PFB Comments to Proposed Conowingo Dam WIP

Comments Jointly Offered by Pennsylvania Farm Bureau and Other Agricultural Organizations to the Draft Conowingo Watershed Implementation Plan

The undersigned agricultural organizations provider the following comments relative to the draft Watershed Implementation Plan for the Conowingo Dam (hereafter referred to as the “Draft C-WIP”). We appreciate the opportunity for offering comments.

  • Pennsylvania Co-operative Potato Growers is the oldest nonprofit grower-owned cooperative in America. Founded in 1922, the cooperative assists Pennsylvania farm producers statewide in the marketing of Pennsylvania grown potatoes to food service distributors and to manufacturers of potato products in the tri-state area of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland.
  • Pennsylvania Corn Growers Association (PGCA) is a statewide agricultural association whose purpose is to promote and provide education on issues that are important to corn producers in Pennsylvania and the United States. PGCA is the state affiliate of the National Corn Growers Association.
  • Pennsylvania Farm Bureau (PFB) is a statewide general farm organization representing the interests of agriculture and rural communities in Pennsylvania. The organization includes 54 local Farm Bureau affiliates that are active in 63 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. PFB is the state affiliate of the American Farm Bureau Federation.
  • Pennsylvania State Grange is the state affiliate of the National Grange. Founded in 1867, the organization continues to be an active voice in representing the interests of Pennsylvania’s agricultural, rural and urban citizens. The organization includes more than 190 local Granges throughout Pennsylvania.
  • Pennsylvania Vegetable Growers Association is a statewide agricultural organization serving the interests of Pennsylvania’s vegetable, potato and berry growers in the production, marketing and promotion of Pennsylvania-produced vegetables and fruits, whose estimated value of production is more than $147 million annually.

We are deeply concerned with the Draft C-WIP, as proposed and offered, on multiple grounds. The “plan” offered in the Draft C-WIP is not what we would consider to be a reasonable offering of a course of action to be pursued by Chesapeake Bay Partnership in addressing nitrogen pollution effects of the Conowingo Dam.

Effective and viable plans not only need to provide general objectives to be achieved but also offer specific actions and activities for achievement that can with high confidence be fully executed by those responsible for their performance. The Draft C-WIP provides little more than identify and allocate to geographic areas within the Bay Watershed where conservation measures to offset nitrogen impacts of the Conowingo Dam will be performed, the sectors that will be primarily responsible for performance of the offsetting tasks, and the annualized costs that will be incurred in their performance. Nothing in the Draft C-WIP provides substantively a meaningful, specific, clear or practical path of achievement.

It should be obvious that attainment of the Draft C-WIP’s targeted nitrogen reduction goals for Pennsylvania will pose serious challenges and require an extensive commitment of human, financial and technical resources. But the Draft C-WIP offers no specific or viable means for overcoming these human, financial and technical challenges. In fact, the Draft C-WIP offers virtually nothing of substance to resolve these obvious and serious challenges

The Draft C-WIP also is seriously lacking in providing any substantive analysis of adverse impacts that pursuit of C-WIP’s goals will have on the ability of Pennsylvania and the Bay states to effectively administer and execute state watershed implementation plans (WIPs) developed for Phase 3, or means for identifying and resolving conflicts with state Phase 3 WIPs that will likely arise in pursuit of C-WIP’s general goals and objectives.

Essentially, the Draft C-WIP assumes that Pennsylvania will be the target area and Pennsylvania’s agriculture will be the target sector in bearing the lion’s share of responsibility in performance. Of the 6.72 million pounds in estimated reduction of nitrogen pollution that must be attained annually to offset the nitrogen pollution impacts of the Conowingo Dam, the Draft C-WIP directs that 6.41 million pounds of nitrogen reduction – or 95.4 percent of the total reduction needed for offset from the Dam – be performed by Pennsylvania. And the Draft C-WIP further directs that 5.69 million pounds of nitrogen reduction – nearly 84.7 percent of the total reduction needed for offset – be distinctly performed by Pennsylvania’s agriculture sector.

