PennFuture on water: Flows downstream

Flows downstream :: A water blog by PennFuture Trash on a sewer storm grate Acid mine drainage turns the Lackawanna River orange before it flows into the Susquehanna River at a borehole in Old Forge. Kayaker on the Lackawanna River, which flows to the Susquehanna River

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Reboot state efforts, restore the Chesapeake Bay

In the wake of the Flint crisis, all eyes are on water quality, including here in Pennsylvania. Nearly half the state of Pennsylvania is within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and people are starting to realize the state’s shortcomings on Bay restoration efforts. 

"Polluted runoff from urban and agricultural areas, along with wastewater, degrades water quality here and downstream," said Jacqui Bonomo, vice president and COO of PennFuture. "The state has a key role to play in the health of the Chesapeake Bay." 

Faced with mounting pressure from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state environmental groups, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced an interdepartmental strategy to “reboot” the state’s efforts towards restoring our local waters and, ultimately, Chesapeake Bay water quality. 

The plan, jointly developed by DEP and the departments of Agriculture and Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), outlines six areas of improvement:

1.  Address pollutant reduction by: (a) meeting the EPA goal of inspecting 10 percent of farms and municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s) in the watershed annually, (b) ensuring that farmers develop and follow manure management and erosion and sediment control plans, and (c) enforcement for non-compliance
2.  Quantify undocumented Best Management Practices (BMPs) in watersheds impaired by agriculture or stormwater and put more high-impact, low-cost BMPs on the ground
3.  Improve reporting, record-keeping, and data systems to provide better documentation and obtain maximum credit toward Bay pollution reduction goals
4.  Identify legislative, programmatic, and regulatory changes to provide additional tools and resources necessary to meet federal pollution reduction goals by 2025
5.  Establish a DEP Chesapeake Bay Office to coordinate development and implementation, of Pennsylvania’s Chesapeake Bay efforts
6.  Obtain additional resources for water quality improvement

Jim Hershey of Hershey Farms shows Sec. Redding the engineering in farm equipment that will help meet Federal Clean water standards and help to restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Photo via: Commonwealth of PA 
Although the pollution reduction targets set for Pennsylvania by the EPA (mentioned on this post) will not be met by the interim milestone of 2017, the state is working hard to meet the final goals for 2025. 

To get there, the DEP hopes the reboot will intensify regulatory presence, increase funding for inspections and staff, and improve the documentation of pollution reduction within the state. Additionally, it seeks to create a culture of compliance among all the land-users within the watershed. 

As John Quigley, Secretary of the DEP, said in the webinar announcing the reboot: “It’s clear that the DEP cannot do this work alone and be successful.”

Sam Boden is a Messiah College student interning at PennFuture in Harrisburg. He is passionate about sustainable and effective environmental policy at the state and federal level.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Coming soon: Weigh in on your municipality’s MS4 permit

Since PennFuture and the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) reached a settlement to improve Pennsylvania’s program for preventing stormwater runoff from polluting our streams and rivers, there have been many new and enhanced opportunities for public engagement in the municipal stormwater permitting process

This summer, DEP sought comments from the public about the draft general permit for discharges into municipal separate stormwater systems, known as PAG-13.

Yet another opportunity is on the horizon for Pennsylvanians to engage in the municipal stormwater permitting process. Some MS4 municipalities in the commonwealth will be submitting Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Strategies to DEP. Citizens can request a copy of DEP’s review letter for their municipality’s TMDL Strategy from the department. 

Do you live in a MS4 community? 

For those of us who aren’t engineers or environmental planners, PennFuture, Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership, Pennsylvania Environmental Council, and Pennypack Ecological Restoration Trust are offering assistance to clarify and simplify the stormwater permit process for watershed and conservation groups as well as for citizens who wish to participate in borough or township planning processes.

Our presentation will cover:
  • What the settlement in the MS4 case means for you
  • Opportunities to get involved in your municipality's stormwater planning process, including:
    • When and how you can participate  — and why it's a key opportunity for citizens to give public input
    • What to look for in permit applications, including pollutant reduction plans and TMDL plans   

The Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership, PennFuture, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, and the Pennypack Ecological Restoration Trust invite you to to learn about how you can work with your community to improve water quality.

Monday, November 16
4:30 – 7:00pm
Jenkintown Library
460 Old York Road, Jenkintown, PA 19046
Questions & RSVP to Jon Musselman | | 215.744.1853

Katie Bartolotta is southeastern Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for PennFuture and is based in Philadelphia. She tweets @KatieBartolotta.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Dela-where was PennFuture?

Q: What spans 5 states, provides drinking water to 16 million people, and generates approximately $25 billion annually in economic activity as well as $21 billion in ecosystem goods and service?

A: The Delaware River Watershed!

Last week, nearly 300 water advocates descended on the University of Delaware's Newark Campus for the third annual Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed Forum. The two-day forum provided terrific opportunities for updates on the Delaware River Watershed, information and best practice sharing, and networking. The forum's speakers all served to advance one central purpose - protect and restore the Delaware River Watershed.

