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Water Quality in Pennsylvania
By: Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth boundaries encompass at least 85,568 miles of streams and 242 major publicly accessible lakes comprising 125,119 surface water acres. Section 303 of the Federal Clean Water Act requires that states, territories, and authorized tribes, collectively referred to in the act as "states," prepare water quality standards and assess all streams and lakes. Since1972 enactment, each water body is to have calculated an upper pollution limit that maintains water quality meeting state standards for each pollutant present. Standards vary among the states depending on each state’s protected uses. In Pennsylvania, these protected uses are listed as fish consumption, recreation, public water use, and biological life.
About the Report
A water quality condition report listing waters attaining or failing to meet standards is to be submitted to the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for approval by April 1 of every even-numbered year. Assessment determinations fall into three general statuses of attaining, impaired, or unassessed. A water body is considered “impaired" if it fails to meet one or more water quality standards. Additional qualifiers may be added, depending on the listing. The term "303(d) list" is short for the list of impaired and threatened waters (e.g., stream/river segments, lakes) that have been identified and reported to EPA.
In Pennsylvania, this report, titled 2020 Pennsylvania Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report, lists streams and water bodies that have met the standards, those failing to attain the standards, and those having pollutant levels close to the limits of failure. Within the report are many condensed map-and-table reports among stream and lake categories.
Due to resource constraints, the number of stream miles having been assessed, and the attainment/impairment status of each stream, varies by protected use. All wadable streams in Pennsylvania have been assessed at least once for Aquatic Life Uses. DEP is currently conducting the second round of Aquatic Life Use assessments on wadable streams. DEP continues to work towards the goal of 100% assessment of all waterbodies in the state for all designated uses. Several assessment methods are used in meeting the reporting goal for the protected uses. Using these methods, lake water quality has been assessed to several completion extents among the protected use categories. For instance, 107,314 lake surface acres have been assessed for Recreational Use, while only 90,076 acres have been assessed for Public Water Supply Use. Water quality of a particular body may meet state standards in one use but not another. Overall, 100,379 acres of 107,314 assessed are listed as attaining Pennsylvania standards, while 935 acres are listed as impaired in Recreational Use. On the other hand, only 89,543 of 90,076 assessed are listed as attaining the standards and 623 acres as impaired in Public Drinking Water Supply Use.
Sources of Impairment and Rankings
Sources of Impairment listed in the Pennsylvania report include Unknown, Atmospheric Deposition (the largest source affecting 30,000 acres of Fish Consumption Use), Agriculture (affecting about 25,000 acres of aquatic life), and Urban Runoff/Storm Sewers(affecting about 20,000 acres of aquatic life).
Causes of Impairment listed in the Pennsylvania report include Mercury, Nutrients, pH, Dissolved Oxygen, Hydrilla, Organic Enrichment, Pathogens, Total Suspended Solids, and Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs). The leading cause reported was Organic Enrichment, (causing impairment of about 45,0000 lake acres of water in the Aquatic Life use) and Mercury, (causing impairment of about 42,000 lake acres in the Fish Consumption use).
The Clean Water Act requires that states establish priority rankings for waters on the lists classified as “Impaired" and develop Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) for these waters. A TMDL is likened to a pollution diet, as it includes a calculation of the maximum amount of a pollutant that can be present in a waterbody and still recover in quality to meet state standards within a set time period. Each pollutant causing a waterbody to be impaired or threatened is referred to as a waterbody/pollutant combination, and typically a TMDL is developed for each waterbody/pollutant combination. While stating the intake limit, the TMDL does not specify recovery solutions.
Once a water body or stream segment is classified as impaired for one or more of these designated uses, several steps are taken by the federal and state regulatory agencies to comply with the Clean Water Act. PA DEP, approved third party expert companies and approved volunteer cooperators develop a Watershed Implementation Plan that helps guide restoration activities within the watershed. A proposed plan is submitted and must be approved by the federal EPA to continue. Necessary actions could include implementing green infrastructure to reduce stormwater impacts, new development rules that protect natural spaces, upgrades to wastewater treatment plants, improvements on agricultural land, and usually public education.
Bradford County is currently developing a watershed implementation plan, and input from interested individuals is welcome!
To view the report for 2020 click here!
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Various staff at the Bradford County Conservation District