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Navigating Pennsylvania's Clean Water Priorities: Championing a Statewide Water Legislative Agenda

This spring has led to yet another contentious budget season in Harrisburg. While lawmakers negotiate funding and appropriation priorities before their June 30th deadline, the current two-year legislative session and, consequently, the window of opportunity to get bills passed through the chambers of the General Assembly and to the Governor’s desk is also coming to a close. 

Budget season presents a unique opportunity to see movement on critical environmental investment and policy priorities outside of the traditional legislative process. Despite plenty of debate over the ideal tools and policies, the budget process provides space for bipartisan cooperation to achieve the goals of protecting and restoring Pennsylvania’s abundant waterways.

On May 7, 2024, watershed coalition partners from across the Commonwealth met with 24 lawmakers in the Capitol for the 8th annual Clean Water Education Day. The Choose Clean Water Coalition, Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed, and members of the Healing Our Water-Great Lakes Coalition outlined their top five clean water priorities:

Funding & Policy Priorities

The coalitions called on the General Assembly and Governor Shapiro to support two new funding and legislative priorities:

  1. Create the Healthy Outdoors for All Program (HOAP), which would provide matching grants to fund projects that rehabilitate and support trails, parks, and open spaces. Clean water quality isn't just crucial for safeguarding public health and preserving ecosystems; it also enriches the recreational pursuits of those who cherish parks, trails, and the great outdoors. Supporting the establishment of the Healthy Outdoors for All Program will help revitalize and enhance parks, trails, and outdoor spaces, particularly expanding access for disadvantaged communities.
  2. Support the Riparian Buffer Protection Act (House Bill 1275) which mandates a 100-foot riparian buffer along each side of a surface body of water and a 300-foot buffer around special protection (High Quality or Exception Value) waters. Riparian buffers play a crucial role in curbing pollution runoff, combating climate change impacts, safeguarding ecosystems, and serving as a cost-efficient method for managing water quality. The Riparian Buffer Protection Act stands as a vital initiative through which the Commonwealth can actively encourage the establishment of more of these invaluable natural assets.

Our watershed partners remained committed to pushing for progress on three priorities carrying over from last year’s effort. We called on decision-makers to:

  1. Support full “fair share” funding for the Interstate Basin Commissions responsible for protecting and monitoring water quality and quantity. Inadequately funded and staffed commissions put Pennsylvania’s communities at risk of suffering from increased water pollution, infrastructure issues, and declining aquatic wildlife. Funding requirements for the interstate basin commissions have been established for decades, and Pennsylvania must honor the commitment made to these compacts.
  2. Protect marginalized communities who bear the brunt of downstream pollution by codifying the Office of Environmental Justice (Senate Bill 158/House Bill 742) and the Environmental Justice Advisory Board (House Bill 707). Clean water issues are also often environmental justice issues. We strongly advocate for strengthening the roles of the Office of Environmental Justice and the Environmental Justice Advisory Board to address the disproportionate burden borne by marginalized communities.
  3. Support sustainable annual funding for the Clean Streams Fund, the first Pennsylvania fund dedicated to water protection and restoration, created with American Rescue Plan Act funding in the 2022-23 budget. The CSF addresses the three primary causes of water pollution in PA: acid mine drainage, agriculture, and stormwater runoff. The scale of water pollution in Pennsylvania means that a one-time injection of funds into the Clean Streams Fund will not be sufficient. 

More detailed information about each of our 2024 requests can be found here.


Tools for Engagement with Legislators & Fellow Advocates

Meeting with lawmakers is a critical component of Clean Water Education Day, but the coalitions also recognize not all members and supporters can participate in-person in Harrisburg. As a result, we offer a variety of tools to contribute to this advocacy, including:

