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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Potter County: Water Protection Starts Here

Potter County: Water Protection Starts Here

tripledivideA comprehensive water protection campaign that began in the headwaters of Potter County is spreading downstream. Last month’s meeting of the Triple Divide Watershed Coalition attracted representatives from several other areas where shale gas drilling and other threats to water quality have prompted local officials to join forces. Among the counties that are building their own sourcewater protection alliances on the heels of the Potter County experience are Elk, Tioga, Columbia, Montour, Berks, Pike, Lycoming, Clinton and Sullivan.

The difference between this effort and some previous water stewardship campaigns is an official imprint that includes county commissioners, planning agencies, conservation districts, and public water authorities, with technical support from the Pa. Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Penn State Extension. Credibility and communication are two of the most important components. The long-range goal is to have each county taking some responsibility for protecting the water from the point where it enters the county borders to the point where it crosses over into the next county.

Last month’s Triple Divide meeting, held at the Gunzburger Building, had a crowded agenda. Among developments:
  • Triple Divide agreed to partner with a similar organization in Tioga County for a groundwater mapping project. The flow map will use local well data and sourcewater protection zone delineations, combined with GPS coordinates, to chart groundwater flow. Tioga County Planning Director Jim Weaver pointed out that this would be a valuable component for agencies rendering decisions on activities that might affect water sources.
  • Members agreed to seek funding for continuous monitoring equipment on public water sources. The effort is modeled after a project spearheaded by Kim Bonfardine from the Elk County Conservation District and Sourcewater Protection Coalition. She explained the steps taken to install continuous monitors with data loggers and satellite telemetry on 11 water sources. A website carries live data measuring turbidity, conductivity, pH, dissolved oxygen, temperature and water level. Potter and Tioga counties plan to team for a similar project.
  • Dr. Jennifer Whisner, chair of the Columbia/Montour Sourcewater Protection Group, offered to assist Triple Divide with technical issues and regional strategies. She is an assistant professor of hydrogeology at Bloomsburg University.
  • Triple Divide Watershed Coalition Chairman John McLaughlin and DEP geologist Mark Stephens reported on their meeting with Marcus Kohl, director of DEP’s Northcentral Region in Williamsport. McLaughlin emphasized the need for DEP to recognize sourcewater protection zones in the permit review process.
  • Don Muir from the Pa. Rural Water Association discussed a class for water system and wastewater operators on emergency response being hosted by Potter County at the Gunzburger Building. Another class is scheduled for Nov. 6 in Coudersport on sampling.
  • Eric Moore, chairman of the Northcentral Sourcewater Protection Alliance of Lycoming, Sullivan and Clinton counties, offered his group’s support for a broad, multi-county campaign to advocate for water protection initiatives as industrial activity grows.
  • DEP’s Mark Stephens reported that the agency is seeking bids for the plugging of two orphaned wells that have been polluting public water supplied in Shinglehouse Borough. Recognizing that these wells are located within a water supply recharge area has had a great influence on DEP’s distribution of limited funds for plugging abandoned wells.
  • DEP’s Woody Cole discussed the state’s Capability Enhancement Program, a free service for water operators. Engineering services and managerial assistance are available.
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