Local Drinking Water Protection Coalitions Forming across PA

New drinking water protection coalitions have been springing up around the Commonwealth.  Concerns about natural gas drilling have prompted interest in forming partnerships to share information and resources.  Some have formed with the support of a WREN Source Water Protection Education Grant, the DEP Source Water Protection Technical Assistance Program (SWPTAP), and support from PA Rural Water Association, like the new Tioga County Source Water Protection Coalition.

These collaborations among local officials, counties, planners, conservation districts, watershed groups and public water systems offer a constructive forum to address concerns about natural gas development.  Rather than allow Source Water Protection Plans to gather dust on a shelf, the drinking water protection coalitions are taking action to make a difference in their communities through regular joint meetings, providing input to oil and gas permits, training, education and outreach.  They are working to leverage the collective wisdom and decades of expertise in each local area to address challenges and protect vital water supplies.

Potter County, Centre County, and Lycoming County have also formed new Source Water Protection Coalitions. Centre County Planner  Sue Hannegan recently stated “It’s a technical assistance grant that does the work… They (DEP) provide that service at no charge to the municipality. What that’s going to do is identify the sources of your local drinking water sources and define the recharge areas.”

In Southwest Pennsylvania, The River Alert Information Network or RAIN, is a regional
source water protection program that formed several years ago.  RAIN is dedicated to protecting the shared drinking water resources used by many community water systems on the Allegheny, Monongahela, Youghiogheny and Ohio Rivers  and has implemented a continuous on-line river monitoring system to better ensure the protection of public health and drinking water across the region.  An estimated 1.7 million residents of Southwestern PA rely on these rivers as their source of drinking water.

With funding from a 2011 WREN Grant, RAIN, along with partners at the Allegheny Land Trust, California University of Pennsylvania, and the Carnegie Science Center  are forming a Source Water Environmental Education Team (SWEET) to conduct community source water protection public education workshops for municipal officials, residents and children. The focus is to provide the audience with opportunities to understand the ”big picture” regarding threats to public drinking water sources, including natural gas development activities and abandoned mine drainage, and to offer solutions that can be adopted in the service areas of the forty-three public water systems that comprise the RAIN network.

After winning a 2011 WREN Grant, the Tioga County Conservation District’s Erica Tomlinson  and  Jim Weaver at County Planning have been working along with Carl Cox at Knoxville Borough in an ambitious effort to bring together all the public water systems in the county in an effort to protect groundwater and surface water sources from potential sources of contamination:

“The Tioga County Source Water Protection Coalition was formed by 7 local drinking water suppliers along with state and county representatives to utilize our strengths and resources to protect our drinking water sources for now and future generations.”

What are our goals?
“Our goal is to get all 24 community drinking water suppliers to participate in the Coalition. We know that by making a commitment to work together and plan ahead we can have balanced business, a healthy community, and enough clean water for our family and children.”
Source: Tioga County Source Water Protection Coalition Brochure

Below is an article on the Tioga coalition by Nate Merkel, Source Water Protection Technician with PA Rural Water Association:

Water is the fluid of life, without it, we could not survive.  If the all the taps in the world went dry at one time, we could only last 2-10 days, depending on fluid loss through perspiration and energy exertion on the body.  That is why today, more than ever, it is so
important to protect our drinking water sources.

Source Water Protection is a must for a community water system.  I am pleased to say that I observe every day, more and more, community water systems jumping on board with source water protection. Along with these systems there are groups being formed to promote source water protection and what it stands for.

I am also pleased to note that one such group was formed in Tioga County in March.  For those who are not familiar with Tioga County, it is rural county located in the Northern Tier of Pennsylvania and borders Bradford, Lycoming, and Potter Counties.  The county has a total of 29 townships and 10 boroughs, of those entities, 6 have chosen to participate in the newly formed source water protection group.

The newly formed source water protection group is known as the Tioga County Source Water Protection Coalition. The coalition consists of the Tioga County Conservation District, Tioga County Planning, Pa Department of Environmental Protection, Pennsylvania Rural Water, Westfield Borough, Duncan Township, Tioga Borough, Wellsboro Borough, Osceola Water Authority, and Knoxville Borough.  The coalition held their first official meeting on March 12, 2011.  The coalition elected Carl Cox from Knoxville Borough as acting chair.

A goal of the coalition is to focus on educating the public through community outreach.  They are looking into attending the Environmental Awareness Days which are held the second week of September along with Youth Field Days.  The coalition is planning to educate through the use of groundwater models and Enviroscapes to illustrate point and non-point source pollutants. Along with the models they are looking into using a more cognitive way of educating.

They are focusing on the youth through activities such as construction of water bracelets to illustrate and explain the water cycle.  The youth could also receive a coloring book which will teach them about wetlands, watersheds, aquifers, and what it means to protect our most valuable resource.

On a community water system platform; the coalition stated that it would like to see Tioga
County become the first county in the Pennsylvania to have all its community water systems with an approved source water protection plan.  I believe this is a great goal and I hope to see the other community water systems in Tioga County become involved with the coalition.

The Tioga County Source Water Protection Coalition is a great example of how community water systems can come together and work hand in hand, to promote source water protection and protect our most vital resource.  I applaud their efforts and hope other counties in Pennsylvania follow their lead in protecting our water sources. –Nate Merkel

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One Response to Local Drinking Water Protection Coalitions Forming across PA

  1. Bob Schmetzer says:

    I am interested in your work. Bob Schmetzer Council Pres. South Heights Pa 15081