New Report Documents Retreat by PA and MD in Efforts to Control Stormwater Pollution in Chesapeake Bay

During a Time of Growing Rainfall Caused by Climate Change, Many States and Cities Planning Infrastructure Based on Outdated Data

Washington, D.C. – During a time of growing rainfall, flooding, and runoff pollution caused by climate change,  a new report by Environmental Integrity Project documents that Pennsylvania and Maryland have gone backwards in their efforts to control stormwater pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. Because of increasing amount of development and rainfall, the stormwater planning of many municipalities is outdated, leading to more pollution and increased risks of flooding, according to EIP’s study.

Pennsylvania’s 2019 Bay cleanup plan will allow almost 7 million pounds (or 87 percent) more nitrogen pollution – the Bay’s biggest killer – from urban and suburban stormwater runoff in the state into the estuary by the Bay cleanup deadline of 2025, compared to the state’s plan back in 2012, according to the report by the Environmental Integrity Project, “Stormwater Backup in the Chesapeake Region.”

Maryland’s most recent plan (called its “Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan”) will allow about 1.5 million pounds (or 20 percent) more nitrogen from stormwater runoff into the estuary from the state by the cleanup deadline, compared to the state’s 2012 plan, which used 2009 as a starting point.

Fewer investments by these two states in stormwater pollution control projects – including converting parking lots to greenspaces, planting trees, and building rain gardens – will hurt urban communities with large expanses of blacktop, which act as heat islands in the summer, a problem that is becoming worse because of  climate change, according to EIP’s report.

“It is inexcusable that Maryland and Pennsylvania are backtracking on their commitments to control urban stormwater pollution at a time when climate change and increasing rainfall are having such a huge impact on the Chesapeake Bay,” said Abel Russ, Senior Attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project and co-author of the report.  “These states must step up, start planning for the precipitation and flooding we are already experiencing because of global warming, and invest in the kinds of stormwater control projects and greenspaces that will provide a range of benefits to both the Chesapeake Bay and urban and suburban communities.”

Overall, in 2019, stormwater runoff from developed land – the only major source of pollution in the Bay that is growing – contributed 16 percent of the total nitrogen pollution in the Chesapeake (40 million pounds), as well as 17 percent of the phosphorus pollution (2.6 million pounds) and 9 percent of the sediment (1.7 billion pounds), according to figures from the EPA-led Chesapeake Bay program.

“At a time of increased concerns about public health, Pennsylvania really needs to start getting serious about controlling its stormwater pollution, because our water monitoring shows it is creating a health hazard even down the street from the State Capitol Complex – which is a disgrace,” said Ted Evgeniadis, the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper. “Pennsylvania needs to invest more in not only Harrisburg’s water quality, but clean water for everyone downstream.”

Water quality monitoring by the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper in Harrisburg this summer found unsafe E. coli bacteria levels on a third of the testing days (in 20 of 60 samples taken from June 5 to July 31), with worse fecal contamination downstream of the city’s combined stormwater and sewage outfalls. [Read More]

Virginia is heading in the opposite direction of Pennsylvania and Maryland and is planning and investing more to stop urban and suburban runoff. Virginia’s 2019 Bay cleanup plan would reduce nitrogen pollution from runoff into the Bay by an additional 4 percent, or 540,000 pounds, by the Bay cleanup deadline of 2025, compared to its 2012 plan.

Together, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania account for 90 percent of the stormwater pollution in the Bay.

“If Virginia can step up its efforts to stop stormwater pollution running into our rivers and streams and ultimately the Bay, there is no reason that Pennsylvania and Maryland should be backsliding,” said Betsy Nicholas, Executive Director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake.  “Because of climate change and increased rainfall and flooding, this is really an area in which all the states – and EPA – should be increasing their planning and investments, not the opposite.”

Alice Volpitta, Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper with Blue Water Baltimore, said: “Our data shows that several measurements of water health are getting significantly worse in Baltimore’s waterways over time. The status quo isn’t working for our urban ecosystems or city residents.  Over-reliance on street sweeping and trash reduction efforts, at the expense of green infrastructure projects that both treat and reduce polluted stormwater while providing tangible community benefits, is a losing strategy.”