Anthony Finley [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Pennsylvania will use counties as the basic unit for its next round of Chesapeake Bay cleanup goals.

The state’s Watershed Implementation Plan steering committee voted on Nov. 30 to go for the same percentage pollution reduction from all 42 counties in Pennsylvania’s section of the watershed.

The county-level approach was one of several the committee considered that would break central Pennsylvania into a number of territories.

In each scenario, the regions were color coded to show where the state would turn to get the first 25 percent of reductions using the least number of territories, and each successive 25 percent.

The maps combined loads from agriculture and urban sources, said Matt Johnston, a Chesapeake Bay data analyst from the University of Maryland.

Each of the models had its pros and cons, but they generally emphasized what is already well known: The state’s largest pollution loads come from the lower Susquehanna watershed.

Counties seemed to be the sweet spot for goal setting. They are small enough to target projects to local areas but large enough that efforts could be focused in a few places.

Counties are also easy to define, and a lot of groups &tstr; like conservation districts and planning commissions &tstr; are already organized by county.

“It should make it easier to organize our resources,” said Lisa Schaefer, director of government relations at the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania and chairwoman of one of the bay working groups.

In the county model, the first 25 percent of reductions could come from just two counties, Lancaster and York. The second 25 percent would come from only a few more, including Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Lackawanna and Lebanon.

Setting goals this way does not imply that county governments will be on the hook for a certain level of pollution reduction. It is merely a strategy for planning conservation work, Schaefer said.

The most complicated alternative to counties was to divide the watershed into 505 “land-river segments.”

This level of detail could help local communities identify with their part of the cleanup, but the segments are probably too small to be practical, Schaefer said.

Still, these smaller units could be used to guide conservation efforts toward particular watersheds within a particular county.

The state has land-river segment data broken down by sector, so planners could easily identify which areas were in most need of agricultural or urban stormwater fixes, Schaefer said.

Environment Secretary Pat McDonnell, the chairman of the steering committee, liked the idea of a county approach informed by more detailed mapping.

If a certain stream is “really popping,” it makes sense to nudge county-level efforts toward that stream first, McDonnell said.

The committee rejected two options that didn’t seem particularly useful.

A plan to divide the watershed into 122 river and stream basins seemed like a good idea, but the map basically just lit up the Susquehanna River, the watershed’s largest body, Johnston said.

Breaking the state into only six sub-basins produced regions that were too large to be useful. The map showed that the first 50 percent of the reductions would come from the lower Susquehanna, Johnston said.

The committee also considered, but rejected, a plan to adjust expectations based on the county’s pollution load.

The formula would have increased the goals for Lancaster and York to almost unfeasible levels while not changing the goals for the smaller counties very much, Johnston said.

The steering committee instead chose to expect the same percentage reduction from each county.

This approach will still get the most pounds of reduced pollution from the top-polluting counties, but the burden will be less than with the weighted formula.

Focusing conservation efforts on the areas with the most pollution could accelerate the state’s cleanup efforts as its 2025 deadline gets closer.

To be clear, though, the regional planning strategy won’t lower the regulatory burden on any farm in the watershed.

All farms still must have erosion and sedimentation, and nutrient management plans as required by the state, Ag Secretary Russell Redding said.


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