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PA streams: Let's protect the best of the best.

by Jen Quinn
Anyone who spends time in the outdoors knows Pennsylvania has abundant water resources. With more than 86,000 miles of streams, we’re second only to Alaska in the number of miles of streams. Although many thousands of these stream miles are polluted by a variety of sources, we are fortunate to find other rivers and streams in excellent health, capable of supporting a variety of fish and other aquatic life. The rivers and streams with the most outstanding water quality are afforded the greatest degree of protection, and are designated High Quality (HQ) or Exceptional Value (EV).

Pennsylvania has a detailed process for protecting the existing use and designated uses of all HQ and EV waters. The public may petition the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to upgrade a stream to HQ or EV if sufficient data exist to support the request, and partner agencies such as the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission may do the same. The DEP regional office may also make a recommendation for a stream re-designation. Ultimately, all streams proposed for re-designation must be approved by the Pennsylvania Environmental Quality Board (EQB).

Protecting streams through anti-degradation policies and ensuring that streams have the appropriate regulatory designation prior to permitting development activities within the watershed is critical to protecting the high quality of the Commonwealth’s water resources, for today and for the future.

Unfortunately, the DEP has not proposed any stream re-designations to the EQB since September 2011. Since then, hundreds of miles of streams have been petitioned for upgrade with no formal action by the DEP to re-designate these streams and apply regulatory protections, mainly due to very limited staff.

To remedy this, we recommend that Gov. Tom Wolf ensure that the DEP has adequate staff resources to ensure that streams receive appropriate stream designation under 25 Pa. Code Chapter 93.
  • The DEP should have adequate staff designated: 1) to review stream re-designation petitions submitted by the public and by partner agencies, and 2) to conduct stream surveys to determine appropriate regulatory designations.
  • The DEP should revise and streamline its internal process for reviewing stream re-designation petitions.
  • The DEP should respond to petitions for stream re-designations in a timely fashion and propose rulemaking packages to upgrade or downgrade streams to the Environmental Quality Board (EQB) at least three times per year.

This recommendation, along with many others, can be found in a recent PennFuture report that highlights actions Gov. Tom Wolf and his administration can take to protect Pennsylvania’s environment.

Jen Quinn is central Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for PennFuture and is based in Harrisburg. She tweets @QuinnJen1.

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