assessment is for the first year of the 2016-17 milestone period.

CBF’s assessment looked at the practices the states put in place in 2016, as well as selected programs each state has designed to achieve the long-term goals. (Attached to this email is a narrative summary of the Maryland assessment, and a chart summarizing findings for all six states in the Bay watershed and the District of Columbia.)

Pennsylvania practices

Pennsylvania is significantly off track in reducing nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from agriculture as well as urban/suburban runoff. Progress in reducing pollution from sewage treatment plants is on track. Overall progress to reduce nitrogen pollution is significantly off track, but efforts to reduce phosphorus and sediment pollution are only slightly off track.

Pennsylvania programs

Pennsylvania’s re-boot committed the Commonwealth to develop and implement an agricultural compliance and enforcement strategy. As part of that strategy inspections were to be conducted on 10 percent of its farms annually. With funding from the Chesapeake Bay Program and other sources, over 1,100 farms were visited between October 2016 and March 2017, an inspection rate below what is needed to visit 10% of farms. However, the pace of inspections has increased now that the process is more established. Roughly 70% of the farms had the required plans. These inspections, however, only assess whether the required plans exist, not whether they are implemented – a major shortfall of state efforts to date.

Pennsylvania also committed to counting and reporting on agricultural practices that are not government funded. A recent Penn State study reported many practices that the Commonwealth had not counted.

Pennsylvania’s efforts to reduce pollution from urban/suburban runoff are showing mixed success. The Commonwealth is significantly off track in reducing pollution from nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment. To help jumpstart reductions, the Commonwealth has implemented specific, numeric goals in permits for small municipalities.

“Pennsylvania’s pollution reduction strategy has shown some progress and the Commonwealth is in the process of developing a new watershed implementation plan to carry it toward the 2025 goals,” said CBF Pennsylvania Executive Director Harry Campbell. “But the Commonwealth is considering yet another budget that falls well short of providing the investments necessary for success. Pennsylvania will only be successful with sustained investments in the right places and on the right practices.

Maryland practices

Maryland is slightly off track reducing nitrogen pollution from agriculture, while on track to remove phosphorus and sediment pollution. Urban/suburban efforts have fallen far short for nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment. Maryland’s efforts to upgrade sewage treatment plants are on track. Thus, overall efforts to reduce nitrogen pollution are slightly off track, while pollution reduction efforts for phosphorus and sediment are on track.

Maryland programs

While seeing success in wastewater treatment plants, Maryland is significantly behind in reducing pollution from septic systems. Technologies exist to significantly reduce nitrogen pollution from septic systems, however the state has stopped requiring those technologies to be used for new systems more than 1,000 feet from tidal waters.

There are requirements in Maryland for large municipalities to develop plans and implement technologies to reduce urban/suburban runoff by replacing 20 percent of impervious surfaces with practices that absorb and filter rainwater. While the Maryland Department of the Environment has reviewed those plans, it has not taken action to correct deficiencies. In addition, draft permits for smaller municipalities fail to require any restoration actions in the next five years.

Maryland is implementing its agricultural phosphorus management tool, which will limit the application of phosphorus on land that already has excess phosphorus. Current programs to match excess manure with farms where it can be used safely may need to be expanded.

“We can feel proud that Maryland got off to a strong start in this epic project to restore the Chesapeake and that state leaders remain committed to the Blueprint. From streams in Western Maryland to tidal creeks on the Eastern Shore, we see evidence of cleaner water. But the job is far from done,” said CBF Maryland Executive Director Alison Prost. “We must work together to find solutions for polluted runoff in our cities and suburbs, for failing septic systems in rural areas, and for problems from sprawl development. Given the uncertainties around federal leadership on this effort, we urge the General Assembly and the Hogan Administration to tackle the challenges head-on for our benefit and for the benefit of future generations of Marylanders.”

Virginia practices

Virginia is on track to meet its phosphorus goal for agriculture, and slightly off track for nitrogen and sediment. The Commonwealth is significantly off track in meeting nitrogen and sediment goals for urban/suburban runoff, while only slightly off track for phosphorus. Due to its success with upgrading sewage treatment plants, overall, Virginia is on track for reducing nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, and slightly off track for sediment.

Virginia programs

Virginia’s efforts to reduce pollution from urban/suburban runoff are continuing to fall short of its goals. While new permits have been issued for both large municipalities and smaller jurisdictions, permit requirements are not sufficient to achieve the necessary pollution reduction by 2025.

Virginia’s agricultural programs have made steady progress, but there is room for improvement. A program funding 100 percent of the costs to fence cattle out of streams was so successful that there is a backlog of more than 400 farmers waiting for funding. And Virginia’s agricultural certainty program has resulted in the approval of 300 plans, covering more than 65,000 acres of cropland. However, implementation of these plans is lagging, Adoption of cover crops is below targets and implementation of forest buffers is also off track.

“It’s not often that we celebrate overachievements, but the incredible progress made in upgrading Virginia’s wastewater treatment plants allows the Commonwealth to remain largely on track for meeting goals to reduce pollution in our waterways,” said CBF Virginia Executive Director Rebecca LePrell. “However, the road doesn’t stop here. As we approach 2025, the success of wastewater treatment plants should serve as a model for addressing challenges in cutting polluted runoff from agriculture, cities, and suburbs. As state elections near, I hope Virginia’s next governor will work with legislators to ensure stable and adequate investment in farm conservation practices and support for local governments to reduce polluted runoff.”

CBF Notes: Catch the Last Two Clean Water Concerts by Erika Koontz

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As the first official day of summer arrives, so do the final two Clean Water Concert Series performances here.

