New FPW fund honors retired founding director John Dawes

John Dawes may have retired, but his legacy lives on in a new source of funding from the Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds (FPW).

The R. John Dawes Clean Water Fund, created in partnership with the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies (CFA), honors his more than three decades of work that spanned the state. As FPW’s inaugural Executive Director, Dawes helped to support more than 1,500 projects that protect healthy streams, clean up pollution and restore degraded wildlife habitat. Under his leadership, FPW provided $14 million in grants to leverage $190 million in total project costs.

John Dawes on the Pennsylvania Legacies podcast in 2017
John Dawes on the Pennsylvania Legacies podcast in 2017

Beverly Braverman, the former Executive Director of the Mountain Watershed Association — one of the 175 environmental organizations that have received FPW grants — said Dawes has “the heart of a lion and the spirit of a true environmental steward.”

For Dawes, conservation has always been more than a job; it’s a way of life. On his Huntingdon County farm, where he raises heritage cattle breeds, he’s employed sustainable farming practices, ranging from forest stewardship planning to an onsite wind turbine that supplies the farm with clean electricity. Those practices have earned him widespread recognition, including a 2017 Western Pennsylvania Environmental Award from PEC.

“A person cannot run a farm without understanding water quality, soils, slope, and the uses of the many products that come from an agricultural enterprise,” Dawes said on PEC’s Pennsylvania Legacies podcast. “And that is my main credential for this work.”

Dawes’ professional achievements span far and wide.

He served for five years as a consultant to the Heinz Endowment’s Environment Program, overseeing grants to regional watershed groups pursuing a DCNR Rivers Conservation Plan. Dawes also facilitated the establishment of the Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers, which has since become an affiliate of PEC.

One of his proudest accomplishments is reauthorizing the federal Abandoned Mine Lands Fund (AMLF) in 2006. He worked with PEC to achieve a provision that established mandatory spending each year, which dramatically increased Pennsylvania’s annual funding for remediation projects. That achievement won him the Statewide Abandoned Mine Reclamation Conference’s first ever “Mayfly Award,” so named because the presence of mayflies signifies clean water.

As Dawes told PEC, “If you’re in agriculture, it’s a total offense to think about 200,000 acres of dead, toxic land that’s producing acid mine drainage every time it rains.”

He considers acid mine (AMD) drainage to be the number one quality-of-life issue in Pennsylvania. AMD remains Pennsylvania largest source of water pollution, impairing more than 5,500 miles of streams.

In response to Dawes’ retirement, many expressed their deep appreciation and respect for the longtime conservationist.

“John’s leadership has been critical to so many watershed restoration programs in Pennsylvania,” said former DEP Secretary David Hess on his PA Environment Digest blog. “It’s hard to think of one where he didn’t play a leading role.”

That legacy will remain alive and permanent through the R. John Dawes Clean Water Fund, said CFA President Mike Kane.

“The Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds’ board of directors is incredibly grateful for John’s stellar leadership and commitment to improving the waterways of Pennsylvania and are pleased to honor his recent retirement through creation of this fund,” Kane said.

FPW is now under new leadership. Deborah Nardon, a conservation and environmental protection leader, took over this year as Executive Director. Nardone comes from the Clearwater Conservancy, where she was the Executive Director for the last eight years. Her many accomplishments in that time include conserving nearly 3,500 acres of central Pennsylvania habitat and growing the organization’s endowment by 500%.

“After investing more than 30 years of time and grant dollars throughout the state of Pennsylvania, I am excited to turn over the leadership of FPW to such a qualified conservationist as Deb Nardone,” Dawes said. “This has been a wonderful position to hold, and it’s been an honor to work with committed colleagues who have enabled us to be creative and opportunistic, all the while improving ecosystem function on degraded site-specific projects.”

Donations to the R. John Dawes fund can be made by check, mailed to the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies at 216 Franklin Street, Suite 400, Johnstown, PA 15901, or by contributing online at: