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Today, PennFuture’s Erie office publicly released Our Water, Our Future: A Common Agenda for Protecting Pennsylvania’s Lake Erie Watershed.
This comprehensive document describes the major threats to Pennsylvania’s Lake Erie watershed and recommends several solutions to those threats. The Erie region relies heavily on its water resources to attract people to live, work, and play in Erie County. However, the use of those resources and development decisions that are made can lead to their eventual degradation. This Agenda recommends many ways that Erie’s decision makers can develop in an equitable, sustainable way, while continuing to benefit from its abundant water resources.
This Agenda was developed by convening local and regional environmental, wildlife, and civic organizations. Twelve partner organizations signed on to the Agenda but at least ten more were engaged in the process of developing it. We met several times via Zoom throughout Summer 2020 to identify threats, prioritize them based on their impacts to human health, the natural environment, and the economy, and brainstorm solutions. A technical advisory committee of non-governmental organizations and several regional scientists was engaged to ensure that the document was technically sound and well-informed. We also sought to ensure that the document made a strong call for racial equity and inclusion, made even more important by Erie County’s declaration that racism is a public health crisis.
Three organizations acted as social justice consultants by reviewing the Agenda and making recommendations for strengthening the message of equity and inclusion in decision making. The result of these collaborative efforts is a forward-thinking agenda calling for local, county, state, and federal policies that protect our vitally important water resources and promote sustainable development that will improve quality of life for all current and future Erie County residents.
The water quality threats that Common Agenda partners identified are surface runoff including stormwater, agricultural runoff, and sewage, climate change, fossil fuels and plastic pollution, invasive species, and legacy pollution. While the solutions to these threats vary, they all require that municipalities and Erie County embrace the responsibility of being communities on the Great Lakes. This will not only lead to better protected water and healthy communities, it can also stoke the flames of a blue economy in the region.
Among the recommendations are calls to improve collaboration and communication throughout decision-making processes. The social unrest that Erie and the nation have experienced calls everyone to develop new ways of doing things that will not perpetuate persistent inequities and injustice. This agenda invites regional residents, businesses, and government leaders to use the issue of water protection to develop county and municipal level committees that increase resident engagement in decision making. For example, it recommends that Erie County Council establish an Environmental Justice Committee that monitors and responds to disproportionate impacts of pollution on historically burdened residents.
The Erie region is rich in water resources and its current revitalization efforts have relied heavily upon that premise. However, this revitalization will be short lived if it fails to protect these assets and water quality declines. The region needs sustainable transformational change that can only be achieved through inclusive collaboration, equitable decision making, and policies and practices that protect natural resources. This agenda provides a blueprint for all three of these necessities.
PennFuture and its partners will move this agenda forward by meeting with regional stakeholders and government officials to discuss water protection policies and practices and advocate for more inclusive decision-making processes. These collaborative efforts will bring new and important voices to the table and add value to the region’s revitalization efforts.
PennFuture and our partner organizations are very proud of this document, and we hope you will take some time to read it by clicking here. You can also click here to watch a recording of the virtual press conference held on Dec. 3 to unveil the Agenda.
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