Photo by Erika Koontz

Sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and the Avalon Foundation, Harrison Street between Dover and Goldsborough will be blocked off again on June 24 and July 8 from 6-8:30 p.m. for this free summertime tradition on the Shore. You won’t want to miss this year’s line-up:

Saturday, June 24: U.S. Navy Band Sea Chanters

The Navy’s official chorus performs pieces ranging from Broadway tunes to sea chanteys and everything in between.

Saturday, July 8: The XPD’s

A D.C. area favorite, the XPD’s groove to Motown, R&B, and funk tunes that get people dancing.

Now in its fifth year, the Clean Water Concert Series has gotten off to a fantastic start. People from around the Shore came out on June 3 to enjoy the first show! The Spanish and Portuguese songs of Cantaré, a Latin American group from Washington, D.C., drew in people from a variety of cultures and backgrounds. An estimated 1,500 attendees danced, enjoyed the music from a comfortable lawn chair, or caught the up-beat melodies while visiting the exhibitor tables.

More than a dozen community organizations staffed the family-friendly exhibits to educate people about the environment, and to celebrate the progress being made toward clean and healthy waterways on the Shore. Each organization offered an interactive and family-friendly activity that had something for everyone. Side-walk chalk drawings of Chesapeake Bay critters and drips of delicious Nice Farms Creamery ice cream covered the street by the end of the night.

All concerts are free and open to the public. The wide variety of environmental and community exhibits staffed by experts will be on display for children and adults to enjoy. CBF and the Avalon Foundation are pleased to host this opportunity to learn more about the Bay and how you can be a part of the movement to restore it.

The concert series promotes community awareness about the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, a multi-state, science-based plan to restore the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams.

Visit cbf.org to learn more.

Good Deal: Eastern Shore Land Conservancy and DNR Preserve 460 Acres on the Bohemia

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The Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC), in partnership with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), is preserving 460 acres in Cecil County for the future development of a new state park. The Board of Public Works unanimously approved the acquisition this morning.

The new water-access site, located near Chesapeake City, will eventually be called Bohemia River State Park and will complement existing Maryland Park Service properties in the area – Elk Neck, Fair Hill, and Sassafras. This is a big win for land conservation on the Eastern Shore, and more specifically, Cecil County.

“Over the course of the past 27 years, ESLC has been involved with literally thousands of Eastern Shore farms. OBX Farms is truly one of the most beautiful we’ve ever assisted in preserving!” said ESLC Executive Director Rob Etgen. “This purchase will keep the land open, free from future development, and most exciting of all, available to the public for generations to come. ESLC is incredibly proud to play a role in this important legacy.”

The acquisition of OBX Farms was fully funded by Program Open Space, which preserves natural areas for public recreation, and watershed and wildlife protection across Maryland.

In addition to existing agricultural land that will most likely continue being farmed, approximately 14,000 feet of riverfront property will now be available to the public for kayakers, standup paddle-boarders, canoers, and other activities. The property’s rich network of riparian forests and tidal and non-tidal wetlands will provide for habitat restoration and water quality benefits.

Once the acquisition is complete (projected Fall 2017), the department will develop an interim public access plan for the property, which will enable visitors to enjoy passive, nature-based activities until a master plan can be developed. Public access to the new park should begin during the spring or summer of 2018. The public will have numerous opportunities to comment on the master plan as it is being drafted.

For more information, please contact ESLC’s Communication Manager, David Ferraris, at dferraris@eslc.org or 410.690.4603 x165.

Mid-Shore Ecosystem: Championing a Horn Point Lab Champion with Jim Brighton & Jamie Pierson

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For the last several years, the University Of Maryland’s Horn Point Laboratory has made it a tradition to name a local Chesapeake Champion, to honor those individuals who show through their example how to sustain the region’s wildlife, landscapes and water.

This title is not casually handed out. Former Champions include Waterfowl Festival’s Albert Pritchett, conservationist Chip Akridge, Out of the Fire’s Amy Haines, and last year, Bartlett Pair’s Jordan and Alice Lloyd.

And this year’s recipient, Jim Brighton, falls into that same category as these other greatest stewards of the Bay, but in Jim’s case, his founding the Maryland Biodiversity Project is the first time a “Champion” has been named whose organization includes the work of citizen scientists whose interests relate to Horn Point’s extraordinary research activities in the Chesapeake Bay region.

Since Maryland Biodiversity Project was co-founded by Jim, along with Bill Hubick, in 2012, the organization and its dozens of volunteers have identified and recorded over 17,200 species in the state. And some of that important data is being used by Horn Point scientists, including Jamie Pierson, an oceanographer that focuses most of his work on zooplankton ecology.

And, oh yes, they are friends as well.

In fact, Jim and Jamie Pierson have known each other for many years as professionals, but they met each other in a book club that was studying Thomas Pynchon’s famous novel, ‘Mason & Dixon’. So there is no surprise that Jamie was one of many that was championing Jim for Chesapeake Champion this year.

In their Spy interview, Jamie and Jim talk about their friendship, the important role the Maryland Diversity Project plays in the work of Horn Point Laboratory, and the critical data that MDP has built to support a vibrant, nature study community.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about the Maryland Diversity Project go here and for Horn Point Laboratory please go here.

There will be a special event to honor Him Brighton at the Waterfowl Festival Armory at 40 S. Harrison Street in Easton on June 23 at 5pm. For tickets and more information please contat Liz Freedlander at lfreedlander@umces.edu

Bay Ecosystem: Fishery Managers Consider Cuts in Bay Crab Harvest

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Chesapeake Bay crabbers will likely face some harvest restriction this season to protect future generations of the iconic crustacean, a move managers say is necessary because of the low population of juveniles.

Fishery managers for Maryland, Virginia and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission all say they are considering shortening the season and imposing stricter limits on the harvest of female crabs. They are not proposing changes in male crab catches.

