May 6, 2024 Leigh Martinez

Pennsylvania’s Watersheds Representatives List Top 5 Water Priorities for State Legislators in 2024

Choose Clean Water Coalition, the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed, members of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, and other environmental partners will meet with lawmakers on Clean Water Education Day (May 7)

Tuesday, May 7, 2024, Harrisburg, P.A. — Today, environmental, conservation, anglers, and sporting groups from all over Pennsylvania are gathering in Harrisburg to educate state legislators about five key clean water policies during Clean Water Education Day.

Led by Choose Clean Water Coalition, Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed, and members of Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, the groups representing watersheds across Pennsylvania share their top five legislative priorities that aim to protect and ensure access to clean water for all Pennsylvanians: 

  1. Full fair-share funding of all of the interstate basin commissions
    • Delaware River Basin Commission ($1,047,000)
    • Susquehanna River Basin Commission ($740,000)
    • Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission ($182,000)
    • Great Lakes Commission ($97,000)
    • Potomac River Basin ($51,000)
  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).
  3. The creation of the Healthy Outdoors for All Program (HOAP), which would provide matching grants to fund projects that rehabilitate and support trails, parks, and open spaces.
  4. Support for the Riparian Buffer Protection Act (House Bill 1275)
    • Riparian buffers act as natural filters, trapping sediments, nutrients, and pollutants from runoff before they reach water bodies, thus significantly reducing water pollution.
    • Legislation mandates a 100-foot riparian buffer along each side of a surface body of water.
    • Streams designated as High Quality or Exceptional Value would require a minimum 300-foot buffer.
  5. Dedicated sustainable funding for the Clean Streams Fund
    • The CSF addresses the three primary causes of water pollution in PA: acid mine drainage, agriculture, and stormwater runoff.
    • Legislators need to identify and advocate for a sustainable, annual source of future funding. 

Over one-third of Pennsylvania's 86,000 stream miles are degraded and considered "impaired" by the Department of Environmental Protection. According to DEP's 2024 Pennsylvania Integrated Water Quality Report, the three primary sources of impairment are agriculture, acid mine drainage, and urban runoff. Consequently, those sources lead to pathogens, metals, and silt polluting our waterways. 

“As a Coalition of 190 nonprofit organizations dedicated to protecting and restoring the Delaware River Watershed, we are proud to unite with advocates across the Commonwealth to urge the PA Legislature to invest in projects that fund clean water programs, safeguard our drinking water, improve outdoor access for all, and preserve our critical natural resources,” said Kelly Knutson, Director of the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed. “Over 5 million people in PA rely on the Delaware River Watershed for their clean drinking water, and by directing resources toward clean water initiatives within the state, we can lay the groundwork for a future that meets the needs of generations to come, all while protecting the health of the entire Delaware River Watershed.”

Interstate shared water resources need consistent and reliable funding to ensure clean drinking water is protected. 

“Each basin commission is responsible for overseeing water quality, flood control, wildlife, water flow, water withdrawals, aquatic flora, recreation, navigation, and/or industrial runoff, said PennFuture President & CEO Patrick McDonnell. “Inadequately funded and staffed commissions put Pennsylvania’s communities at risk of suffering from increased water pollution, infrastructure issues, and declining aquatic wildlife.”

Codifying the Office of Environmental Justice ranks high on the coalition's list of priorities. In meetings with legislators, the groups hope to raise awareness that clean water issues are often environmental justice issues. The Office of Environmental Justice is only protected by Executive Order. That means it's vulnerable to any future unsupportive administration who may want to dismantle it. It's time to codify the OEJ and make environmental justice a permanent priority of the DEP.

Additionally, the creation of HOAP will expand the impact of green spaces for everyone, with a specific emphasis on broadening access for individuals from disadvantaged communities.

"Farmers are drawn to conservation stewardship for as many reasons as there are farms: a long-term business strategy, a deep respect for their farm's ecology, even as an expression of their faith,” said Hannah Smith-Brubaker, Executive Director of Pasa Sustainable Agriculture. “So, why, then, aren’t more farms embracing these strategies? A Pasa member survey administered in 2022 pointed to three essential barriers: time, money, and know-how. Farmers who adopt conservation practices are investing substantial resources into our collective well-being. That’s why government-funded conservation assistance programs are so critical to supporting the farmers who have been on this path for a while and those who are just beginning their journey, so they need not shoulder that burden alone."

“Clean water is at the heart of every healthy community. As Pennsylvania is an incredibly water-rich state, protecting and restoring the Keystone State’s rivers and streams is essential to the Commonwealth's economy, public health, and way of life,” said Kristin Reilly, Director of Choose Clean Water Coalition. “We encourage Pennsylvania’s legislators to make the necessary investments to support projects and programs that will have positive ripple effects for generations to come.”

The Capitol Rotunda press conference will be held on Tuesday, May 7 at 9:00 a.m. and facilitated by PennFuture’s President & CEO Patrick McDonnell. 

Featured speakers include: 

  • Kristin Reilly, Director of Choose Clean Water Coalition
  • Kelly Knutson, Director of Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed
  • Rafiyqa Muhammad, member of the Environmental Justice Advisory Board
  • Rep. Joe Webster, HD-150
  • Hannah Smith-Brubaker, Executive Director of Pasa Sustainable Agriculture


Media Contact: 
Leigh Martinez
Communications Director, PennFuture
(267) 888-7875