The numbers cited in the Draft C-WIP themselves do not provide a complete picture of the extent of nitrogen reduction that Pennsylvania must achieve or the degree of conservation measures that Pennsylvania’s farms local communities must perform at home to attain the Draft C-WIP’s goals. The estimates for nitrogen reduction offsets stated in the Draft C-WIP represent nitrogen reductions that Pennsylvania (and other Bay states) must attain at “edge of tide”, or stated more simply, at the point when waters passing through Pennsylvania reach the main inlets to the Chesapeake Bay. The Draft C-WIP’s estimates are not based on “edge of segment” or the levels of nitrogen reduction that Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania’s agriculture will need to achieve at the location of the farm or municipality to reach the resulting nitrogen reduction level at “edge of tide.”

To achieve the level of reduction at “edge of tide”, Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania’s agriculture sector will need to attain substantially higher levels of performance in nitrogen reduction. The staff of the Center for Watershed Protection has estimated in order to reach the Draft C-WIP’s directed level of 6.41 million pounds of nitrogen reduction at “edge of tide”, Pennsylvania will need to perform at-home conservation measures that reduce nitrogen pollution by 9.48 million pounds. And for Pennsylvania’s agriculture sector to achieve the Draft C-WIP’s directed level of 5.69 million pounds of nitrogen reduction at “edge of tide,” Pennsylvania’s family farmers will need to perform at-home conservation measures that reduce nitrogen pollution by 8.40 million pounds.

The drafters of C-WIP should be consciously mindful that achievement of goals for offset of nitrogen runoff from the Conowingo Dam proposed in the Draft C-WIP is additional to the goals and tasks for nitrogen reduction that Pennsylvania and other Bay states are expected to achieve and perform generally in the Bay Watershed. If finally adopted, the Draft C-WIP would increase Pennsylvania’s commitment in reduction of nitrogen pollution by nearly 20 percent1 from the commitment formulated in July 2019 under Pennsylvania’s Watershed Implementation Plan for Phase 3. Pennsylvania’s Phase 3 WIP and the components and recommendations for action adopted were designed for the purpose and objective of attaining the nitrogen reduction goals established under Pennsylvania’s Bay TMDL.

The drafters of C-WIP should equally keep in mind that that performance of conservation measures to achieve C-WIP’s nitrogen reduction offsets will impose a significant amount of additional costs on someone. The Draft C-WIP estimates that $53.3 million annually in additional costs would be incurred to fully achieve the nitrogen reduction goals envisioned under C-WIP. $50.52 million annually are estimated to be incurred to achieve nitrogen reduction goals envisioned for Pennsylvania, with $45.44 million in additional annual costs estimated for Pennsylvania’s agriculture sector to achieve C-WIP’s envisioned nitrogen reduction goals.

With the extensive conservation measures that must be performed and the significant additional costs that must be incurred in achieving C-WIP’s envisioned goals, the pervading question to be raised and answered is how can achievement of these goals be practically accomplished and feasibly financed. Yet the Draft C-WIP provides essentially no answer to this question. No meaningful plan of execution or viable source or means of financing the extensive measures for achievement of C-WIP’s nitrogen reduction offset is offered in the Draft C-WIP. And no consideration is made in the Draft C-WIP on whether C-WIP’s goals and means of achievement are compatible with the plans for nitrogen reduction that Pennsylvania and the Bay state recently developed and adopted in their state watershed implementation plans (WIPs) for Phase 3. Only cursory references are provided in the Draft C-WIP to “innovations” in financing and “leveraging” of private and public capital and market forces to pay for the extensive additional costs to be incurred. Specific recommendations for achievement of financial “innovation” and “leveraging” are seriously lacking in the Draft C-WIP.

Furthermore, those potential sources of financing Pennsylvania’s conservation measures identified in Draft C-WIP are questionable in their current ability to provide adequate financing. Not only is the amount of money currently available through these sources insufficient to satisfy the extensive additional costs to be incurred. Any current or increased funds to be made available through these sources have already been contemplated for use in financing conservation measures to be pursued under Pennsylvania’s Phase 3 WIP. Any future dedication of Pennsylvania sources identified in the Draft C-WIP to attain C-WIP’s nitrogen reduction goals will only diminish Pennsylvania’s ability to effectively pursue and finance conservation measures contemplated in Pennsylvania’s Phase 3 WIP.