News of harvest cuts surprised some crabbers at Maryland’s Blue Crab Industry Advisory Committee last week. The latest winter dredge survey results released in April showed the highest number of female crabs in the 28-year history of the annual count. Female crabs clocked in at 254 million, a 31 percent increase over last year.

But the Baywide survey, which counts the crabs in more than 1,000 locations as they burrow in the mud, estimated there were 125 million juvenile crabs in the Chesapeake, a 54 percent decrease from the 271 million found in 2016. That is the lowest tally since 2013 — a year when crabbers also had their catch curtailed — and one of the five lowest estimates since 1990, managers said.

As a result, managers are expecting a robust harvest for the first half of this year, fueled by the large number of adults now in the Bay. But catches of the Chesapeake’s most valuable seafood will need to be curtailed later in the year to protect the smaller number of juvenile crabs as they reach market size.

Maryland and Virginia are both expected to decide by the end of June on harvest restrictions, which will take effect for the remainder of the 2017 season. The Potomac River commission will discuss its plan at its June 1 meeting, executive secretary Martin Gary said.

Maryland crabbers had expected status quo, at least, and possibly some easing of catch limits based on news reports quoting a Department of Natural Resources press release saying the survey had found the Bay’s crab population “resilient and steady,” with a record number of spawning females. They came to the meeting Thursday night hoping to maintain last year’s longer season and perhaps even secure more concessions. Last year’s survey results were so good that both Maryland and Virginia extended the season for about three weeks.

Instead, Mike Luisi, assistant director of fisheries and boating services with the Maryland DNR, talked about a return to 2013, when the season closed on Nov. 10. Last year, the season extended to Nov. 30. “We had 54 percent less juveniles this year than last year. To come into here thinking that we’re going to have status quo is unrealistic,” he said.

As with this year’s survey, the 2013 crab canvass showed a robust population of females and low abundance of juveniles, which are 2.4 inches across or smaller yet can be expected to grow to market size by next year. Maryland responded then by tightening bushel limits and shortening the season, aiming to cut the harvest 20– 40 percent. The move worked, Luisi said, as the population rebounded enough to relax the limits and extend the season for 2015.

If the department were to follow 2013’s lead, the season would close Nov. 10 and many crabbers, depending on the type of license they held, would take between three and seven bushels less; some would take no decrease at all. Daily catch limits vary over the season, but last September, for example, they ranged from 19 bushels for a crabber fishing 300 pots to 35 bushels for a crabber with up to 900 pots.

The 2013 cuts show what works for a sustainable fishery, Luisi said. But he and Fisheries Director Dave Blazer told the crabbers they were open to other suggestions, such as an even earlier season closure paired with a smaller reduction in the daily bushel limits.

But not every crab scientist approves of how management has reacted to the year-over-year changes in the notoriously boom-and-bust blue crab species. Tom Miller, a crab specialist who directs the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, said it’s hard to evaluate the population’s long-term stability and the harvest it can withstand if management reacts seasonally. Crabs live between one and three years and can reproduce furiously, or not much at all. After being spawned near the mouth of the Bay, their offspring hitch a ride on ocean currents back into the Chesapeake. Some years, many return; some years, many don’t.

“I am not convinced that we need to change management,” Miller said. “One of my concerns has been that managers have been too responsive to individual winter dredge survey results. The reference points are meant to be long-term responses of the crab population under constant conditions — and as a result, frequent changes to the management regime makes evaluation of this problematical.”

Robert T. Brown, president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association, didn’t like the choices facing watermen at the meeting: “You either shoot yourself in the head, or you shoot yourself in the foot.”

Though George O’Donnell, DNR’s liaison to the watermen’s community, said he’d been traveling around the state warning that a cut was coming, Brown and most of the watermen were expecting better news.

“Everybody came here tonight thinking we would get an increase. There’s more crabs than we’ve seen in years,” said Thomas “Bubby” Powley, a Dorchester County trotliner. “They’re telling me they’re not there? The proof is in the pudding,” he said, holding up a cell phone photo of small crabs he’d caught and had to throw back.

Added his brother, Larry “Boo” Powley: “The boys are coming in with their limit at 10:30, 11 a.m.”

Despite the managers’ admonition that harvest restrictions are needed to sustain the crab population, the Powleys also asked Luisi and Blazer to let watermen in their part of the Bay catch more 5-inch male crabs.

Under rules in effect since 2001, the smallest crab that can be caught legally increases in mid-July from 5 inches across to 5.25 inches. The midseason increase was set to give male crabs more time in the water to mate with females and enhance reproduction. Miller, the UM crab scientist, has said that seemingly small annual change in catch regulations helps sustain the Bay’s crab population.

Some Dorchester County watermen, including the Powleys, began pushing two years ago to delay the increase in minimum catchable size. They sell those smaller crabs to picking houses, and complained the crustaceans in their part of the Bay don’t grow to the larger sizes that Baltimore and Southern Maryland crabbers see.

The department has resisted, and Luisi again told the group that such a change was not realistic, as the winter survey found male crabs had decreased 16 percent since last year and are only about half the abundance that scientists observed in the early 1990s.

The fight over the 5-inch crab apparently cost DNR’s crab manager, Brenda Davis, her job after 28 years with the department. Davis did not make the decision against relaxing the minimum catchable size; she merely delivered it. But several watermen met with Gov. Larry Hogan Jr. and his deputy chief of staff, Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, to complain about the catch restriction and accused Davis of not being flexible enough about the rule. The Hogan administration fired her shortly after the meeting and has refused since to give a reason, saying it is a personnel matter.

The Maryland DNR will decide what, if any, changes to make in crabbing regulations in consultation with its Tidal Fisheries Advisory Commission. No meeting date has been set. Once the department decides, it will put out a notice for the change, to take effect 48 hours later.

