Harrisburg, Pa. - On Wednesday, April 13, PennFuture delivered a petition with 1,200 signatures to state lawmakers, urging them to take seriously their duty to fund clean water programs and initiatives in Pennsylvania and in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
Pennsylvanians have a constitutional right to clean water. However, with one-third of our waterways suffering from too much pollution, the promise of clean water doesn’t exist for everyone. In the Susquehanna and Potomac river basins alone, where more than 15,000 miles of streams are polluted, Pennsylvania is required to reduce 34 million pounds of nitrogen and 756,000 pounds of phosphorus by 2025.
In the Susquehanna and Potomac watersheds, cleaning up our rivers and streams is estimated to cost $521 million annually. The federal government is providing billions of dollars of funding from pandemic relief and infrastructure investments that can be directed towards clean water initiatives, but so far, lawmakers continue to kick the can down the road by refusing to invest the money needed to clean up our waters.
PennFuture launched this petition on Feb. 9 with a simple message: healthy waterways are not a partisan issue. They are a critical part of our economy, public health, and communities. Investing in our water resources will in turn support job growth, fuel our state’s vibrant recreation economy, and enhance our water supplies.
“We all benefit by having access to clean water, yet the Commonwealth continues to fall short of its obligations to reduce water pollution," said PennFuture President and CEO Jacquelyn Bonomo. "Each person who signed this petition made their voice heard loud and clear: the time to act is now. It is incumbent upon the General Assembly to invest in our communities and provide the funding needed to clean up our rivers and streams.”
Properly funding clean water initiatives isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. This isn’t a vision shared only by environmental and conservation advocacy groups, as elected officials in places like Adams and Cumberland counties have joined calls for state lawmakers to do their part.
“Adams County is doing our part to reduce nutrient pollution and improve our waterways,” said Adams County Commissioner Marty Qually. “With adequate funding from state and federal sources, we will all be able to fulfill our common responsibility to provide clean water and good health for our citizens.”
The most recent assessment from the Department of Environmental Protection shows that almost half (48 percent) of all streams in Adams County are polluted or “impaired.” Despite that, the county is working on numerous projects to improve local streams, including the planting of 1,800 acres of stream buffers that keep water temperatures cooler and streams healthier.
In Cumberland County, 62 percent of streams are impaired. But like their neighbors to the south, progress is being made: last year, Cumberland County reported an increase in cover crop signups from 400 acres in the 2018-2019 growing season to an average of 1,400 acres in the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 seasons. Cover crops, such as cereal rye and red clover, improve soil health and reduce runoff and erosion by keeping agriculture fields planted year round.
“Clean water is a human right and a matter of public health, safety and welfare,” said Jean Foschi, vice chairman of the Cumberland County commissioners. “It is essential for the healthy environmental ecosystems we need to survive and thrive. Pennsylvanians have a constitutional right to clean water, but unfortunately our legislature does not take that right seriously. We are victims to the lack of planning and infrastructure investment necessary to clean up our waterways after years of substandard care. Now, individual taxpayers and farmers are holding the bag. It’s not reasonable or right. It’s time for our legislature to do its job and commit to legislating clean water policies and funding water cleanup.”
PennFuture opened this petition in early February to coincide with the start of negotiations for Pennsylvania’s next state budget, which must be passed by the end of June. Those conversations in Harrisburg are still ongoing, which means lawmakers still have the chance to heed calls for action.
“I’m proud to stand alongside 1,200 Pennsylvanians in calling for the General Assembly to properly fund the work needed to make our streams healthy,” said PennFuture Campaign Manager for Watershed Advocacy Renee Reber. “It’s far past time for the legislature to step up to the plate and uphold our constitutional right to pure water. This petition demonstrates clear constituent support for healthy rivers and streams. With a projected $2.5 billion surplus, $2.3 billion remaining from the American Rescue Plan, and billions more to come from recent passage of the Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act, it's time for lawmakers to act.”
PennFuture is Pennsylvania’s leading environmental advocacy organization with offices in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Erie and East Stroudsburg. We are protecting our air, water and land, and empowering citizens to build sustainable communities for future generations.
Director of Media Relations