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PennFuture is celebrating its sixth annual PA Clean Water Education Week, dedicated to showcasing the Commonwealth’s unique waterways and advocating for their health by ensuring sufficient state funding for protection and restoration initiatives. Throughout the week, we highlight each of PA’s six major watersheds. Today we celebrate the Lake Erie Watershed!
There is much to appreciate about Lake Erie. The 11th largest lake in the world by surface area, Erie provides drinking water to over 11 million people basin-wide. Erie is the warmest and shallowest of the five Great Lakes and, subsequently, the most biologically productive and diverse. Lake Erie also presents a success story for clean water funding. Efforts of the 1970s, including the passage of the Clean Water Act and the multi-national Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, addressed unabated industrial pollution, agricultural runoff, and poor wastewater treatment that plagued Lake Erie. More recent funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative provided extra assistance for priority cleanup locations known as Areas of Concern, including Presque Isle Bay, which was deemed safe again and delisted in 2013. Consistent support from decisionmakers and dedicated clean water funding have allowed Lake Erie and Presque Isle Bay to become the thriving recreational, commercial, and cultural assets we know today.
In my first weeks with PennFuture in Erie, it became clear that many Erieites are proud of the improvements made to their lake and bay. However, we cannot take this progress for granted and must remain unified in our resolve for protection of these resources. Today, our lake faces complex challenges linked to climate change, surface runoff, invasive species, legacy and emergent industrial toxins, and pollution from the fossil fuel and plastics industries. Watershed residents in historically burdened communities, particularly communities of color, face compounding and disproportionate impacts from legacy contamination and other threats. For these reasons, we continue to advocate for the funding necessary to limit the impacts of our built and agricultural resources on water quality, to improve ecosystem and community resilience, and to foster an appreciation of these resources among all Pennsylvanians by ensuring everyone has access to outdoor amenities, including our lake.
Sufficient funding is essential for protecting Lake Erie and our watershed residents but is only one piece of a comprehensive approach requiring policy change and involvement from decision makers at all levels, businesses, academic institutions, and a diverse array of citizen advocates. I am thankful for the foundational work of our staff and community partners as outlined in Our Water, Our Future: A Common Agenda for Protecting Pennsylvania’s Lake Erie Watershed. In collaboration with twelve area environmental organizations, several resident scientists, and a cohort of social justice reviewers, PennFuture outlined this comprehensive framework needed to address water quality concerns.
Clean water funding remains a priority for the state budget season, but we must advance other aspects of the Common Agenda. Stimulus funds under the American Rescue Plan and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Acts create opportunities to fund many of our budget recommendations. These relate to stormwater management, renewable energy and electric vehicle infrastructure, orphaned and abandoned oil / gas well plugging, brownfield reclamation, and other commercial and neighborhood development efforts. We will advocate for watershed communities getting their fair share of these funds and for the prioritization of water quality and environment concerns in project implementation.
Recognizing the disproportionate impact of environmental issues and the COVID-19 pandemic on disadvantaged communities and people of color, we seek to ensure stimulus investments and other decision-making processes equitably benefit all communities and promote inclusive decision-making. This includes ongoing involvement in litigation with PennDOT and the US Highway Administration regarding the Bayfront Parkway reconstruction plans that lacked of proper environmental consideration in project design phases and will harm environmental justice communities.
New and improved policy at local and state levels will be essential to placing Lake Erie Watershed communities on a sustainable, long-term trajectory, particularly once stimulus funds are spent. PennFuture and our partners continue to focus on landuse policies that benefit water quality and human health, and legislative safeguards against industrial, fossil fuel, and plastic pollution. With collaboration and shared goals, the Erie region can set itself on a new path, recognizing environmental and human health need not be framed in opposition to economic prosperity. I welcome the input of diverse partners across all sectors as we work toward this vision for our watershed communities.
To remain up to date on our work in the Lake Erie Watershed, please like and follow the recently launched PennFuture – Erie Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages! These pages will cover water quality education, local environmental news and events, and provide local context for our other state and regional work. Be sure to check out our Clean Water Education Week and Lake Erie Watershed celebration posts from this week.
Water is central to the identity of many in Northwest Pennsylvania, and we must work together to protect our most precious resource. Thank you for celebrating Clean Water Education Week and the Lake Erie Watershed with PennFuture. Please consider getting involved in our other efforts to protect Lake Erie and our local communities.