WAY is a coalition of stakeholders being innovative leaders encouraging watershed-based planning, restoration and protection in York County, Pennsylvania, and beyond.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

 Putting the Bay’s woes in perspective

It’s easy to feel despondent about the rapidity of the progress of the Bay's cleanup. The harder we work to control pollution, the more intractable it can seem. We move forward with upgrades to major wastewater plants, only to stumble with whole towns on failing septic systems.  Or lawmakers pass legislation to combat a major pollution or public health problem, only to weaken the law later or make exceptions that don’t solve the problem. There is much that remains undone. But compared with a lot of places, our region is so far ahead that even a cynic like me savors the moment.

Brief History of Water Pollution

Pollution is not a new phenomenon. In fact, pollution has been a problem since the appearance of our earliest ancestors[1]. Increasing human populations have opened the door to more bacteria and disease. During the Middle Ages, diseases such as cholera and typhoid fever broke out all across Europe. These epidemics were directly related to unsanitary conditions caused by human and animal wastes, and garbage. In 1347, thebacterium Yersinia pestis, carried by rats and spread by fleas, caused the "Black Death" -- an outbreak of bubonic plague. Unsanitary conditions provided the perfect environment for the deadly bacteria to flourish.

By the 1800s, people began to understand that unsanitary living conditions and water contamination contributed to disease epidemics. This new awareness prompted major cities to take measures to control waste and garbage. In the mid-1850s, Chicago built the first major sewage system in the United States to treat wastewater. Soon, many other U.S. cities followed Chicago's lead.
Map of the layout of sewers in Chicago at the end of 1857. Chicago built one of the first sewage systems in the United States to treat wastewater. (Source: NOAA)

Improved sanitary conditions and less disease were important factors in making cities healthier places to live, and helped encourage people to move to urban areas. As cities became more populated towards the end of the 19th century, industrialized cities across Europe and the United States were experiencing a new kind of pollution: waste from industries and factories. In 1897, a report to the Royal Commission on River Pollution detailed the gross industrial contamination of the Tawe River in Wales, noting that it was polluted by "alkali works, copper works, sulfuric acid liquid, sulfate of iron from tin-plate works, and by slag, cinders and smallcoal"[2].

In the United States, industrial chemicals and wastes, including sulfuric acid, soda ash, muriatic acid, limes, dyes, wood pulp, and animal byproducts from industrial mills contaminated waters in the Northeast.

Water and air pollution in U.S. urban areas continued to increase well into the 20th century. The Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, which flows into Lake Erie, became so polluted that the water erupted into flames! The first fire occurred in 1936, when a spark from a blowtorch ignited floating debris and oils. Over the next 30 years, the river caught fire several more times.

captionThe Cuyahoga River on fire in 1952. On the far left you can see firefighters battling the blaze from a bridge. (Source: NOAA)

In 1969, another major fire erupted. This time, with the help of news and magazine coverage, the fire prompted the nation to take immediate action against water pollution. The public response to this event helped create the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (1972), commonly called the Clean Water Act. This legislation provides money to improve sewage treatment plants (STPs) and sets limits on the things that industries and STPs can discharge into the water. The Cuyahoga River fires also provided the motivation to create the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement; establish federal and state environmental protection agencies (Environmental Protection Agency, 2003); and pass the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which prohibits the discharge of oil into navigable rivers.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Earth. Pollution: A brief history

Water pollution is on the rise globally

  • Virtually all goods-producing activities generate pollutants as unwanted by-products.
  • The most important water contaminants created by human activities are microbial pathogens, nutrients, oxygen-consuming materials, heavy metals and persistent organic matter, as well as suspended sediments, nutrients, pesticides and oxygen-consuming substances, much of it from non-point sources.  Heat, which raises the temperature of the receiving water, can also be a pollutant. Pollutants are typically the cause of major water quality degradation around the world.
  • Globally, the most prevalent water quality problem is eutrophication, a result of high-nutrient loads (mainly phosphorus and nitrogen), which substantially impairs beneficial uses of water.
  • Projected food production needs and increasing wastewater effluents associated with an increasing population over the next three decades suggest a 10%-15% increase in the river input of nitrogen loads into coastal ecosystems, continuing the trend observed during 1970-95.
  • More than 80% of sewage in developing countries is discharged untreated, polluting rivers, lakes and coastal areas. 
  • Many industries – some of them known to be heavily polluting (such as leather and chemicals) – are moving from high-income countries to emerging market economies.
  • Despite improvements in some regions, water pollution is on the rise globally. 
  •    Source: United Nations World Water Assessment Program (WWAP)




