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Posted: Monday, September 21, 2009 8:14 am | Updated: 7:09 pm, Wed Sep 11, 2013.

In his inaugural address, President Barack Obama attributed part of the nation's problem to its failure to make hard choices.

Hard choices are decisions that often sting - like foregoing raises to keep jobs or paying additional taxes on gasoline to encourage automakers and the public to buy greener vehicles or using less fertilizer and pesticides on farms and lawns.

The last item strikes close to home. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation late last year sued the Environmental Protection Agency for its failure to enforce laws governing nutrient matter - fertilizer, pesticides and manure - that have polluted the Bay.

Recently, federal agencies released draft reports outlining a new federal role in cleaning up pollution in the bay. The reports were in response to President Barack Obama's executive order to clean up the Chesapeake.

The agencies said stronger enforcement of the Clean Water Act could significantly reduce pollution in the bay.

That could include requirements that states adopt "smart growth" policies, preserve open space and better monitor farm runoff - all of which could impact Pennsylvania municipalities, farmers and landowners.

The Susquehanna River, which drains roughly half of the state including Lancaster County, supplies most of the bay's freshwater and much of the excess nutrient pollution. Those nutrients foster algae blooms that turn into "dead zones."

While EPA has the authority to limit pollution from wastewater and industrial sites, the reports focused on "non-point source" pollution - runoff from farms, streets, residences and construction sites.

Maryland Sen. Benjamin Cardin, who chairs a subcommittee that oversees EPA bay efforts, has proposed legislation that would significantly increase state and federal enforcement powers and would give states the authority to regulate runoff.

Cardin's bill would provide more than $1.5 billion to clean up non-point source pollution, and would require all restoration efforts be in place by 2020.

Kristen Saacke Blunk, senior extension associate and director of Penn State's Agriculture and Environment Science Policy Center, said there is "a significant amount of funding in the Farm Bill" to help farmers pay for practices that limit.

But this is not just a farm issue. Nor is it simply a federal obligation.

Saacke Blunk said Pennsylvanians need to clean up one watershed at a time. To do so requires the help of communities, watershed associations, foundations and state and federal agencies.

Pennsylvania residents must become "bay literate" so they understand that what they put on their lawns ultimately finds its way into the bay.

Greater federal enforcement will not by itself lead to a cleaner estuary. But without federal involvement, the bay faces a bleak future.

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