With nearly 20,000 miles of streams in Pennsylvania not meeting federal Clean Water Act standards, the Commonwealth continues to face one of its most significant environmental challenges. The Pennsylvania Environmental Council has joined the Clean Water Counts! campaign, organized by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, to draw attention to the need to do more cleanup of this vital natural and economic resource.
The most significant causes of water pollution in Pennsylvania are not new. Abandoned coal mines, which are the legacy of decades of unregulated activity, are the biggest offender. Left in their wake are dead streams and landscapes that will cost the Commonwealth billions of dollars to clean up.
Agricultural and stormwater runoff are the other two major sources of nonpoint water pollution that continue to vex our waterways and communities. Once again the adage of an ounce of prevent – through implementation of demonstrated management practices, green infrastructure, and riparian protection measures – proves itself as the sensible approach.
A new challenge to water quality in recent years is Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling, that not only uses millions of gallons of water to develop each gas well, but also presents threats in terms of spills and groundwater contamination. Long overdue regulations are now being finalized by the Department of Environmental Protection to better protect both surface water and groundwater by strengthening water sourcing protection and well site containment and protection standards. Importantly, the environmental standards covering conventional oil and gas well drilling are also being enhanced because shallow wells have the very same potential for polluting the environment.
Clean, abundant supplies of water are critical to economic development and it is here that Pennsylvania has a clear advantage over many other regions of the country. Studies and surveys have repeatedly shown the significant contribution anglers, hunters, and vacationers make to Pennsylvania’s economy, in addition to fishing in clean water, boating, canoeing and kayaking on streams and rivers, following water trails, and simply enjoying our breathtaking scenic areas where water is a prime focus.
We also need clean, dependable drinking water and water for power and industrial processes. California’s ongoing drought and our own current drought watch conditions are a reminder of how important water is to our daily lives and how carefully we need to protect it.
Clean water does count. We need to do much more to ensure the insults to water quality from the past are cleaned up and to provide effective protection measures for the future. One way is to join the Clean Water Counts! campaign. We have, and we hope you will too.