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission will likely make a decision at its June 27 meeting. Commissioner John M.R. Bull said he expected to take some action, and that repeating last season’s late closing on Dec. 15 and this year’s early opening on March 1 would not be possible, given the drop in juvenile numbers.

“This year’s babies are next year’s mamas,” Bull said. “We want less of them to be harvested in the fall, so they will be able to be next year’s mamas. There was a warning sign and a blinking light that went on with the juvenile numbers; that means we have to be cautious in how we handle the spring fishery. I’m not exactly sure what it will be, but we need to do the right thing in light of the low levels of juveniles, for the health of this fishery.”

One option that is not likely to pass muster at the commission is the reopening of the winter dredge fishery, where crabbers take pregnant females who are burrowed in the mud. Virginia closed the fishery in 2008 after that year’s winter survey found the crab population had hit a historic low. Every year since, crabbers have lobbied to reopen the winter dredge fishery to provide a winter income and allocate the pain of cuts fairly among all crabbing sectors. But the commission has declined. The reopening is on the agenda again for the commission’s June meeting, but Bull said the low juvenile numbers “seem to preclude the re-opening” of that fishery.

by Rona Kobell

Bay Journal staff writer Rona Kobell is a former reporter for the Baltimore Sun.

Maryland-based Company Moves Forward on Nation’s First Large-scale Offshore Wind Project.

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Baltimore, Md – Today, Maryland-based US Wind, Inc. took another step forward in its plan to bring the nation’s first large-scale offshore wind project to Maryland. US Wind formally accepted all conditions the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) included in its May 11 approval of US Wind’s Maryland offshore wind project. Officials from US Wind say they are moving forward on their plans to make Maryland the East Coast hub of a vibrant new industry.

In a letter to the PSC, US Wind indicated its “acceptance of all conditions of approval set forth in Appendix A of the Order.” US Wind also provided its 20-year price schedule for the Offshore Wind Renewable Energy Credits (ORECs).

“This is one more step forward on the path to bring renewable energy, jobs and infrastructure improvements to Maryland,” said Paul Rich, director of project development. “We continue our outreach to partners in business, labor and state and local governments to ensure this project provides the maximum benefit for all Marylanders.”

The PSC’s decision awarded 913,845 offshore wind renewable energy credits (ORECs) to US Wind on May 11, 2017. This corresponded with the company’s request to support a 248 Megawatt project planned 12 to 17 miles off the coast of Ocean City, Md. Ultimately, US Wind plans to construct up to 187 turbines and produce power for more than 500,000 homes.

US Wind, Inc was founded in 2011 and is headquartered in Baltimore, Md. US Wind is owned by Renexia S.p.A., a leader in renewable energy development in Italy and a subsidiary of Toto Holding Group. Toto Holding Group has more than 40 years of experience specializing in large infrastructure construction projects, rail transportation, and aviation. Visit US Wind Website .

Bay Ecosystem: PA Drinking Water Systems Among Nation’s Worst Violators

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Millions of people in the Bay watershed and nationwide are drinking water from systems that have violated federal safe drinking water standards, according to a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Pennsylvania had the worst performance in the Bay region, and the third highest number of total violations of any state nationwide, according to the NRDC. That finding came on the heels of a recent warning from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that the Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection is so understaffed it can’t provide adequate oversight of drinking water systems in the state.

“America is facing a nationwide drinking water crisis that goes well beyond lead contamination,” said Erik Olson, the NRDC health program director and a report co-author. “The problem is two-fold: There’s no cop on the beat enforcing our drinking water laws, and we’re living on borrowed time with our ancient, deteriorating water infrastructure. We take it for granted that when we turn on our kitchen tap, the water will be safe and healthy, but we have a long way to go before that is reality across our country.”

The environmental group’s review was based on records from the EPA and found that across the nation, state regulators often failed to penalize or even take note of the violations in many cases.

Federal oversight of state regulators is also spotty, according to the NRDC report. Olson warned it could be worse if Congress goes along with the Trump administration’s proposal to slash the EPA’s budget by 31 percent.“ Huge cuts to drinking water programs will reduce EPA enforcement further,” Olson said, “causing less safe water.”

About 44 percent of Pennsylvania’s 12 million residents who depend on public water supplies were served by water systems with some kind of administrative, procedural or health-related violation of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, the NRDC report said. When it zeroed in on the subset of violations that specifically impact public health, such as excessive levels of fecal coliform, nitrites and disinfectant byproducts, the state ranked 13th nationwide, with 700,000 people affected.

Neil Shader, the DEP’s spokesman, said the report’s data seemed accurate, but called the presentation misleading in some cases. For example, Shader pointed out, the Philadelphia Water Department had a single violation of monitoring and reporting requirements. But because the utility has 1.6 million customers, the NRDC report “gives the indication of a problem where one might not exist,” he said in an email.

Other Bay states with high rankings in drinking water violations include Maryland, which ranks fourth in terms of population served by water systems with health-related violations.

Maryland’s Department of the Environment had a similar criticism of the report. The 1.8 million customers of the Baltimore City water system had one violation of a health-based rule in 2015 — for an excessive level of a disinfectant byproduct — though fewer than 89,000 people on the system were affected, said Jay Apperson, spokesperson for MDE. If the numbers were adjusted for that, Maryland would fall out of the top 10 of systems with violations, he said.

“Safe drinking water is such a critical public health issue that the department acts assertively to see that the vast majority of Safe Drinking Water Act violations that do occur are corrected immediately,” Apperson said.

In Pennsylvania, steep budget cuts that have contributed to setbacks in its Bay cleanup efforts have also contributed to a growing number of drinking water problems. The EPA said in a letter to the DEP last December that the number of unaddressed violations of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act had nearly doubled in the last five years.