  • Call to Action for All Clean Water Advocates (New this year!) - This year, PennFuture created another opportunity for coalition partners and PennFuture’s clean water supporters to let their legislators know how much they value clean water funding in the Pennsylvania budget. Click here to send a letter directly to your legislators!
  • Legislative Meetings - We held 23 meetings with legislators representing portions of all of Pennsylvania’s major watersheds, a majority of which were in person in Harrisburg. We met with and leaders of the Appropriations and Environmental Resources and Energy Committees. Each legislator received educational materials with summary talking points for our requests. View the Pennsylvania Clean Water Legislative Briefing Book here
  • Joint Sign-On Letter - We are thankful for the support of 41 partner organizations that signed on to a letter to Governor Shapiro and all members of the General Assembly outlining our Clean Water Education Week requests. This is an increase from the 29 organizations that signed on last year. Thanks to our new sign on partners!
  • Rotunda Press Conference - On Tuesday, May 7th, we held a press conference in the main Rotunda of the Capitol Building. We want to thank our participating speakers, including:
    • Patrick McDonnell, President & CEO, PennFuture
    • Rep. Joe Webster, HD-150
    • Kristin Reilly, Director of Choose Clean Water Coalition
    • Rafiyqa Muhammad, member of the Environmental Justice Advisory Board
    • Hannah Smith-Brubaker, Executive Director of Pasa Sustainable Agriculture

PHOTO: Hannah Smith-Brubaker, Executive Director of Pasa Sustainable Agriculture speaks at the Clean Water Education Day press conference in the Capitol Rotunda.

  • Social Media Toolkit - This toolkit is designed to provide pathways for all Coalition members and partners to get involved, even if they are unable to make it to Harrisburg in person. It shares graphics and photos, hashtags, and sample posts. Examples of these posts from our partners at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania are linked here!


Coalition Partnerships

Clean Water Education Day involves great collaboration between PennFuture, the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed, and the Choose Clean Water Coalition. PennFuture has long held the role of Pennsylvania State Lead for both of these coalitions, which has allowed for the establishment of deep relationships with both the Coalition staff and their member organizations, both of which are vital to the success of this event. During the annual Clean Water Education event, Coalition staff leverage their resources to support the State Leads,  producing talking points for joint priorities, communications materials, training, and social media content. 

PennFuture is now also serving as the state lead for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition and participating in collaborative advocacy in the Ohio River Valley Watershed led by the National Wildlife Federation, the Ohio River Basin Alliance, and the Ohio River Valley Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO). We continue working to close the gap between Western PA and Harrisburg and are seeking out ways to engage with our Western PA partners.

Clean Water Education Day builds on the federal clean water advocacy of PennFuture staff as coalition state leads. Elected officials at all levels have roles in enhancing climate resilience, environmental justice, pollution prevention, and watershed-scale governance. PennFuture is ideally positioned to connect the dots between levels of government.

As state leads, PennFuture staff annually coordinate meetings for federal lobby days on behalf of the coalitions. The top priority for watershed Hill Days remains additional restoration funding - the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program, the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program, and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in the case of each coalition. Other legislative asks revolved around habitat and biodiversity loss prevention, climate investments in the newest version of the Farm Bill, climate-resilient water infrastructure, and more.

Photo: The Great Lakes Day PA Delegation, photographed with Congressman Mike Kelly, included representatives from PennFuture and the NWPA Chapter of Trout Unlimited as well as students from Mercyhurst University and PennWest Edinboro University.

Photo: Chesapeake Bay water advocates from PennFuture, the National Parks Conservation Association, Conservation Voters of PA, Defenders of Wildlife, Eastern PA Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation and the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay posed for a photo with Ellie Landau, Legislative Aide for Congresswoman Susan Wild, on Bay Day.

Photo: At Hill Day for the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed (CDRW), representatives of PennFuture, CDRW, Trout Unlimited, Center for Aquatic Sciences, and the University of Delaware Water Resources center met with Aliza Oppenheim, Senior Legislative Assistant for Congressman Matt Cartwright.


Coalition collaboration remains a central feature of PennFuture’s clean water advocacy. Responsible stewardship of Pennsylvania’s abundant waterways requires consistent policy pressure and watchdogging. Clean Water Education Day remains the critical vehicle to coalition collaborations in the Commonwealth, and we need everyone’s help to keep the momentum going this budget season! 

Members of the General Assembly, especially those on the Appropriations Committees, need to keep hearing about our priorities. Help keep the Clean Water Education Day momentum going by reaching out to your legislators!

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