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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Potter County’s Watershed Group Hailed As Model For State

Potter County’s Watershed Group Hailed As Model For State

tripledividelogoMembers of the Triple Divide Watershed Coalition met this week in Galeton to continue their efforts to protect public water supplies across Potter County. In its short existence, the organization has attacked a busy agenda. Representatives from all but one of the public water suppliers in Potter County have been engaging in the organization since its formation in April. Its goal is to protect public water sources from potential degradation from natural gas well drilling or other disturbances, through a combination of public education, communications with industry, and/or regulations.

The group derives its names from the county’s unique geographic distinction as the headwaters for three major Northeastern U.S. watersheds. Water from Potter County flows north to the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence, south to the Ohio and Mississippi, and east to the Atlantic Ocean. By forming the coalition, public water system managers in Potter County will be able to share best practices and speak with a unified voice on proposed legislation and regulations/enforcement issues. Coalition members will also investigate options for the county or municipal governments to control industrial activities such as natural gas drilling in close proximity to public water sources and recharge areas.

Another benefit of the coalition was emphasized during this week’s meeting — bulk purchasing of supplies, equipment, laboratory services, etc. Municipal water authorities and operators will be surveyed to determine their needs.

Coalition Chairman John McLaughlin, retired Pa. Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) water specialist and a member of the Potter County Planning Commission, presented results from public water supply testing he has been supervising in recent weeks. Some are showing high proportions of methane that could be naturally occurring, or could be related to shallow natural gas wells drilled many years ago. Coalition members discussed the possibility of each supplier installing automated equipment that constantly monitors water quality. Results would be more reliable than sporadic testing.

Coalition members also chose a logo for the new group and discussed public education initiatives, including a brochure and a newsletter. Trixie Blass from the Galeton Borough Authority displays the preferred logo in the accompanying photo. Ben Hoppe (right), also from Galeton, was among those casting affirmative votes.

Members were also asked to consider possible land use controls to protect sensitive sourcewater areas. These would be submitted as recommendations to the Potter County Planning Commission.

Mark Stephens, a geologist and veteran DEP employee, gave the Triple Divide Watershed Coalition high marks and commended the Potter County Board of Commissioners for its leadership and support of the organization. Stephens is assisting community-based sourcewater protection initiatives in northern and central Pennsylvania, with an emphasis on building public awareness and reducing risk. Local organizations — including municipal authorities, the Potter County Conservation District, Penn State Extension, Potter County Planning Commission and others — have signed on to support the program.

John Van Zant, a water specialist with DEP, echoed Stephens’ comments. He said the model that has been established in Potter County for the headwaters region should be emulated in other counties.

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