“This increased risk to public health is of concern to EPA,” the letter said. If the DEP cannot meet federal minimum standards, EPA warned it may take over management of the state’s drinking water program — which means relieving the state of some federal funding as well.

The DEP has experienced repeated budget cuts over the last decade, totaling roughly 40 percent. Department staffing is down 800 people, according to David Hess, former DEP secretary and now a political consultant.

Shader, the DEP spokesman, said state regulators plan to bolster their oversight of drinking water systems. “DEP is working to ensure that we have the resources necessary in our Safe Drinking Water Program to ensure that we are finding and preventing violations which jeopardize public health,” he said, “and [we] will propose a regulation package shortly which increases funding for this program.”

The DEP plans to raise permit fees and enact new annual fees on community water systems to come up with the $7.5 million needed to hire 33 new inspectors, Shader said. The fee proposal will be presented May 17 to the state Environmental Quality Board, a 20-member independent body that must approve DEP regulations. Each inspector in the department’s Safe Drinking Water Program is now overseeing 158 public water systems — more than twice the national average of 67, according to the National Association of State Drinking Water Administrators.

The EPA letter welcomed Pennsylvania’s plan to hire more inspectors, but said the process to create a rule to raise fees and hire and train the new staff could take up to two years, which the federal agency said is too long to risk public health. The agency said that the DEP should find a temporary source of funds to get the hiring process moving.

The EPA is charged with overseeing federal safety standards that the states carry out, and the agency regulates about 100 out of 1,000 known contaminants that could cause everything from a stomach ache to cancer. Nationally, 19.5 million people get sick annually from just one class of contaminants — waterborne pathogens — according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

John Brosious, deputy director of the Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association, said his 2,600 members understand the DEP’s need to raise money for the program, but some are suffering sticker shock at proposed permit fee increase and a new annual fee.

Under DEP’s proposal, annual fees could range from $250 to $40,000 per water supplier; when passed on to consumers, they would raise rates from 35 cents to $10 per person per year.

Brosious questioned the fairness of making water system customers pay for DEP staff and programs that once were underwritten for by all taxpayers. “I think it’s fair to say that hiring 33 new inspectors is the bare minimum to meet federal requirements, he said. “The winnowing away of general fund money is forcing the agency to get money from elsewhere to do the same work.”

The state’s general fund once paid for most of the Safe Drinking Water Program. Now, a little more than half, $7.7 million, comes from the general fund. The DEP is counting on the $7.5 million in new fees charged to water operators to make up the budget shortfall.

“The question I see posed for government is: At what point does the general fund fill in the gap?” Brosious said. “Another question is: Do we still have a program that gives us a level of confidence that we are meeting our SDWA standards?”

By Donna Morelli

Bay Journal staff writer Donna Morelli is based in Harrisburg. She is the former director of the Pennsylvania office of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.

EPA Letter to Chesapeake Bay States Spells Out Cleanup Expectations

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has high expectations for Bay cleanup efforts in the coming years. Earlier this year it sent states a 10-page letter outlining what agency officials believe must happen to deliver on the decades-old promise of bringing back clear, healthy Chesapeake Bay water—in which underwater plants thrive, fish and shellfish have plenty of oxygen, and waterfowl can graze on abundant food.

The “expectations letter,” as officials call it, outlines what assurances the District of Columbia and six watershed states need to provide in their next-generation cleanup plans to demonstrate they have enough funding and adequate programs to reduce farm and stormwater runoff and do everything else that needs to be in place by 2025 to restore the Bay’s health.

Chesapeake watershed residents have gotten a glimpse in recent years of what a restored Bay would look like; some areas have seen the clearest water in decades, underwater grass beds have expanded, and oxygen-starved “dead zones” have been nearly nonexistent. Those gains stemmed at least in part from drier-than-normal weather, which flushed fewer water-fouling nutrients and sediment off the land and into the Bay. Nonetheless, it was, officials say, real-world evidence that reaching nutrient reduction goals will produce the greatly improved water quality they’ve promised since cleanup work began in 1983.

To maintain those conditions over time, the EPA letter emphasizes the need for ramped-up efforts to engage local officials in the cleanup and to establish quantifiable “local area goals” that support nutrient and sediment control efforts. It also says states will need to offset impacts of growth, as well as the potential negative impacts of climate change and the nutrient and sediment buildup behind Conowingo Dam, which could make cleanup efforts more difficult.

But the letter leaves the door open for states to adjust planned pollution reductions from various sources, and even watersheds, if it accomplishes local and Bay water quality goals more effectively — and potentially more rapidly as well.

Accountability framework

The expectations letter is part of what the EPA and the watershed states had agreed to in the “accountability framework” of the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TDML), the cleanup plan that was approved in December 2010.

Nutrients and sediment — the “daily load” in question” — have long been recognized as pollutants that foul the Bay’s water, but past cleanup goals, set for 2000 and 2010, were missed by a wide mark.

The TDML, or Bay pollution diet, was intended to keep that from happening again. Like earlier plans, it set pollution limits for states and major river basins aimed at reducing nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution to levels that would bring back a healthy Bay.

Unlike earlier efforts, though, the pollution diet includes safeguards intended to keep the cleanup effort on target. First, the states must write detailed watershed implementation plans, or WIPs, that outline the actions and policies needed to reach goals. Then states set two-year “milestones” so progress in following the WIPs can be incrementally tracked and publicly reported.

The Bay TMDL also included a “midpoint assessment” to be completed by the end of this year. At that point, states are to have taken actions sufficient to get 60 percent of the nutrient pollution reductions needed by 2025.

The results to date are mixed: Based on progress through 2015, the EPA has said it expects that Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia would meet their interim goals for nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment reductions. Meanwhile, New York was expected to miss some goals for all three pollutants, and Pennsylvania, while meeting its phosphorus goal, will miss its sediment and its nitrogen goals, the latter by a huge margin.