    Pollution Causes 40 Percent Of Deaths Worldwide

  • About 40 percent of deaths worldwide are caused by water, air and soil pollution, concludes a Cornell researcher. Such environmental degradation, coupled with the growth in world population, are major causes behind the rapid increase in human diseases, which the World Health Organization has recently reported. Both factors contribute to the malnourishment and disease susceptibility of 3.7 billion people, he says.

    Source: Cornell University. "Pollution Causes 40 Percent Of Deaths Worldwide, Study Finds." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 August 2007. .

Water Pollution - What's in the Water

As technology improves, scientists are able to detect more pollutants, and at smaller concentrations, in Earth’s freshwater bodies. Containing traces of contaminants ranging from birth control pills and sunscreen to pesticides and petroleum, our planet's lakes, rivers, streams, and groundwater are often a chemical cocktail.

Beyond synthetic pollution, freshwater is also the end point for biological waste, in the form of human sewage, animal excrement, and rainwater runoff flavored by nutrient-rich fertilizers from yards and farms. These nutrients find their way through river systems into seas, sometimes creating coastal ocean zones void of oxygen—and therefore aquatic life—and making the connection between land and sea painfully obvious. When you dump paint down the drain, it often ends up in the ocean, via freshwater systems.

In the developed world, regulation has restricted industry and agricultural operations from pouring pollutants into lakes, streams, and rivers. Technology has also offered a solution in the form of expensive filtration and treatment plants that make our drinking water safe to consume. Some cities are even promoting "green" infrastructure, such as green roofs and rain gardens, as a way to naturally filter out pollutants. But you may find a different picture in parts of the developing world, where there is less infrastructure—politically, economically, and technically—to deal with the barrage of pollution threats facing freshwater and all of the species that rely on it.
 Fast Facts
  • In developing countries, 70 percent of industrial wastes are dumped untreated into waters, polluting the usable water supply.
  • On average, 99 million pounds (45 million kilograms) of fertilizers and chemicals are used each year.
  • Portland, Oregon, is actively pursing “green roofs” and “green streets” to prevent sewer overflows into the Willamette River. Chicago, Illinois, now has more than 517,000 acres (209,222 hectares) of vegetated roofs—more than any other U.S. city—which are helping to catch storm water, cool the urban environment, and provide opportunities for rooftop gardens.
Source: National Geographic: Freshwater 101

Thursday, January 29, 2015

State of the Chesapeake Bay--Are We There Yet?

In 2014 the new Chesapeake Bay Agreement was signed by all of the interested states and DC. The commitments contained in the agreement are the Chesapeake Bay Program's Goals and Outcomes that the signatories will work on collectively to advance restoration and protection of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem and its watershed. The amount of pollution that flowed from nine major rivers into the Chesapeake Bay in 2013 was below the 25-year average. While scientists expect this to have a positive impact on the long-term health of the nation’s largest estuary, most of the Bay’s tidal waters remain unhealthy: between 2011 and 2013, just 29 percent of the water quality standards necessary to support underwater plants and animals was achieved.

Earlier this month, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation released it's 2014 State of the Bay report which presents a mix of good and bad news. The great news is water quality indicator scores have improved significantly over the 2008 and 2010 scores. The bad news: blue crabs and striped bass are not doing well. CBF goes on to say "we can celebrate the water quality improvements. However, the Bay and its rivers and streams still constitute a system dangerously out of balance.

Are we there yet? Appears not, but appearances may be misleading. Comparing the CBP's indicators to CBF's indicators is like comparing apples and oranges.

Water quality is but one indicator common with both sets of criteria for measuring the Bay's health and its restoration and protection progress. Albeit, the most important indicator. All other indicators measure cultural, economic, land use, ecosystem types and species of concern, all of which either contribute to water quality degradation or respond to it.

ChesapeakeBayStats provides an the overview information provided for Water Quality, the Agriculture and Wastewater Workgroups priorities and progress. Other important work is being conducted by the Chesapeake Bay Program partnership to restore water quality by implementing pollution reduction practices on urban and suburban lands and reducing pollution deposited in the watershed from the air. Progress in implementing the Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and in achieving milestones set at the 2009 Executive Council Meeting is also described and shown.

