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16,000 Miles of Polluted Streams Add Urgency to Call for Clean Water Funding

Clean water is a right, not an option, yet a newly released report shows that more Pennsylvania streams are losing the battle against pollution this year than in past years, according to the Department of Environmental Protection, adding urgency to the call last week for a PA Fair Share for Clean Water funding plan.

The report, “The 2008 Pennsylvania Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report,” shows that nearly 16,000 of Pennsylvania’s 86,000 miles of streams and rivers do not meet water quality standards. In addition, over 38,300 acres of lakes and ponds are similarly impaired.

In addition to commending DEP for their work in obtaining the data, CBF recognized the report as a valuable tool for watershed groups and citizens interested in improving local water quality.

“Approximately half of Pennsylvania’s streams drain to the Chesapeake Bay. With nearly 16,000 miles of our streams laden with pollution, it’s no wonder the Bay is suffering,” said Harry Campbell, CBF’s Pa Staff Scientist. “At its heart, the Bay restoration effort is about respecting and restoring our streams—the streams in our own backyard. If we find the political and societal will do that, the Bay will respond in-kind.”

The report, first released in 1998, is released every two years, as an on-going assessment of Pennsylvania’s waterways in order to determine the stream miles impaired and the causes of impairment.

“It’s unfortunate that as the state continues to assess the health of additional miles of streams, we continue to find waterways severely degraded by pollution,” said Campbell.

The health of our waters directly impacts the health of our communities. Over 80 percent of all Pennsylvanians get their drinking water from surface waters – our lakes, streams and rivers. Yet the DEP assessments conclude that these same resources are choking from excessive phosphorous and nitrogen, high acidity levels, toxic metals, and are laden with sediment that erodes from our lands.

“This report is significant because it shows we are losing ground in terms of meeting water quality standards and we need to do much more to insure we have safe water for people and aquatic life,” said Matthew Ehrhart, CBF’s PA Executive Director. “Pennsylvanians are blessed to have such an abundance of water resources - it’s time we ensure clean water for everyone.

Last week a coalition of groups, including CBF, publicly proposed a Pennsylvania Fair Share for Clean Water Funding Plan that will help Pennsylvania meet our water quality goals by addressing pollution from sewage treatment plants and agricultural operations, while also providing much-needed funding for conservation districts and the Department of Agriculture to accomplish these goals.

The diverse coalition includes: CBF, the PA Farm Bureau, PA Municipal Authorities Association, PA Association of Conservation Districts, the PA Builders Association and other groups.

The first year of the Plan proposes the allocation of $100 million to help wastewater plants finance required improvements; $50 million to direct cost-share aid to farmers to install conservation practices (including $35 million for REAP farm tax credits and $15 million in cost-share grants); $10 million to county conservation districts to expand technical assistance to farmers; and $10 million to restore cuts to the Department of Agriculture farm programs. The proposal would also reform the state’s nutrient credit trading program to help allow for future economic development.

“It is appropriate this Earth Day that we take stock of where we are in terms of water quality improvements, and where we need to be,” said Matthew Ehrhart, CBF’s PA Executive Director. “Our kids and our families deserve healthy, viable streams that meet water quality standards and provide for clean drinking water, healthy communities and recreational opportunities.”

According to the DEP report, the top impairments come from abandoned mine drainage (5,584 miles), agricultural practices (5,320 miles), and runoff from urban/suburban areas (4,170). CBF is working statewide to help communities deal with some of these water quality and pollution issues.

To learn more, visit the Pennsylvania Fair Share for Clean Water Plan webpage.

Video Blog: Coalition Outlines PA Fair Share for Clean Water Plan


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