Under the accountability framework, if states are falling well short of their cleanup goals and not building the programs necessary to achieve them, the EPA can withhold federal grant funding, prescribe how that money is used or take other measures. In the past, for instance, it has temporarily withheld grants from Pennsylvania because of poor performance.

But even those states on pace to meet their goals are not necessarily on track to meet goals from all pollution sources; stormwater reductions, for example, were falling short almost everywhere. Nor were the states on track to meet cleanup goals for all major river basins.

Drawing on new information from updated computer models and new science developed for the midpoint assessment, the states next year must craft new “Phase III Watershed Implementation Plans” describing how they will reach the 2025 finish line.

According to the EPA’s expectations letter, states must not only show where pollution reductions will come from, but also demonstrate that they have programs adequate to achieve those goals, and on time.

The types of specific issues states need to address include: Are the regulatory programs robust enough, with enough staff and oversight, to ensure regulated dischargers will meet goals? Do unregulated pollution sources have adequate incentive funding to persuade landowners to install pollution controls, and is there enough technical assistance available to help them?

If the EPA isn’t convinced that the strategies will do the job when they review the WIPs late next year, the agency has the authority under the Clean Water Act to step in and demand additional actions, such as requiring greater reductions from regulated sources — wastewater treatment plants, for instance — to make up for cleanup shortfalls from largely unregulated sources.

Local goals & involvement

This time around, the EPA is stressing the need to involve local decision makers — whether they be local governments, soil and water conservation districts, regional planning districts, nonprofit groups or others — in the development and execution of the watershed implementation plans.

The “local buy-in” concept has long been seen as critical to Bay nutrient and sediment reduction efforts, since decisions about land use and stormwater management, as well as the promotion of farm runoff control practices, are typically made at the local level.

Local goals have been tried before. After the Bay TMDL was rolled out, the states developed Phase II WIPs in 2011 that were intended to establish local nutrient reduction targets throughout the watershed. That effort was ultimately walked back, though, as projections from the Bay Program’s computer models failed to match what was actually happening on the ground locally.

Now, EPA officials are confident that revised models with dramatically overhauled information — based on aerial photography, with 1-meter resolution across the entire six-state, 64,000-square-mile watershed — will produce much sharper estimates of local land uses.

Still, when the EPA released a draft of its expectations letter a year ago calling for “local area targets,” it was met by a firestorm of criticism from many local and state officials who feared it would lead to new, enforceable requirements on local governments. The National Association of Counties even approved a resolution opposing any effort by the EPA to set local numeric targets in the Bay watershed.

“There was this perception that because of the word target, the idea was that the EPA was going to tell local governments — or have the states tell local governments — that you must achieve this local allocation, which was not the intent,” says Lisa Schaefer, director of government relations for the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania.
During much of last year, Schaefer co-chaired a task force aimed at working with state, local and federal officials to resolve the issue.

Their recommendations, which were incorporated into a revised expectations letter, call for “local planning goals” but leave it up to the states to determine the size of the areas that would be expected to meet them. They only have to be smaller than a major river basin within a state.

While the EPA letter says goals do not “establish any new requirements or rights for those local and regional partners,” the goals nevertheless have to be measurable in some way. They could involve setting numeric targets for nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment, or thresholds for installing best management practices on specific land uses. Or, they could aim for retaining a certain amount of runoff on the landscape, among other measurable options.

EPA officials say the local goals are not intended as a regulatory tool, but rather a set of quantifiable objectives to work toward, which could help promote local planning and implementation. The ultimate accountability, they say, rests on states.

“We don’t have the authority to take a federal action against a local government or another local partner, nor do we have the desire to do so,” says Lucinda Power, an EPA representative on the task force.

Even though the new WIPs won’t be completed until late next year, the EPA wants local engagement efforts to start now. The agency’s letter calls for states to explain in their plans how local and regional “partners” will remain involved through 2025.

Officials in the states say they have either begun, or will soon begin, initial meetings with local governments and organizations. But most say they are still months away from deciding what the appropriate scale should be for local goals in their states, and want to get local input first.

Beth McGee, senior water quality scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, says having some type of measurable goal is critical for meaningful participation at local levels. “How can you lose weight if you don’t know how much weight you have to lose?” she asks.

While McGee said she would like to have seen more detail in EPA’s letter about how local goals will be tied to meaningful actions, she added that simply including the local element in the correspondence “was a good marker to get out there.”

Refining river basin caps

The Bay and its tidal tributaries are divided into 92 separate segments spread across Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and the District of Columbia. The goal of the Bay TMDL is to achieve water quality standards in each of those segments. To get there, the Bay TMDL set pollution limits for each major tributary, which, in turn, were divided among the states along each river. Those goals were further subdivided by the source of pollution, such as wastewater, agriculture and stormwater.

While most states are on track to meet overall 2017 goals, they are not necessarily on track in all river basins or with all types of pollution, which could affect their ability to meet water quality goals everywhere.

“Where you make the reductions does matter, particularly in Maryland and Virginia,” says Rich Batiuk, associate director for science with the EPA Bay Program Office. “Whether you are taking pollution load-reducing actions on the Eastern Shore or the Western Shore, for example, makes a big difference in cleaning up local tidal waters, as well as the Bay itself.”

Overall, pollution reductions from wastewater treatment plants or from power plants and other sources of air emissions have accounted for the majority of the nitrogen reductions. But hitting cleanup goals in all of the Bay segments will require more progress from areas, and sources, that have underperformed so far, Batiuk says.

The EPA is offering states flexibility using new computer models developed by the Bay Program to shift prescribed pollution reductions from one source to another, and even to another river basin, as long as overall water quality goals are met both in the Bay and the tidal portions of its rivers. In some cases, states may be able to reduce more of one nutrient, such as nitrogen, and less of another, such as phosphorus, if overall goals are met.

