The Chesapeake Bay region has reached the halfway mark toward its Bay cleanup goal in terms of time — but not in terms of accomplishments.The largest state in the Bay drainage, Pennsylvania has no shoreline on the Chesapeake Bay, hence very little incentive to want to cooperate with the EPA to clean up the Bay.
July 1 marked the midpoint to the 2025 deadline for taking all actions needed to stem the tide of water-fouling nutrients into the Chesapeake Bay, which would ultimately result in clearer water, less algae and an end to its summer oxygen-starved dead zone.
But the region only achieved about 40 percent of its nitrogen reduction through the end of last year. Not only was that short of the halfway mark, it was even further away from the actual goal for the end of the year — a 60 percent reduction.
“Unless the states and their federal partners expand their efforts and push harder, the Bay and its rivers and streams may never be saved,” said Will Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which recently released its own analysis of efforts so far.
Making up lost ground and getting to the finish line on time will require ramped-up efforts for pollution sources where progress has been slow — such as agriculture and stormwater — and in places clearly lagging, especially Pennsylvania.
To that end, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in June sent a letter to all of the states in the watershed telling them that new cleanup plans to guide efforts through 2025 will need to show how states will make up shortfalls and provide adequate funding and oversight to meet their Bay cleanup obligations.
But the agency singled out Pennsylvania for special scrutiny, saying the state is “significantly off track” to meet nutrient reduction goals and warning that it could take new actions — the EPA has twice temporarily withheld funding — if the state doesn’t pick up the pace.
Through the end of last year, Bay Program data indicate that since 2010, Pennsylvania only achieved 18 percent of its nitrogen reduction goal— leaving 82 percent to be achieved between now and 2025. Put another way: In less than eight years, the state would have to reduce 2.5 times as much nitrogen as it has in the last 32 years.
But Bay Program figures show challenges extend beyond Pennsylvania. While other states have mostly done better, they did so in large part by upgrading wastewater treatment plants, a source of reductions that is nearly exhausted, as most plants in the watershed have now installed state-of-the-art nutrient removal technology.It's generally true that later improvements are more difficult and expensive that the initial ones, so this bodes ill for the ability of the states to get to the 2025 'bay diet' goals. It might be a little cynical of me to suggest that since a lot of people's jobs are tied up in the bay cleanup, they might have set the goal beyond reasonable accomplishment to keep the scheme alive indefinitely.
“It’s clear that Maryland and Virginia are carrying the [Baywide] improvements, and mostly by tackling wastewater,” Baker said. “As the clock ticks down to 2025, we know the second half is going to be more difficult.”