Pennsylvania Pollution Muddies Bay Cleanup
State Lags in Curbing Runoff From Farms
By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 16, 2004; Page A01
MANOR TOWNSHIP, Pa. -- The sailboat harbors and crabbing grounds of the Chesapeake Bay are miles from this shallow stream that runs through fields reeking of manure.
But the problems of the west branch of Little Conestoga Creek in Lancaster County become the bay's problems, sooner or later.
The animal waste that washes into the water here contains pollutants that eventually are carried into the Susquehanna River and then into the bay, where they feed blooms of harmful algae.
"It's all based on a very sophisticated scientific principle: Water runs downhill," said William C. Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "The Chesapeake Bay is downhill from Pennsylvania."
The Keystone State does not have an inch of Chesapeake waterfront. But it is a major source of the bay's pollution, because Pennsylvania includes so much of the watershed for the Susquehanna, a massive river that provides half the bay's fresh water.
A partner in the bay cleanup effort since 1983, Pennsylvania dumps more nitrogen and phosphorus into the bay than Maryland or Virginia and has made far less progress than those states in reducing the flow of those pollutants, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said.
In particular, environmental groups have said, Pennsylvania does little to monitor how small farms spread manure on their fields and allow it to run off into tributaries leading to the bay. Lancaster County, home to 336,000 cows and some Amish farmers who use only manure for fertilizer, has become the epicenter of the state's water pollution.
So without changes in Pennsylvania, especially in Lancaster, the movement to save the Chesapeake cannot succeed, environmentalists have said.
Cathleen Curran Myers, a deputy secretary at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, said last week that her state does feel the tug of the Chesapeake, even without the bay's coastline.
"We don't get to sit on the bay and eat crabs. We get to buy them from Maryland and Virginia and put the money in their pockets," Myers said.
"It's a tough sell, sure it is," in Pennsylvania, she said. "But I think we've sold it."
Last month, the state's voters approved a $250 million bond issue to improve sewer and water systems that contribute to bay pollution. And state regulators have proposed new rules to control phosphorus in runoff from farms.
Pennsylvania officials also submitted to the EPA a strategy for cleaning the state's rivers. The strategy included plans to increase forest land and to plant "cover crops" -- which hold down soil in farmland during the winter.
Still, the plans presented by Maryland and Virginia were much further along. Those states produced packets that explained their proposals. Pennsylvania sent only a computer spreadsheet of its ideas, which read more like the result of a brainstorming session than a final plan.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company