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Established June 2, 1997
by citizens for citizens
March 16, 1998
Website of the Week
Daily Local News
August 13, 1997
A beautiful part of southeastern Pennsylvania
Fans of the World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies
Is Your Water Up For Grabs?
Is Your Water Up For Grabs?
Prepared by Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future,
610 N. Third Street, Harrisburg, PA 17101.
All summer long, customers of the Hanover Water Authority lived under the harshest water restrictions allowed by law. In an effort to meet demand with an extremely stressed supply, water use was ordered cut. People watched in vain as their gardens shriveled and their lawns turned brown, and there wasn't a clean car to be seen.
But the reality of the drought and the severe water shortage didn't stop development proposals. And a state law that requires a public water supplier to extend service to new developments - no matter what - left the Hanover Water Authority powerless to stop major new demands on water that it just didn't have.
And Hanover isn't an exception. In Chester County, Philadelphia Suburban Corporation, a private water company, wants to draw up to 4 million gallons a day out of the East Branch of the Brandywine Creek - a high quality trout stream - and store it in Cornog Quarry. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued approvals for the water withdrawal, despite local land use plans and conservation zoning to the contrary, in full knowledge that the approval also threatens the life in this beautiful stream.
As demands on our water supply grow, something other than a duel of water pumps should determine who gets how much. Right now, the guy with the biggest water pump wins when push comes to shove. New management tools are needed now, or pitched battles over who gets water will become as regular as sunrises.
In the spring, saying all the right things, the Schweiker administration introduced a DEP-written bill that would have both updated the State Water Plan (last revised 30 years ago) and required users of 10,000 gallons of water a day or more to register and report on their water use. Though just a planning and not a regulatory bill, some dared to hope that Pennsylvania would write water policy for the many and not the powerful few.
But as spring became summer and the drought intensified, DEP and the "coalition" - a group that includes industry, developers, oil and gas drillers, agribusiness and coal companies but no environmental or conservation representatives - conducted lengthy negotiations that produced a new version of the bill. Only after PennFuture and some other conservation and sporting organizations protested the exclusion of environmental interests did DEP invite a few environmental leaders to participate in discussions about the bill.
Unfortunately, as the prospect grew that water legislation might be enacted, the bill got worse. As of today, the version that DEP and industry want is the worst yet. The registration and reporting of water use over 10,000 gallons a day is voluntary, not mandatory. The scant protection from excessive withdrawals for water quality and aquatic habitat that was in earlier versions is even weaker. And the power of the Statewide Water Resources Advisory Committee that would be created by the bill - a committee far removed from the voters - has grown at the direct expense of DEP's authority. This Committee would now have the power to approve any actions DEP takes, the power to develop the state water plan and to approve or veto regional water plans, and the sole power to write the regulations that implement the bill.
Who would be on this now all-powerful committee? Eighteen people, 12 of whom would be appointed by the governor, two each appointed by the House and Senate majority leaders from people serving on the six regional committees, and one each by the House and Senate minority leaders from people serving on the regional committees. Of the 18, only one seat is guaranteed to conservation interests - eight represent agriculture, business and industry. Each of the regional committees, which will produce regional water plans, consist of 21 people, all of whom are appointed by the governor. Of the 21, only three would be from environmental and conservation groups and 13 seats would be for agriculture, business and industry interests.
Quite simply, the Committee's power and composition allow the interests represented by the closed coalition to make sure they get their water - even if it means there isn't enough left for fish, recreation, or watering your garden.
The proponents of this bill, including the Schweiker administration, are spinning this as a consensus bill - one that all support. Not so. PennFuture and many conservation and environmental organizations are now sounding the alarm against this ever-worsening bill.
Yet the water bill is one of the administration's top priorities. Depending on which calendar you believe - the Senate's or the House's - there are five or six days left in the lame duck session to get it enacted. And a DEP official revealed that it intends to pass this by sleight of hand - skipping the traditional hearing process by attaching the water grab bill to one that has already passed the House and is in the Senate. That poor, unsuspecting bill will be stripped of its original content, and the water resources bill in its entirety will be inserted as an amendment. Then, if the Senate passes it, it will go over to the House for a concurrence vote since, ostensibly, it's already been considered in the House. The members of the House will be able to vote only yes or no - they won't be able to amend it.
Why the rush? Why is this a priority for the administration? Why did the administration agree to a bill that undermines its current authority? If an update of the State Water Plan is really the administration's goal, it could have done that any time during the last eight years. Maybe the truth lies in the fact that the bill would take effect immediately and the current governor would be able to appoint 12 of the Statewide Water Resources Advisory Committee's 18 members and all 126 of the members of the regional committees.
Water resources management is too important to be turned into a partisan power play. Hanover and the Brandywine need solutions, not a bill that will make their problems worse. The General Assembly should kill this water grab.
Letter of concern by Timothy Gobreski from "Clean Water Action"
The recent drought has shown again that Pennsylvania needs stronger laws to make sure we have enough water, now and in the future. But two new bills that the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is promoting are a step backward, not forward. SB 1600 and HB 2989 won't solve our water shortages and could actually weaken the power of state and local governments to protect our water resources. That's why no environmental group in the state supports them.
Instead of solving the problem, the bills could undermine the existing authority of state and local governments to regulate water withdrawals and protect water quality. They do not give enough priority to the need to guarantee enough water in our streams to protect fish and other aquatic life. The bills would let DEP waive the requirement that large water users report how much water they withdraw, jeopardizing the data needed for accurate planning. And they would give an advisory committee dominated by special interests like mining, industry and energy companies veto power over state plans and policies on water planning.
WE NEED YOUR HELP TO STOP THESE BILLS!
Call or email your state Representative or Senator today and urge him or her to vote against SB 1600 or HB 2989. To find out who your legislators are, go to http://www.vote-smart.org/index.phtml, or call the Clean Water Action office nearest you. A sample message that you can cut and paste into an email follows.
Also, forward this email to other people you know, asking them to contact their legislators. But don't delay...the legislative session ends on November 30 and we need to act quickly to make sure that these bad bills don't become law.
To send emails to state officials to delay or prevent passage of Senate Bill 1600, click here.
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