FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 30, 2023
News from: Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers
Contact: Tali MacArthur, Pennsylvania Environmental Council
Phone: (570) 285-8013
Email: [email protected]
POWR Releases Report on Impacts of Community Watershed Organizations
ALTOONA— The Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers (POWR) released its 2022 Watershed Organization Cumulative Impacts Report on Sunday during its Statewide Watershed Conference in Altoona, PA.
Pennsylvania is home to hundreds of Community Watershed Organizations (CWOs). Most are small nonprofits with limited annual budgets and few or no professional staff, supported by active and passionate volunteers. They are active in a variety of activities that enhance and protect our natural resources, which is strengthened through partnerships.
“Watershed organizations have played a key role in advancing DCNR’s mission of conserving and improving our Commonwealth’s rivers and watersheds, and expanding access to outdoor recreation,” Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn said. “They care deeply about their local watershed, they help engage the public in addressing and solving problems, and throughout the Commonwealth they have implemented river conservation plans that have improved water quality and laid the foundation for phenomenal recreation opportunities.”
“Local community watershed organizations serve a crucial role in ensuring clean and accessible waters and public spaces,” said Bevin Buchheister, Deputy Secretary of the Office of Water Programs within the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). “Their collaboration with county conservation districts, municipalities, and landowners helps improve, restore, and protect our streams and rivers.”
The report provides a snapshot of CWO contributions last year. Data were compiled from impact surveys submitted by 47 CWOs located across the Commonwealth. The survey asked the organizations about the work they accomplished during 2022 related to (1) conservation and restoration; (2) education, outreach, and recreation events; and (3) funding and volunteering.
Conservation and Restoration
Trees planted along streams are critical to protecting and restoring water quality, preventing stream bank erosion and flooding. Accordingly, tree planting and maintenance were among the most common projects undertaken CWOs during 2022. Survey respondents reported planting about 30,000 trees, and working to maintain already established tree planting sites to ensure long-term survival.
Twenty CWOs helped restore streamside habitat for native plants by removing invasive species in 2022. Jacobs Creek Watershed Association, for example, cleared Ailanthus altissima and other invasive species from 22.4 acres in Westmoreland County. Ailanthus, also known as “tree of heaven,” is a fast-growing invasive favored by spotted lanternflies.
About half of the CWOs engaged in water quality monitoring, tracking key indicators of stream health at 400 sites across the Commonwealth. Groups also worked to stabilize streambanks, improve habitat, and reconnect 23 stream miles through dam removal.
Seven of the CWOs who responded assisted with the installation of new acid mine drainage (AMD) treatment facilities, and six assisted with monitoring of existing AMD projects. Their work has contributed to long-term improvement in pH, alkalinity, and metal concentrations, allowing brook trout to return to native waters.
Education, Outreach, and Recreation Events
CWOs planned and hosted a variety of events to inform the public and get them excited about their local waterways. In total, more than 35,000 people engaged in events, such as photo contests, project planning meetings, and watershed tours and hikes. School outings were a major focus of the effort, reaching 13,000 students in Pennsylvania.
Some CWOs also hosted paddling sojourns or recreational activities on their watersheds’ streams, bringing 1,100 people to events on the water — many for the first time. These experiences foster a sense of stewardship through the enjoyment and appreciation of natural resources.
CWOs like Briar Creek Association for Watershed Solutions (BCAWS) serve as key “connectors” in their communities, fostering and forging partnerships. BCAWS collaborated with multiple watershed organizations, nonprofits, and municipalities to organize the first annual Susquehanna Valley Watershed Festival in Columbia County.
Funding and Volunteering
AMD remediation, tree plantings, and other such projects cost money, most of which comes from grants from agency partners. In 2022, the 47 CWOs spent $2.8 million, in addition to raising $989,000 in collective cash match and $540,000 in collective in-kind match.
Volunteers are the life force of CWOs. Over 8,000 volunteers contributed over 44,500 hours to support events and projects hosted by the 47 CWOs who responded. The work of CWO volunteers is worth an estimated $1.3 million, based on Independent Sector’s valuation of volunteer labor in Pennsylvania at $29.78 per hour — but no monetary value could measure the full impact of their work.
“Individually, community-based watershed organizations play an important role in efforts to restore and enhance local rivers and streams, and to connect residents and community members to those waterways through education and recreation,” said Tali MacArthur, Program Manager for Watershed Outreach at the Pennsylvania Environmental Council. “But the cumulative efforts of all of these organizations and their leaders and volunteers across Pennsylvania have truly tremendous impacts and results for water quality and for community quality of life and economic vitality. They deserve to be recognized, supported, and celebrated!”
Deputy Secretary Buchheister added that CWOs have a long history of stewardship and continue to support the DEP’s Office of Water Programs.
“Throughout the years, these organizations have connected our Commonwealth residents with nature, and have remained passionate about ensuring clean water for generations to come,” Buchheister said. “I am encouraged by the historic partnerships that DEP has supported and look forward to continuing to build upon the successes as we move into the future.”
View a copy of the report here.
POWR, an affiliate of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, aims to provide the tools, training, education, and resources that empower community watershed organization leaders and volunteers to protect and restore rivers and streams, advocate for sound water resource management and policies, and facilitate stewardship and enjoyment of Pennsylvania’s waterways.