Luzerne County’s Pollutant Reduction Plan Unveiled

Luzerne County now has a draft plan to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus in its waterways without imposing additional fees or mandates on landowners, according to a recent unveiling.

The state’s Department of Environmental Protection had asked the 36 counties in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to develop plans outlining the projects they want to complete to meet federal pollutant reduction requirements. .

Because the state must meet these cleanup targets by 2025, projects proposed in the plan are more likely to receive government funding and other support, officials said.

If the state does not comply, the United States Environmental Protection Agency can take action that includes subjecting more ranching operations and municipalities to federal regulations. , the suspension or reorientation of funding, and the implementation of new stream-by-stream water quality standards, officials said.

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The county council asked the Alfalfa Conservation District to develop the plan, which in turn worked with state-funded consultant Josh Glace of Larson Design Group.

Ice and Conservation District Executive Director Josh Longmore presented the project to council last week for comment before the Conservation District Board of Directors votes to approve the final plan in September. The document is published as an attachment to the August 24 city council working session on luzernecounty.org.

The plan will not increase regulatory or financial burdens on residents or business owners, county or local government entities, Longmore told the council. It was a condition of both the conservation district and the county council before agreeing to write a plan, as they did not want to be held accountable or penalized if projects were not completed.

Many landowners in the area have already been hit with controversial stormwater charges to fund pollutant reduction projects in municipalities requiring municipal separate storm sewer system permits, or MS4, as they have areas urbanized and drainage points discharging rainwater directly into watercourses without having been previously treated.

Pollutant reductions from these MS4-related projects will be quantified and tracked in the new action plan to ensure the county as a whole receives the full credit it is owed, Longmore and Glace said.

In July 2019, the state set the county’s goal of preventing 231,000 pounds of nitrogen and 47,000 pounds of phosphorus from entering waterways by 2025.

If all current, pending, or proposed work in the plan is completed, the county will far exceed those targets with a projected reduction of 693,000 pounds of nitrogen and 116,000 pounds of phosphorus, Ice said.

The state is also required to reduce sediment under the federal mandate, but Glace said the county was only asked to focus on nitrogen and phosphorus in the plan.

Council reaction

County Councilor Walter Griffith, who was appointed by the council as part of the broad plan drafting process, said during last week’s presentation that the experience of working with the expert team was ” refreshing “,” amazing “and not dry and boring as he had expected.

“These individuals make it very, very interesting. The things we can do to clean up our environment through this program are monumental, ”Griffith said.

City Councilor Linda McClosky Houck said the list of projects and programs presented in the plan is clear and organized.

“It gives me a lot of confidence in our environmental future,” said McClosky Houck.

Council Chairman Tim McGinley called the plan “well done”.

Agriculture

Agriculture is a major focus of the county’s action plan, with initiatives to keep manure and fertilizers out of waterways and prevent soil erosion.

Based on Glace’s presentation to the board, this includes helping farmers:

• With soil samples, manure tests and other information when they apply fertilizer to their land to make sure they are not using too much.

• Install fences to keep farm animals away from waterways and plant free or low cost trees to act as riparian buffers.

• Create or improve wetlands on agricultural land in environmentally sensitive or less productive areas.

• Continue current initiatives to improve soil health, in particular by encouraging direct seeding and cover crops.

• Ensure that feed and movement areas for backyard animals are properly contained to prevent direct discharge from streams.

Another proposed initiative – the “manure to mining land program” – was completed in the 1970s but was proposed for restoration at the request of project planners, Glace said.

This would put the excess farmer manure “to good use” by depositing it on abandoned, nutrient-poor mining land to encourage vegetative growth on the blackened remnants of coal mining, he said.

Urban / developed areas

Although farmers apply fertilizer to their fields are highly regulated, golf courses and large mowed lawns are not required to have turf management plans to ensure they do not over-apply, a declared Ice.

The plan proposes the creation of an outreach program to provide advice and encourage such plans, he said.

The plan’s writers also found that golf courses usually have their own plans in place already to make sure they don’t spend too much money on maintenance, he said. Existing plans should be reviewed and quantified to capture pollutant reduction credits, he said.

Among other proposals:

• Plant more trees, shrubs and wildflowers in lawns and other urban spaces.

• Develop a technical assistance and cost-sharing program for residential building owners to install rain barrels and rain gardens to capture runoff.

• Upgrade and maintain old water collection ponds and drainage systems to ensure they meet current stormwater standards.

Wastewater

The drafters of the plan want to create a program that educates residential property owners on the proper maintenance of on-site septic systems, especially new owners.

Ice said that regular pumping and other measures will increase the longevity and function of these systems.

A substantial volume of sewage pumped from county septic tanks is also transported to sewage treatment facilities, and this amount must be tracked as the county does not receive the resulting pollutant reduction credit, a- he declared.

Watershed

Another objective is acid mine drainage. The county is expected to start receiving funds for work already done to remove pollutants, according to the plan. It also encourages the evaluation of new technologies to treat this drainage.

The plan also includes forest management plans, more riparian buffer zones on private land with streams, and riverbank restoration.

Each recommendation in the plan identifies potential implementation challenges and the resources that are both available and needed.

He urges state officials to provide funds and staff to move projects forward and revise grant procedures to remove barriers in high priority conservation projects, such as expensive correspondence requirements and lengthy agreements with landowners.

Like Pennsylvania, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, New York, West Virginia and Virginia have had to develop plans on how they will meet their 2025 pollution reduction targets for the Watershed. the Bay.

Longmore told the council that the drafting of the plan brought together many local entities and professionals to plan water quality projects, which “strengthened partnerships” that will benefit the region environmentally in the future. The Conservation District is already focusing on best farm management practices and other initiatives to conserve land and water resources, he said.

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