Thursday, July 9, 2015

Pennsylvania Farms Crucial to Chesapeake Bay Health

Dan Heyman, Public News Service (PA)
PHOTO: A federal court decision this week has cleared the way for what conservationists say needs to happen to clean up Pennsylvania waterways and tributaries of Chesapeake Bay, particularly by reducing polluted runoff from farms. Photo courtesy Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
PHOTO: A federal court decision this week has cleared the way for what conservationists say needs to happen to clean up Pennsylvania waterways and tributaries of Chesapeake Bay, particularly by reducing polluted runoff from farms. Photo courtesy Chesapeake Bay Dan Heyman, Public News Service (PA)Foundation.

HARRISBURG, Pa. – A federal court victory has cleared the way for what conservationists say needs to happen on Pennsylvania farms to help meet the goals of a Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan.

A federal appeals court ruling this week reaffirmed the legality of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort, which spans six states and the District of Columbia.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation president Will Baker says the current bay blueprint plan offers "real hope" for a healthier bay, along with potential economic benefits of $22 billion per year – but he says the state is far behind where it needs to be in cleaning up farm runoff.

"The focus needs to be on agriculture, and needs to be on Pennsylvania," he says. "If not, the entire program could fail once again."

Baker says the good news is farms can reduce their pollution inexpensively, and will benefit from doing so. National farm and developer lobbying groups have sued to stop the federal and multi-state coordination, describing it as a pattern for over-regulation.

With Pennsylvania's cleanup plans lagging, Baker says the best way to catch up is to deal with farm runoff – fertilizer and livestock waste – and federal and state assistance is available to make that happen. He says adding fences, trees and buffers to protect streams, and reducing fertilizer use, makes sense for farmers.

"If you're applying less fertilizer and getting the same return, that's going to be good for water quality, good for the quality of your well water, and it's going to be good for your bottom line," he says.

If Pennsylvania doesn't make enough headway to reduce farm runoff, Baker says the federal government may have little choice but to impose more stringent rules on municipal wastewater treatment – a move he says would be unpopular and expensive for taxpayers.

He adds that Governor Tom Wolf has, so far, said he can't make an important bay cleanup meeting in Washington at the end of the month.

"We think it's especially important for Governor Wolf to be there, because Pennsylvania is the one state that is behind," says Baker. "We hope he can make time in his schedule."

Baker notes that half of the bay's water comes from the Susquehanna River watershed.

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