Pennsylvania's $170 Million Fair Share for Clean Water Plan

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, April 9, 2008 (ENS) – A $170 million fund has been created to help wastewater ratepayers and farmers finance improvements needed to address Chesapeake Bay and statewide water quality improvement mandates.

The Pennsylvania Fair Share for Clean Water Plan announced today is the result of collaboration by municipal authorities, farmers, builders, conservation districts and the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

“For the first time, the five groups that have the most at stake in meeting the water quality mandates have put together a responsible funding plan that we hope will help end the controversy over how these projects should be paid for,” said Matthew Ehrhart, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s executive director for Pennsylvania.

“This is a comprehensive package that will enable Pennsylvania to meet our Chesapeake 2000 Agreement obligations, improve statewide water quality, secure vital funds to all county conservation districts and provide for future economic development,” Ehrhart said.

Forested wetland in the Chesapeake Bay
watershed (Photo courtesy
Chesapeake Bay Program)

The 64,000 square mile Chesapeake Bay watershed drains into the nation’s largest estuary. The Bay suffers from unnatural influxes of nitrogen and phosphorus, largely from sewage wastewater, agricultural and urban runoff, and air pollution. These pollutants feed algae blooms that kill fish and Bay grasses.

Two independent assessments released last week show progress on meeting water quality goals have slipped farther away in 2007. The reports find that water quality throughout the bay and its tributaries is degraded and that the plan for cleaning up the ecosystem is not working.

The Pennsylvania Fair Share for Clean Water Plan will invest $170 million in 2008-09 in a number of ways to reduce the financial burden on ratepayers and farms of cleaning up the flow of nitrogen and phosphorus to the Bay.

The plan is to spend $100 million to help wastewater plants finance required improvements; and to spend $50 million in direct cost share aid to farmers to install conservation practices – $35 for REAP farm tax credits and $15 million in cost share grants.

Then, $10 million will go to county conservation districts to expand technical assistance to farmers, and $10 million will go to restore cuts to the Department of Agriculture budget in farm programs.

This plan is the result of a unique partnership of groups with varying missions, but with similar interests and end goals who have worked together to develop solutions to a complex situation.

They include the Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, Pennsylvania Builders Association, Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts, as well as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

John Brosious, Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association deputy director, says required nutrient reduction for sewage treatment plants imposes a heavy financial burden on communities and ratepayers, a burden that other Chesapeake Bay states are helping their communities to meet.

“Upgrade costs for 184 impacted plants are estimated at $1 billion,” he said today. “With no current state or federal funding available to offset these costs it is imperative that Pennsylvania, like Maryland and Virginia, provide funding assistance to impacted communities.”

“Production agriculture is facing significant and potentially devastating economic burdens, said Joel Rotz, state governmental relations director for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. “Farmers are trying to comply with increased regulations recently imposed under revisions to federal and state regulations governing the handling and land application of manure and other nutrients, but they cannot do it alone.”

Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts Executive Director Susan Marquart says the numbers do not match the need. “The current state budget proposal of $4.31 million for FY 2008-09 falls far short of the actual funding need, she said. “It is past time for a generous increase in funding for Pennsylvania’s conservation districts.”

The plan also proposes reforms to the state’s nutrient credit trading program, a feature that appeals to Pennsylvania Builders Association spokesman Robert Fisher. He says the organization’s more than 12,000 member-companies and 528,000 individual members believe it is desirable to use funds generated by nutrient credit trading to finance the needed upgrades.

“A functioning, viable nutrient credit trading program, combined with a funding plan that targets money where it can make the greatest environmental impact, can provide sewage treatment plants with a stable, economically feasible alternative to costly capital upgrades and protect future economic opportunity,” said Fisher, president of R.J. Fisher and Associates, a Pennsylvania engineering, planning and surveying firm.

Ehrhart says, “Pennsylvanians will be the first to benefit from making investments to meet our Chesapeake Bay obligations because it will be our streams and rivers that will be cleaner.”

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