Growing Greener investments fund crucial efforts to improve the health of the vast network of lakes, rivers, and streams across Pennsylvania. These waterways represent one of the commonwealth’s greatest natural resources, providing drinking water and recreation opportunities while supporting important aquatic ecosystems. By addressing pollution sources, restoring riparian buffer zones, and engaging in other measures focused on water quality, projects supported by Growing Greener are vital to ensure that Pennsylvania’s waterways are clean, safe, and biologically diverse.
Major Sources of Water Pollution
Pollution has degraded more than 15,000 miles of rivers and streams in Pennsylvania to the point where they are unsafe for fishing, swimming, and other uses. A major source of this pollution is acid drainage (AMD) seeping from abandoned coal mines throughout the commonwealth. Pennsylvania has more acres of abandoned mine lands (AML) than any other state, and these hazardous sites combine to pollute thousands of miles of streams. The cost to clean up high-priority AMD and AML sites has been estimated as high as $15 billion. The other primary source of pollution is agriculture, specifically larger and more industrialized farming enterprises. Runoff from these farms can contain traces of the chemical fertilizers and pesticides used to treat crops, as well as the waste from livestock. Pennsylvania’s nearly 9,000 abandoned oil and gas wells are also a problem—left unplugged, they can contaminate the water, soil, and air. Due to a lack of resources, DEP has plugged less than 200 wells each year.
The Environmental Impact of Pollution
Runoff chokes dissolved oxygen from streams and rivers, threatening fish, amphibians, and other animals connected in the food chain. This ecosystem damage has occurred in waterways throughout Pennsylvania, including the Susquehanna River, which saw its smallmouth bass population plummet because of chemical runoff upstream. And since half of the commonwealth lies within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, polluted Pennsylvania waterways are partially responsible for the decline in oyster, crab, and fish populations in the Bay.
The Economic Impact of Pollution
Water pollution hurts Pennsylvania’s economy. Outdoor recreation and tourism are major industries that provide jobs and sustain communities in every corner of the commonwealth, and these communities suffer when polluted water makes fishing, boating, and swimming impossible. Much of this economic damage occurs in rural areas struggling to reinvent themselves after the decline of traditional industries. Anglers and boaters are discouraged from spending money in these areas when the waterways are too polluted to be enjoyed.
Furthermore, a majority of Pennsylvania residents are served by a public water supply that treats surface water. Therefore, pollution results in increased water treatment costs for cities and townships. Money that could be invested in important social services and civic renewal projects instead must be used to remove the toxins from their residents’ drinking water.
GROWING GREENER ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Restoring Riparian Buffers
Forests are the natural companions to streams and rivers, serving as wildlife habitats while absorbing floodwater, combating erosion, and mitigating pollution. They are also one of the most cost-effective water quality tools available. Growing Greener has supported state agencies, land trusts, conservation districts, and watershed groups in their work to improve waterways by restoring riparian buffers that have been damaged or lost. These projects, including work at Wallace Run in Centre County and Ridley Creek in Delaware County, have been enormously successful.
Mine Land Reclamation
Growing Greener has funded extensive efforts to prevent pollution from abandoned mining sites. In Schuykill County, the Schuylkill Conservation District lead a team of partners in a project to restore the Catawissa Creek, which was devoid of aquatic life after 70 years of acid mine drainage. Growing Greener funds enabled the installation of a treatment system that cleans millions of gallons of water each year and has restored 34 miles of the creek.
THE POTENTIAL OF GROWING GREENER
Addressing Major Sources of Pollution
New investments in Growing Greener would accelerate Pennsylvania’s water quality improvement efforts by addressing major sources of pollution. Funding for AML reclamation projects would lead to the rehabilitation of thousands of acres of abandoned coal mines, thereby protecting miles of rivers and streams. Under the new Agricultural Conservation Excellence Program (ACE), county conservation districts and other partners would receive the financial and technical assistance necessary to help farmers implement Best Management Practices to reduce dangerous runoff from their lands.
And with additional funding, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) would be able to plug a substantial number of abandoned oil and gas wells. These investments would pay huge financial dividends: more miles of clean waterways would spur more spending in tourism and outdoor recreation, and cleaner source water would reduce treatment costs for municipalities.
Growing Greener would empower organizations on the state and local level to continue their impressive progress on riparian buffer restoration, expanding in scope to rehabilitate even more miles of stream corridors to improve water quality, mitigate flooding, and combat erosion.
Growing Greener would also support AMD remediation by funding targeted, comprehensive projects to install the systems needed to revitalize waterways that have suffered from decades of careless resource extraction and waste disposal.
Establishing a Water Quality Trading Market
The Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Agency (PENNVEST) would use Growing Greener funding to establish a Water Quality Trading Market to facilitate the registration, sale, and trading of Water Quality Credits approved by the department. This market-based initiative could improve the health of Pennsylvania’s waterways by incentivizing businesses to prioritize water quality in their operations.