Opinion

Their View | Bill would compromise water quality

Penn State landscape architecture students plant a shrub at the Spring Creek riparian restoration project at the Pennsylvania Military Museum in 2012. A bill in the General Assembly would remove riparian buffers as one of the tools the Department of Environmental Protection can use to protect streams from erosion and pollution.
Penn State landscape architecture students plant a shrub at the Spring Creek riparian restoration project at the Pennsylvania Military Museum in 2012. A bill in the General Assembly would remove riparian buffers as one of the tools the Department of Environmental Protection can use to protect streams from erosion and pollution. CDT file photo

Pennsylvania is blessed with an abundance of rivers and streams that carry clean water for drinking and agriculture. Here in the central part of the state, water gushing from mountain springs feeds the cold water streams that provide fishing experiences that cannot be surpassed anywhere. When you consider how valuable water is in every aspect of our lives, protecting its integrity would appear so obvious that it’s hard to imagine doing otherwise.

An article in Wednesday’s CDT chronicled ClearWater Conservancy’s successes in rebuilding riparian buffers in partnership with local landowners and volunteers, supported by generous funding from local residents, public agencies and private organizations (“Grant aids ClearWater Conservancy stream restoration projects”). Clean flowing water is one of our most precious resources. Riparian buffers, ribbons of vegetation along the bank of a stream or river, are a key element of the system that delivers this water.

Legislation being considered in the Pennsylvania legislature would remove riparian buffers as one of the tools the Department of Environmental Protection can use to protect streams from erosion and pollution. Currently, when development along a stream will disturb more than 1 acre of soil, the DEP can require protection or rebuilding of riparian buffers to filter pollution and protect banks from uncontrolled water flow.

Think about the photographs in the CDT earlier this summer as stormwaters carried 4-inch stones down a street and across a road and a lawn. This is just one illustration of the power of water to erode. House Bill 1565 would change current erosion and sedimentation regulations so that the DEP can no longer require buffers as a condition of a permit.

This bill would amend Pennsylvania Section 402 of Pennsylvania Act 394, which states that when an activity “creates a danger of pollution of the water of the Commonwealth or that regulation of the activity is necessary to avoid such pollution, the department may by rule or regulation, require that such activity be conducted only pursuant to a permit issued by the department or may otherwise establish the conditions under which such activity shall be conducted. …” The proposed amendment would add that “the use or installation of riparian buffers and riparian forest buffers shall not be required under this section.”

Unfortunately, this wording removes what is frequently the best tool, and often the only tool, for stream protection from the DEP’s toolbox.

While many builders, developers, as well as mining and drilling interests, will continue to use these effective tools voluntarily in situations where they are needed to protect our water, we all know that others will not. The result will be increased erosion and pollution of streams, decreased populations of fish and other wildlife and adverse impacts on those elements that make this a great place to live.

While we fully support the right of landowners to use their property, we also encourage everyone to recognize that people downstream deserve the same right. Flooding as a result of uncontrolled erosion diminishes the use and value of property downstream. ClearWater has been fortunate to find partners who recognize the value of our waterways and have worked with us to rebuild the streams that run through their lands, enhancing the value of those lands at the same time.

While we wish the ability of DEP to require buffering of areas of significant land disruption were not necessary, and that it would be a routine part of the process of building and development, we know that is not always the case.

We urge everyone to let their legislators know that clean water and healthy streams are a high priority and that we expect them to vote no on House Bill 1565.

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