Likewise, states may want to make greater reductions from certain sources — such as wastewater — because they are more easily or cheaply attained. Or, they may want to promote additional management actions in places where they would provide additional local benefits, such as flood control or habitat improvement. Those, and other, considerations may contribute to states wanting to shift where they’re targeting cleanup actions, Batiuk says.

Accounting for growth

The Bay TMDL not only requires pollution reductions to meet nutrient and sediment goals, it also requires additional reductions to offset population growth and development, which increase runoff and discharges. Pollution could increase from more people, more farm animals, more cropland, more development, lost forests or other changes in the watershed.

States have tried to account for population growth and make adjustments in the past, but there is no set methodology about how that should be done. In recent years, using methods agreed upon by the states, the Bay Program has provided them with short-term growth projections that include population, cropland and farm animals, as well as changes in land use.

As states have set new two-year cleanup milestones, they have sought to offset any increases in pollution from growth while progressing toward their overall nutrient and sediment reduction goals.

The region could stay with that incremental approach to adjusting for growth. But in its expectations letter, the EPA said it would prefer to project land and population changes through 2025, giving the states an upfront estimate about how much increased nutrient and sediment pollution would need to be offset, and where it is likely to originate. New WIPs would have to aim for those offsets, though every two years the projections would be adjusted — either up or down — as new information becomes available at the local and state scales.

“This gives all of our partners a reasonable target to shoot for to offset growth,” says Matt Johnston, a data analyst with the University of Maryland who works at the Bay Program Office.

The EPA’s proposal not only gives states a fuller picture of what needs to be offset, it could also provide a new incentive for conserving ecologically valuable lands. That is, states could get credit by protecting land from development, thereby preventing the predicted increase in nutrient runoff. “This is the best way to incentivize protection of existing natural lands,” Johnston says.

The Bay Program partnership is expected to make a decision about how to account for growth in Phase III WIPs later this year.

Conowingo & climate change

The expectations letter also says that the WIPs will have to address impacts from climate change and additional pollution stemming from the filling of the Conowingo Dam reservoir on the Susquehanna River with nutrient-laden sediment.

The filling of the Conowingo reservoir has meant that more nutrients and sediment are flowing into the Bay than previously thought. And preliminary computer modeling suggests that climate change is also sending slightly more nutrients into the Bay than previously realized, especially via altered precipitation patterns.

Addressing those issues will likely mean more pollution reduction actions are needed, but the exact impacts may vary from place to place.

The letter does not say how the impacts will be dealt with. The state-federal Bay Program partnership doesn’t expect to make final decisions on them until later this year, when it has updated computer modeling available. The expectations letter will be updated at that time, after state and federal officials reach agreement on how each of these issues should be addressed in Phase III WIPs.

The full text of the interim expectations letter is on the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay TMDL website: epa.gov/chesapeake-bay-tmdl.

By Karl Blankenship

Karl Blankenship is editor of the Bay Journal and executive director of Chesapeake Media Service. He has served as editor of the Bay Journal since its inception in 1991.

Inspectors find Most Pa Farms are Trying to Help The Bay

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On the day of the inspection of his 350-acre farm, Jay M. Diller pulled large files from his desk and drove his skid loader out to meet staff from the district conservation office.

“Nobody likes inspections,” said Diller, as he produced plans and other farm records the inspectors wanted to see. “I don’t even like state inspections on my car; they always find something wrong.”

Diller was joking, but he’s very serious about water quality. “I’m doing everything I can to keep manure out of the creek,” he said.

Pennsylvania farmers like Diller are finding themselves under increased scrutiny as the state and many county conservation districts have ramped up their efforts to check whether farms have implemented the required manure management and sediment control plans. The inspections are part of Pennsylvania’s Chesapeake Bay “reboot” strategy, announced last year and aimed at getting its Bay cleanup efforts on track.

The Keystone State is the largest contributor of water-fouling nitrogen to the Bay, but it has fallen far behind in its nutrient-control efforts. The state needs to reduce the amount of nitrogen reaching the Bay by 34 million pounds by 2025 — almost 70 percent of the total reductions needed from the entire watershed.

Lack of progress could mean further punitive action by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which in the past has temporarily withheld funds from the state because of its shortfalls.

Most of the nitrogen reaching the Bay from Pennsylvania originates on the more than 33,000 farms in its portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. But an EPA review of the state’s programs found that only 2 percent of those farms were inspected annually — a rate that would take it half a century to comply with regulations required since the 1970s.

In its reboot strategy, the state pledged, among other things, to inspect 10 percent of those farms annually. To do that, it has increased inspections by state Department of Environmental Protection staff and enlisted help from the staff of more than two dozen county conservation districts — county-based entities that support landowners in managing land and water resources.

Through its first quarter, the DEP reported that 500 farms had been checked, but officials vowed to pick up the pace.

“I think it’s doable even though we started late,” says Veronica Kasi, program manager of the DEP’s Chesapeake Bay Office. “We’re going to meet 10 percent, because that’s what we said we would do. And each year we’re going to have a better understanding of how many farms we have in the watershed.”

So far, the inspections are showing somewhat better compliance than state officials originally thought. When the reboot plan was announced in early 2016, they cited a DEP review that suggested as many as 70 percent of farms didn’t have state-mandated plans to curb pollution.

But through the first three months of inspections, the DEP said that 64 percent of the farmers required to have a manure management plan did have one, as did 60 percent of the farmers required to have an agricultural erosion and sedimentation control plan. “The farmers have been very cooperative with this new inspection program,” says Deborah Klenotic, a DEP spokeswoman.

