WASHINGTON, June 22, 2016 - States in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are on their way to meeting 2017 targets for phosphorus and sediment reduction, but not nitrogen, EPA said in a series of scorecards released June 17.
“The jurisdictions will need to substantially increase nitrogen reductions in order to get back on target,” the agency said, projecting that 46 percent less nitrogen will enter the bay in 2017 than in 2009, when goals were established. The goal, however, is a 60 percent reduction.
Pennsylvania, in particular, “will need to place considerably greater emphasis on increasing implementation in the agriculture sector to address nitrogen and phosphorus, and in the urban sector for all three pollutants to meet its Watershed Implementation Plan and Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) commitments by 2025,” EPA said.
The Chesapeake Bay TMDL was established by EPA in 2010 to reduce pollutants flowing (or being deposited by air) into the bay, the largest estuary in the U.S. At 64,000 square miles, the watershed is the largest with a TMDL. Six states and the District of Columbia collaborated on the TMDL, which survived a court challenge from agricultural and other groups.
The evaluations released by EPA list strengths and weaknesses of the states’ approaches. Pennsylvania is not the only state facing challenges, but it is the only state where EPA has “substantial concerns” about its strategy to implement the TMDL goals for agriculture and the urban/suburban category.
The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, however, said EPA is not considering all available data. “EPA continues to base all of its assumptions on a computer model that we have felt has been flawed from the very start,” said Mark O’Neill, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau spokesman.
In addition, since the model is based on data from farm operations that have received cost-share assistance from the federal government, it does not capture improvements made by farmers voluntarily, he said.
O’Neill also said everyone involved with the TMDL agrees that there are not enough resources available. “This mandated effort has been completely underfunded,” he said. Pennsylvania was able to get EPA to release about $3 million earlier this year when the state issued what it called its “reboot” strategy.
That strategy noted, however, that Pennsylvania agencies “do not have the staffing or the cost-share assistance resources needed to meet bay goals.”
O’Neill said the picture is not as bleak as it is being portrayed. A U.S. Geological Survey report using data from river monitoring stations in the watershed found the long-term trends for nitrogen “indicate improving conditions at the majority of the stations, including the five largest rivers.”
O’Neill said blue crabs and underwater grasses are also doing better, citing a Chesapeake Bay Program report. The CPB is a regional partnership involving EPA, the Chesapeake Bay Commission, the District of Columbia and all six watershed states.
“There is a lot of information showing improvement in the Bay Watershed that a lot of people are not hearing about,” O’Neill said.
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