The Draft C-WIP asserts generally that nitrogen load reductions to offset the pollution effects from the Conowingo Dam will not be allocated to any particular jurisdiction, but will be achieved collectively by the jurisdictions working together through a flexible, adaptive, and innovative CWIP approach. The problem of the Conowingo Dam’s contribution of nitrogen pollution was known long before establishment of the C-WIP Steering Committee in 2018. The failure by those involved during the past two years of consideration and drafting of the C-WIP to identify a specific, viable and reliable source of financing the extensive conservation tasks contemplated in C-WIP’s calls into serious question the Draft C-WIP’s general assertion that individual states will not ultimately and exclusively bear the obligation of execution of those tasks. Sooner or later, someone will be expected to implement and finance the tasks needed to achieve C-WIP’s goals. Failure in the Draft C-WIP to identify a viable and independent source of financing heightens our skepticism of the credibility of the assertion mentioned above and our fear that Pennsylvania will be the ultimate and predominant bearer of the administrative and financial obligations associated with execution of C-WIP.

The existing burden that the Draft C-WIP would place on Pennsylvania is further aggravated by two other recent actions by the Chesapeake Bay Partnership, both of which have the practical effect of increasing the amount of nitrogen reduction that Pennsylvania will be responsible to attain under the goals established for Pennsylvania in EPA’s Bay Watershed TMDL. The Partnership’s recent adoption of modifications under CAST-19 will have the effect of increasing the nitrogen reduction obligation of Pennsylvania’s agricultural sector by 1.8 million pounds. And proportionate state allocations of nitrogen reduction offsets in response to estimated effects of climate change recently approved by the Partnership will increase Pennsylvania’s obligation for nitrogen reduction by another 1.9 million pounds.

As with the Draft C-WIPs reported numbers, the estimates of Pennsylvania’s additional nitrogen pollution reduction obligations identified in the previous paragraph reflect what needs to be achieved at “edge of tide.” Assuming the same ratio for attainment of “edge of tide” reductions as that estimated under the Draft C-WIP, Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania’s agriculture sector will need to perform at-home conservation measures that reduce nitrogen runoff by 2.64 million pounds and 2.79 million pounds respectively to meet the additional obligations resulting from these two actions.

We are especially concerned with the timing of “finalization” of the Draft C-WIP, assuming it will become final in its current or materially similar form. Pennsylvania is currently engaged in an extensive process to more fully develop and coordinate the administration and prioritization of conservation measures to be pursued locally and watershed-wide under the state’s WIP for Phase 3. Unlike the WIPs developed during Phase 1 and 2, Pennsylvania’s Phase 3 WIP was developed with active participation of the public, including those persons and groups who will be ultimately called upon to execute the WIP’s contemplated conservation measures. Hundreds of representatives from local government, agriculture, business, academia and conservation organizations engaged and collaborated in the development of Pennsylvania’s Phase 3 WIP.

A much stronger effort was also made by Pennsylvania officials than in Phases 1 and 2 to engage and include input from the Commonwealth’s farming interests. Pennsylvania’s agricultural organizations played a significant role in Pennsylvania’s WIP development process, and individual farmers actively served on advisory bodies and provided helpful insight on the environmental effectiveness and practicality of conservation measures being considered for inclusion in Pennsylvania’s WIP. The recommendations and concerns offered by farmers and farm organizations were largely incorporated into the Phase 3 WIP that Pennsylvania adopted finally.

With the assistance of EPA, Pennsylvania also made a significantly greater effort during the Phase 3 development process to commission and engage those with expertise in modeling analysis to assist government officials and advisory bodies in the selection of conservation measures to be pursued under Pennsylvania’s Phase 3 WIP. These analysts gave government officials and advisory bodies a more tangible and quantitative understanding of relative benefits to water quality anticipated to occur from each of the conservation options considered, and enabled the Commonwealth to make more environmentally and economically effective choices in the WIP’s final selection of conservation measures to be pursued.

Because of the inclusive and collaborative process engaged by Pennsylvania in development of its Phase 3 WIP and meaningful opportunity for participation and input among stakeholder interests, there has been a higher level of acceptance and commitment for implementation of the WIP than the plans adopted in the prior two phases. Those communities and landowners who will be called upon to perform the tasks of implementation have substantially higher level of confidence than in the past that implementation Pennsylvania’s Phase 3 WIP is worthy of pursuit, and is doable and feasible, if given a reasonable time for implementation and financing.

But Pennsylvania is also at a critical point in the overall process of WIP implementation. Material progress on Pennsylvania’s Phase 3 WIP is still in the early stages. Keep in mind that Pennsylvania’s Phase 3 WIP was adopted only 18 months ago. And the predominant focus among those involved in development of Pennsylvania’s WIP was improvement of existing point and nonpoint conditions that are currently contributing to local water impairment. Little if any consideration was given by the formulators of Pennsylvania’s WIP to address factors outside Pennsylvania’s boundaries that may also be contributing to water quality impairment in the Bay.

