Altoona Water Authority Honored for Environmental Partnerships

Transforming a brownfield into a site for both clean drinking water and outdoor recreation takes teamwork, and the Altoona Water Authority has assembled an amazing team to remediate a site in Cambria and Blair counties. It’s a success story that earned the water utility company the Excellence in Partnership award at PEC’s 2024 Western Pennsylvania Dinner last week.

The Altoona Water Authority company purchased a plot of land in 2020 that, for the last century, had been the site of mining and timber operations, leaving swaths of barren land and polluted water.

“The water quality suffered tremendously for it,” said Katie Semelsberger, an engineering technician with Altoona Water Authority, who accepted the award at the Pittsburgh dinner.

The water utility company has partnered with various groups to clean up Kittanning Run, one of the streams draining the Allegheny Plateau. In 2022, Bryn Mawr College, looking for carbon offsets, funded and assisted with the planting of 188,000 trees. Reforestation will prevent soil erosion, reduce runoff and improve water quality. Once it’s clean, the stream will provide 3.6 million gallons of drinking water per day.

“It’s kind of a win-win for everybody,” Semelsberger said. “We’re improving our watershed, and they can reduce their carbon footprint.”

PEC also has been involved in the project, drawing up plans to bring recreation opportunities to 12,000 acres of the property that are part of a Pennsylvania Game Commission co-op agreement meant to maintain public access.

“The hope is that this would become a regional, well-known destination for mountain biking in addition to other outdoor recreational activities,” said PEC Program Manager Helena Kotala.

The more people who explore the site and see firsthand where their drinking water comes from, the more likely they’ll be to care about keeping it clean.

Other partners include the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and Green Forests Work.