The cost of saving the bay
Substantial progress has been made in restoring the Chesapeake Bay, and everyone who lives within the Susquehanna River watershed - including most Northeast Pennsylvanians - is aware of the cost.
Major upgrades to sewer systems in the region, due at least partially to the federal/state initiative to save the Chesapeake, have begun to drive up rates. According to the state Legislative Budget and Finance Committee, the cost of nitrogen reduction goals for the Chesapeake will be $170 per household in the watershed by 2015.
The Susquehanna River watershed delivers most of the pollution to the Chesapeake - 44 percent of suspended solids or sediment, 45 percent of nitrogen and 45 percent of phosphorous.
The bigger problem now is known as "non point-source" pollution, the runoff from paved surfaces that carries chemical pollution, and especially the runoff from livestock operations. Agriculture is responsible for about 53 percent of the nitrogen, 54 percent of phosphorous and almost all of the sediment that flows to the bay.
The state Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee has approved a bill, the Major Watershed Improvement Act, that would radically alter the state's approach to complying with the Chesapeake improvement program.
It would borrow from a program first used to reduce salt discharges into the Colorado River, but the focus regarding the Chesapeake watershed would be on nitrogen. The system would involve the state buying credits for certain types of pollution and applying them against the state's Chesapeake compliance requirements.
The bill is backed by agricultural interests and companies that develop environmental technology, which claim that it will spur innovation.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation opposes it, contending that it would funnel public money to private interests rather than into bay restoration.
Sens. Mike Folmer and Lloyd Smucker, Republicans who represent Lebanon and Lancaster counties, introduced the bill on June 4 and it quickly was passed from committee with little public input. The Senate should reject the measure until full-blown hearings are conducted. Although the bill has potential, it should not be passed at the expense of progress already under way.