There is still much work to be done in education and coordination of public and private sectors to achieve effective and viable outcomes for WIP implementation. The Commonwealth has just begun to engage county and local officials, farmers and other stakeholders in the effort to develop local action plans to compliment Pennsylvania’s Phase 3 WIP, coordinate and prioritize local and regional conservation measures, and efficiently and effectively manage human, financial and technical resources. And while the spirit of worthiness and achievability in implementation of Pennsylvania’s WIP is relatively higher among officials and stakeholders than in the past, we believe this heightened spirit is still fragile and can be quickly dashed. The previous phases of WIP planning and implementation were adversarial between the Commonwealth and federal agencies, with substantial misgivings in trust and cooperation that impeded progress in the Commonwealth’s plan implementation.

We fear that finalization of the Draft C-WIP at this time in its current or similar form will be a serious and perhaps fatal setback to the high improvement in morale and personal commitment to water quality improvement in the Bay watershed that has occurred among those Pennsylvanians during the Phase 3 WIP development process and initial stages of implementation. The Draft C-WIP’s attempt to assign to Pennsylvania additional responsibility for performance of measures to offset the pollution effects of the Conowingo Dam will likely be perceived by governmental officials and stakeholders involved in implementation of Pennsylvania’s Phase 3 WIP as another indiscriminate attempt by federal forces to generate additional environmental debt loads for Pennsylvania and its citizens, dashing the collective will and commitment to move appreciably forward in implementation of Pennsylvania’s WIP and seriously diminishing the credibility of those governmental officials and citizens who are leading Pennsylvania’s effort. We believe the likelihood of emergence of this perception among Pennsylvanians is high, given the animosity that has arisen in the past between the Commonwealth and EPA on Bay matters and the absence of any real attempt in the Draft C-WIP to identify a viable means to administratively or financially accomplish the draft’s envisioned goals.

Lastly, we would generally note what should be plainly obvious to most that the current COVID-19 crisis and the need for major rededication of federal and state fiscal resources to address critical human health and financial needs has materially hampered efforts to move the process of Commonwealth’s WIP substantially forward. Placing a new layer of performance obligations now on Pennsylvania will further deflate the will and confidence of Pennsylvania officials and stakeholders to more proactively pursue and implement the Commonwealth’s Phase 3 WIP

While we would prefer to offer recommendations that provide viable and practical solutions to the environmental challenges posed by the Conowingo Dam, we believe it is impossible to make any meaningful recommendations specific to the Draft C-WIP that can correct its serious flaws or its prevailing absence of clarity, specificity or practicality.

We also believe that a “final” release of the C-WIP in its current or similar form at this time would be a serious blow to the momentum in spirit and personal commitment among Pennsylvanians to materially improve water quality in Pennsylvania’s Chesapeake Bay Watershed pursuant to its Phase 3 WIP.

Our ultimate recommendation is that release of a final C-WIP be suspended indefinitely until the following have been meaningfully addressed:

  • A more comprehensive effort has been made by the Partnership to engage and collaborate with Pennsylvania officials and stakeholders in development of measures to be pursued under C-WIP that will not conflict with Pennsylvania’s Phase 3 Watershed Implementation Plan nor divert human, financial and technical resources planned to be dedicated under Pennsylvania’s Phase 3 WIP.
  • A more definitive, comprehensive, and reliable source of financing projects to be pursued under C-WIP be identified that is wholly independent of state, federal and private funding sources currently dedicated or planned for use in financing conservation measures to be pursued in implementing Pennsylvania’s Phase 3 WIP.

If you have any questions regarding the comments offered above, please contact John Bell by email at or by telephone at (717) 731-3547. Thank you again for the opportunity to offer our views.

Respectfully submitted,
Pennsylvania Co-operative Potato Growers
Nathan Tallman, Executive Director

Pennsylvania State Grange
Wayne D. Campbell, President

Pennsylvania Corn Growers Association
Eric Rosenbaum, Executive Director

Pennsylvania Vegetable Growers Association
William Troxell, Executive Director

Pennsylvania Farm Bureau
John J. Bell, Environmental Issues Counsel


1 19.7 percent, if based on “edge of tide;” 17.6 percent, if based on “edge of segment.”