For example, looking at the chart titled "Total Pollutant Loads to the Bay" it clear shows we've come a long way since 1985 reducing nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment loading to the Bay and we've almost achieved the 2017 targets set in the agreement and are progressing towards meeting the 2025 targets also.

In contrast to the above, CBFs overview of the state of the bay in 2014 is generally in agreement but this report continues to give poor improvement scores for water quality.

Most interesting is the left side of this graph--from 1600 to 1970--showing the steady decline (i.e., 100 - 25%) in the bay's health over time. This clearly shows what 300 years of land clearing, subsistance agriculture, intensive logging, mining, population growth, and over fishing has contributed to the bay's decline.

Why then, do some folk expect to see rapid improvements (i.e., 25-50%) in water quality and the bay's health in less than 30 years? The fact is it is improving, steadily and more rapidly than its historical decline! I predict that we will cross the threshold of restoration success (i.e., 50%) by 2025.

The Bay and its watershed are recovering and will continue to improve as long as society is committed to its success.

Friday, December 12, 2014

York County WIP - Stormwater Financing

As noted previously, financial resources will likely be needed to plan and implement many of the strategies set forth in this Plan. Among these resources are loans, grants, technical assistance, fundraising, and in-kind services. Funding is available from numerous governmental and non-governmental agencies, as well as private interests. Other stormwater financing options that are becoming more prevalent include taxes, fees, special assessments and bonds. Creative financing, whereby a mix of resources are combined to carry out stormwater planning and implementation projects, will likely be a beneficial avenue to pursue.

Appendix F contains information on an array of local, State, and Federal financial resources. It also includes a brief description of, and links to, guidance documents, casestudies, and training materials that can assist local governments and other stakeholders in understanding the many available funding options for stormwater projects.

When seeking funding, it is important to keep in mind that projects that have been identified in an adopted/approved plan, regional projects, and projects needed to meet permit obligations are often ranked higher. Also in-kind services can often be used to meet grant match requirements. This can range from services provided by the local municipality to services provided by other organizations.

With regard to fundraising, it may be advantageous to have a fiscal sponsorship. Through a fiscal sponsorship, a municipality or organized group can raise funds as charitable contributions without the necessity of obtaining its own 501(c)(3) status. This can serve as an impetus to stimulate project interest and donations. A fiscal sponsorship also allows municipalities/organizations to access grant funds requiring a 501(c)3 applicant. The Community Foundation of York is one entity to pursue for a fiscal sponsorship. Another is the Partnership for Economic Development of York County (PEDYC), however, it only acts as a fiscal sponsor for economic and community development projects in the County that support the goals of the York County Economic Development Plan. There is potential for some stormwater BMP projects to be considered a community or economic development project, particularly when it is a park, parking area, or business area improvement project.

Additionally, many service organizations are available to assist with project implementation, which can result in cost savings. Among these organizations are watershed associations, boy scouts, girl scouts, 4-H clubs, senior centers, church youth groups, civic groups, and environmental organizations. Also, the York County Prison has a program through which supervised inmates can assist with various types of projects.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

York County WIP – IWRP and CBPRPs

A key strategy, supported by PA DEP, that is worthy of specific mention is the preparation of a County or Regional Chesapeake Bay Pollution Reduction Plan (CBPRP). All MS4 municipalities will be required to submit a CBPRP to PA DEP within one (1) year of receiving their MS4 Permit. Through an intergovernmental cooperative effort, a single Plan could be prepared at a lesser cost than multiple individual Plans. This cost savings could then be directed to implementing the BMPs. Additionally, this effort would enable participating municipalities to contribute to potentially larger structural BMP projects that would result in greater strides toward meeting the County targets. Likewise, they would receive credit for contributing to such projects, regardless of whether they were located in their MS4 urbanized area. The premise is that successful implementation of large projects identified in a County or Regional CBPRP could result in the reduction of more pollutants that an abundance of smaller projects listed in individual municipal CBPRPs.

