Forest buffers separate farm fields from the West Branch Susquehanna River as it flows through Clinton County, PA. Photo by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program.

By Will Baker, CBF President

“Will! Don’t you know Pennsylvania does not have land on the Bay!?”

That is a question I often get when I cite the scientific consensus that the Bay will not be saved unless Pennsylvania drastically decreases the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment flowing into the Susquehanna and its tributary rivers. It is often combined with more spicy commentary about how CBF is being unfair, or worse. Let’s look at the facts.

  • First, the Susquehanna River supplies fully one half of all fresh water entering the Bay.
  • Scientists are confident that nearly 50 million pounds of nitrogen still need to be reduced watershed-wide by 2025 to meet water-quality standards under the federal Clean Water Act.
  • More than 70 percent of the reduction must come from Pennsylvania.

The science behind these numbers has not been challenged, and Pennsylvania has repeatedly reiterated its promise to meet the reductions.

Why? Because the Bay is a national treasure and many Pennsylvanians enjoy its proximity for food and recreation. But there is more. Pennsylvania has more than 15,000 miles of self-designated polluted streams, rivers, and drinking water resources in the Bay watershed.

Much of the same pollution harms the Bay just downstream. And CBF’s peer-reviewed economic report estimates efforts to restore Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams would add $6.2 billion in natural benefits each year.

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Science has long made clear that the Chesapeake is a 64,000-square-mile system of land and waters. If Pennsylvania fails, the Bay partnership fails.

Now, here is the good news: putting best management practices to work on Pennsylvania’s farms is the most effective and least expensive strategy to reduce pollution in local waters. And the Bay. Farmers are willing to invest their time and resources to install them because the practices make good agronomic sense. But they need technical assistance, tax incentives, and cost-share funding to help. Municipalities and industries have historically received the same help.

We must now harness the collective political clout of the entire region to make the case for state and federal dollars to help Pennsylvania establish a dedicated, consistent funding source.

The six states in the Bay watershed and the District of Columbia have correctly bragged for years about their historic partnership to save the Bay. It is unlike anything else in the world. Now is the time to act like a partnership. After all, the states in the Bay watershed are not going to give up on saving the Bay again, are they?

Saving the Bay through restoration, advocacy, education, and litigation. www.cbf.org

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