Water, Water Everywhere: Pennsylvania's New Water Management Plan

Every day, Pennsylvania industries, farms and residents use nearly ten billion gallons of water. Experts say as more and more people compete for the state's water, the greater the need for resource oversight. For the first time in 26 years, Pennsylvania has a new water resource management plan. The Allegheny Front news analyst Ann Murray joins Matthew Craig to talk about the state's new water management template.

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OPEN:It's the first time the state has a new water plan in 26 years. Environmentalists hope it will help control the water use in Laurel Hill Creek but every day, in other watersheds, Pennsylvania industries, farms and residents use ten billion gallons of water. Experts say as more and more people compete for the state's water, the greater the need for resource oversight.

M: So Ann, what does Pennsylvania's new water plan attempt to do?

A: The people who put the new water resource plan together say the plan tries to answer three questions: How much water do we have? How much water do we use? and How can that water be best managed in a sustainable way?

M: How much water is there in Pennsylvania?

A: Pennsylvania is a wet state. There are 86,000 miles of rivers and streams, 160,000 acres of lakes, 400,000 acres of wetlands and 63 miles of coastline along Lake Erie. Pennsylvania has enough groundwater to cover the entire state in eight feet of water.

M: Who's using the water in the state?

A: The study determined that the biggest users of water in the state by far is the thermal electric power industry responsible for approximately 70 percent of withdrawals. Residents who use public and private water supplies are a distant second with about 15 percent of withdrawals followed by mining and agriculture.

M: Has the debate about best management of water resources changed in this plan?

A: I think so it that it has broadened to talk about sustainability and parity among a growing list of people and entities that are competing for water. This plan has also addressed conditions like climate change that influence the amount of water available and conservation.

M: How was the plan developed?

A: In 2001, a statewide water resources committee was formed and then six regional committees were put together. Over several years, these groups held public meetings to talk about how water is being used, how these resources are being impacted by pollution and development and the best ways to keep a clean, ongoing supply of water for drinking, industrial purposes and recreation. The plan that evolved is a template for decision makers to use, not a regulatory plan.

M: Did people in different parts of the state want different things to be addressed in the plan?

A: Yes. The plan breaks down water related problems by watershed. For example, people in the Ohio River watershed wanted acidic drainage from abandoned mines to be addressed. They want a full assessment of water resources, incentives and new technologies for the mining industry to reclaim rivers and streams impaired by acid mine drainage. The Great Lake region wants to protect the quality and quantity of the Lake Erie watershed by evaluating and addressing land use and development.

M: If different parts of the state have regional priorities how does the plan offer anything that's cohesive?

A: The plan outlines an integrated approach to water management. It calls for the Department of Environmental Protection to put together a framework that links water resource planning with sewage facility planning, stormwater management, source water protection, and flood control planning.

M: How does the plan suggest integrated planning would get started?

A: By putting together a trial of integrated water resource plans with willing counties.

M: But Pennsylvania is notoriously parochial.

A: Yes. I think it's going to take a change of attitude among counties that don't do much regional planning.

M: The amount of water taken from rivers and lakes for private use has also become something that lots of communities are looking at. How does the new plan address that?

A: The plan calls for new water use registration and reporting regulations for big water users. This is certainly a reaction to the controversy over water use by energy companies who use millions of gallons to drill deep gas wells.

M: A lot of these water use issues also impact water quality, don't they?

A: Sure. The plan calls for ways for big users like public water and wastewater facilities to improve their infrastructure with loans, grants or tax incentives, the same thing with agriculture...better agricultural management practices to prevent run off in streams and rivers.

M: Does the new plan call for new legislation?

A: Yes. The plan has several legislative priorities. The first is to deal with potential ground water contamination by enacting laws that would require licensing and certification of water well drillers and statewide private water well construction standards. At least 3 and a half million Pennsylvanians get their water from wells. The plan also calls for new or amended laws to link local land use decisions with water resource management and integrate state and federal stormwater management regulations.

M: How long will this resource plan be used?

A: Fifteen years.

M: Thanks for the information.

A: You're welcome.