Another notable strategy is using the York County Integrated Water Resources Plan (IWRP) Flowchart Tool. This web-enabled tool ( integrates many of the solutions identified by this WIP into an overall process, addressing water related issues in a holistic manner. The development of a methodology by which municipalities could incorporate the Flowchart Tool into regulations, policies and/or procedures, would facilitate implementation of the County’s WIP, largely by addressing its identified solutions.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

York County WIP – Strategies

The solutions identified in Section IV of this Plan are effective at reducing pollutants only if implemented. The focus of this Section is to establish viable strategies by which identified solutions will be implemented throughout York County. These strategies relate solely to the solutions recommended in this Plan.

Additionally, it is important to reiterate that these strategies are intended to not only clean up York County waters and assist the County with meeting its Draft Planning Targets, but also to aid Pennsylvania in meeting its target allocations. Through implementation of the strategies noted in this Plan, strides can also be made in helping the County to not be subjected to potential US EPA backstops in the future. 

This Plan is a start for municipal action. It did some up front thinking to identify priority areas and priority tools that make sense. A countywide or regional approach to implementation may realize an increased chance of success. 

It is apparent that local governments will need to use coordination, cooperation and communication to carry out many of the strategies recommended in this Plan. This includes, but is not limited to, engaging citizens, environmental organizations, non-profit groups, and public/private foundations. Often times, these groups will gladly volunteer to support local initiatives that restore and protect local waters when they understand the threats to those waters. Additionally, financial resources and technical assistance will likely be needed.

Rather than just listing strategies, a table is being used to set forth the strategies to implement the solutions. The table (See pages 24 and 25) sets forth not only implementation strategies for each of the four (4) solutions, but also notes the recommended time frame for implementation, the lead and/or partner agencies responsible for implementation of the strategy, and tasks that the Coalition for Clean Waters could carry out to assist with implementation. This format is often referred to as a “crosswalk.”

The “Lead Agency” refers to the entity that would take primary responsibility for implementing the strategy, while “Partner(s)” refers to entities that would assist the Lead Agency with implementing the strategy. The time frames for implementation are described as follows:

  • Ongoing - Tasks that are initiated as the opportunity arises and should continue. 
  •  Immediate - Tasks that should be undertaken as soon as possible following completion of the Plan. 
  •  Short-Term - Tasks that should be implemented within years one (1) through four (4) following completion of the Plan. This reflects implementation by US EPAs 2017 milestone, which has a target of meeting 60% of the pollutant reductions. 
  •  Long-Term - Tasks that will be implemented in year five (5) or longer following completion of the Plan.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

York County WIP – Criteria for Evaluating Solutions

Cost versus effectiveness is the ultimate bottom line when considering solutions; how to get the proverbial “biggest bang for the buck.” The effectiveness of each solution would be based upon the size of the pollutant load that is cleaned up by a particular remedy and the time it takes to accomplish it. The catch is that many factors come into play when calculating both the “bang” and the “buck.”

Among the factors are geographic considerations, such as outfall location, headwater areas and confluences. In addition to location within the watershed, environmental factors, such as soils, geology, impaired streams (see Appendix B) and species of concern; operation/maintenance; and sustainability need to be analyzed when contemplating the most effective solution to reduce nutrient/sediment pollution. The cost of implementing the solution also needs to be considered, in conjunction with effectiveness, to ensure practicality, as well as getting the most pollutant reduction for each dollar spent. At times, site restraints may prevent the use of the most effective and/or the least expensive solution. Among the common restraints are location of solutions, pollutant sources, population centers, types of land use, landowners, and funding sources.

When calculating financial costs for a particular solution, the achievement of multiple objectives should likewise be considered. York County has many plans, assessments, and reports concerning the County’s water resources, all with recommendations, goals, and objectives. For example, if a particular pollutant reduction solution also reduces an environmental hazard and/or provides an identified recreational need, achievement of multiple benefits may turn an otherwise economically impractical solution into the most cost effective remedy. Established TMDLs, Watershed/Rivers Conservation Plans, MS4 permits, County land preservation programs, and County/municipal comprehensive plans are some examples of environmental planning efforts throughout the County that should be consulted when establishing project priorities for this Plan.

The criteria presented above for evaluating solutions can be summarized as follows:

  • Pollutant source/type
  • Target impaired waters
  • BMP efficiency (cost/benefit)
  • Secondary benefits
  • Cooperative partners
  • Public vs. private projects
  • MS4 compatibility
  • Funding availability