Being out of compliance at this point means that a farm’s plans are either missing or no longer valid. Part of the problem, conservation district staff say, is that even if farmers are good stewards, many aren’t good file clerks when it comes to preparing and maintaining plans.

Diller milks about 180 cows on his Cumberland County farm and raises young hens to be sold to egg operations. He also grows crops: hay, soybean and corn. In addition, he leases several parcels of land in various townships in Cumberland County.

During his two-hour inspection, Diller cracked a few jokes, but when discussing farm management, the conversation was one of scientific precision. An avid reader of agricultural publications, Diller is well-versed in how to reduce soil erosion and responsibly manage manure. He said he practices no-till planting methods and plants winter cover — not only for conservation purposes, but also because they make good business sense.

“The last thing I like to see is brown water crossing the road,” Diller said. “I think about water quality, and I like to keep my soil on the farm.”

Still, Diller’s agricultural erosion and sedimentation plan was out-of-date. But his manure management plan was current.

The district gives farmers 90 days to rectify any issues with their plans and offers technical and financial assistance to get plans up-to-date. The problem will cost him about $3,600 to fix, and Diller may need an extension of the 90-day grace period; the wait to get a consultant to write or update a plan can be months because of increased demand by farmers who know they are going to be inspected soon, or whose plans are insufficient.

“I find the paperwork part of all this frustrating,” Diller said. “But if this is what it’s going to take to improve, I say, let’s do this. I’d rather do it than be in violation. I don’t want to be in violation. Farmers get enough bad publicity.”

All farms, large and small, are regulated to some degree. Manure management plans are required for those that generate or use manure. Agricultural erosion and sedimentation control plans are required for farms that plow (or no-till) at least 5,000 square feet or have an “animal concentration area” such as a barnyard or exercise lot of at least 5,000 square feet.

While the purpose of each plan is simple — to control runoff in areas where manure and animals are kept — a lot of detail is required to ensure proper management.
Out-of-date plan aside, Diller is a model farmer, says Brady Seeley, Chesapeake Bay technician for Cumberland County. But he says those farmers who don’t follow the rules simply don’t know what they’re doing wrong.

Often, the problem is a failure to record practices that the farmer is actually doing, Seeley says, and district staff try to help get that in order, when they can. Of 40 inspections conducted so far in Cumberland County, he says, “about 32 were out of compliance, but we were able to get 13 into compliance immediately.”

District staff have no authority — or desire — to enforce the rules that they are checking. If they can’t readily resolve a problem, they report it to the DEP, which can issue a notice of violation or a fine to farmers who refuse to comply.

So far, the district has not referred any farms to the DEP for enforcement, says Carl Goshorn, the Cumberland district manager. He says that farmers have multiple chances to comply with the regulations. “If we turn a farmer over to DEP for enforcement action,” he says, “they just didn’t want to work with [the] government.”

District staff members acknowledge that some farmers resent what they perceive is being told how to farm.

“When [a technician] talks to farmers,” Goshorn says, “he tells them it’s just a cost to do business. He’ll bring up water quality, especially if there’s a stream going through the farm. ‘Do you remember when you used to fish in that stream?’ And [the farmer] will often say, ‘yeah, I wish I could see my kids doing that.’”

But word of pending inspections is leading farmers to take pre-emptive action, Goshorn says. Many are coming to the district for help. The district has also conducted three manure management workshops this year to help farmers write their own plans or to offer technical assistance in getting manure management plans.

District staff can’t meet the demand to help write the plans, so its board of directors put aside enough funding in 2017 to offer a 50 percent cost share for plans, up to $1,000 per farmer.

“A lot of folks are asking for [inspections],” Goshorn says. “They heard of all the new attention, and they want to get into compliance, and some are looking for money. They know it’s not going to be this easy as time goes on.”

For now, the inspections primarily focus on whether farmers have required plans that are up-to date and available for each parcel of land farmed — not necessarily that the plans are being strictly followed.

“As a result of this initiative, Pennsylvania has substantially increased their presence in the agricultural community to ensure that farmers have the state-required plans,” says David Sternberg, a spokesman for EPA’s Region 3. The EPA anticipates that the state will be adding verification of practices installed on farms in the near future, he says, as well as improving programing, funding and tracking of key practices.

District staff say that encouraging good stewardship has always been a large part of their job, and that will increase along with the inspections.

“We may be only checking for an [erosion and sedimentation plan] and a manure management plan . . . but we also advocate and promote implementation,” says Christopher Thompson, Lancaster County Conservation District manager.

Overall, inspections in Lancaster have gone well, Thompson says, adding that part of the farm visits are educational. “We hear what they have to say, but remind them this is not a requirement just for 2016, this is a decades-old requirement.”

Lancaster County is the heart of Pennsylvania agriculture, with about 5,000 farms, compared with Cumberland’s 500. Technicians there have completed inspections on 200 farms and found that about 50 percent either didn’t have plans or had incomplete plans, according Kevin Seibert, who is in charge of agricultural compliance and oversees two technicians.

Like the Cumberland district, Seibert says, farmers are using the inspections to learn what they need to do to comply. “If they don’t have one or the other plan, we give them 90 days to submit a plan to the district. If they don’t come through, we grant extra time,” he says. “If they show some effort, we don’t report them.”

He says they’ve had to refer fewer than 10 farmers to the DEP for enforcement.
Even counties that rejected state funding to carry out inspections say the ramped-up attention is driving up requests for help with writing plans.

York County Conservation District is one of eight in the state that opted out of doing inspections. But their usual waiting list for technical assistance of 150 farmers remains consistent. “I think folks have taken notice,” says Mark Kimmel, district manager for York. “We’re doing the best we can with the resources we have.”
By Donna Morelli, Bay Journal News Service

Donna Morelli is a staff writer for the Bay Journal based in Harrisburg. She’s the former director of the Pennsylvania office of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.