Attendees heard from some impressive keynote speakers, including:
  • Gov. Jack Markell, D-Delaware
  • U.S. Congressman John Carney, D-Delaware
  • Secretary David Small, Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Control
  • Executive Director Laura Sparks of the William Penn Foundation
  • EPA Region 3 Administrator Shawn Garvin, who was introduced by PennFuture's President and CEO, Larry Schweiger!

PennFuture President and CEO, Larry Schweiger

Day 1 of the forum was covered by Newsworks and WXDE 105.9

PennFuture is a founding steering committee member of the Coalition. We were very excited to be a part of the planning committee as well as contributors to a number of sessions. 

PennFuture's Mike Helbing ran a workshop on opportunities for public participation in the MS4 stormwater permitting process. 

PennFuture's Katie Bartolotta moderated a panel that discussed the opportunities for additional economic development in the watershed and its potential impacts on water quality and public. 

If you missed this year's forum, don't fret. Your organization can join the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed and stay up to date on events like these as they arise. Contact to learn more about joining the the dozens of watershed associations, land conservancies, recreation and outdoor interests, nature centers, and advocacy groups that comprise the coalition. 

Katie Bartolotta is southeastern Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for PennFuture and is based in Philadelphia. She tweets @KatieBartolotta.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Wildlife in Hot Water: Central PA Edition

This is the second in a multi-part series localizing the National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF) recent report, Wildlife in Hot Water: America’s
Waterways and Climate Change.

Our nation boasts majestic river systems like the Colorado, Mississippi, and - here in central Pennsylvania - the Susquehanna, but climate change threatens them all. The Susquehanna River Basin Commission studies the 27,510 square-mile watershed and its impact on roughly 4.1 million people within its focus area. According to the organization's latest "State of the Susquehanna" report, the basin is both "one of the most flood-prone areas in the entire nation" while experiencing declared emergency droughts 17 times in a 21 year period. 
Full Report: 
Unfortunately, climate change compounds existing stress of pollution, dammed rivers, invasive species, disease, and destruction of forests and wetlands on our waterways. Some 147 freshwater fish species and populations are federally listed as threatened or endangered. An estimated 37 percent of all freshwater animals - from fish to crayfish to mussels - are considered at risk. The rate of aquatic species extinctions is five times higher than in terrestrial habitats, and climate change will place additional strain on the already highly-stressed freshwater aquatic life.

For many of us who spend time outdoors, we already know what climate change is doing to our waterways and wildlife. Here is a personal account from Pennsylvania resident Ed Perry on bass fishing in the Susquehanna from the NWF report:

"Up until 2005, then the hottest year on record, my family had been floating the middle Susquehanna for more than 25 years, camping on the islands, and wake fishing for smallmouth bass. But climate change has altered temperature and rainfall patterns, causing repeat kills of smallmouth bass in 100 miles of the middle Susquehanna River. The fishery has been devastated to the point that many guides gave quit taking anglers there and my family no longer takes these fishing trips that were such an important part of our outdoor experience." 
In an amendment to the Pennsylvania Wildlife Action Plan, written by Pennsylvania's Game Commission and the Fish and Boat Commission, it stated climate change could trigger substantial changes to fish and wildlife populations of the commonwealth, including, but not limited to:
  • Migration of flora and fauna northward or to higher elevations in order to escape warming conditions;
  • Decreased populations of freshwater and anadromous fish, like salmon and trout, due to reduced snowpack and increase temperatures in streams;
  • Altered flooding patterns, which affect spawning and rearing habitat for many aquatic species;
  • Increased spread of wildlife diseases and parasites.

Our nation and region's waterways are undoubtedly experiencing the negative impacts of climate change, but we all have the opportunity to lessen the risks posed to our waterways, wildlife, and their habitat. 

What you can do:
Support the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan. The EPA is taking a step in the right direction by finalizing the Clean Power Plan. With the new standards, we expect immediate actions can and should be taken to help safeguard our communities and wildlife from the impacts of climate change.

Support the EPA's Clean Water Rule. Without these protections, at least 60% of our nation's streams and 20 million acres of wetlands are vulnerable to pollution.

Jen Quinn is central Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for PennFuture and is based in Harrisburg. She tweets @QuinnJen1.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Speak out on why the Loyalsock matters

The Clarence Moore lands of the Loyalsock State Forest are the last unfragmented forest lands in Lycoming County. Since 2012, you've been hearing from us at PennFuture warn about the dangers to this area and the work of the Save the Loyalsock Coalition to protect them. The coalition is comprised of statewide and local conservation, recreation, fishing and outdoors organizations. Representing over 100,000 citizens, the coalition has engaged the broader public as well as the previous administration in response to the threat of drilling in this pristine 25,000 acre treasure.

We now have an opportunity to engage Gov. Tom Wolf and his administration. Please add your voice by signing this petition saying "no" to gas drilling, which would impact exceptional value headwater streams, rare and threatened wildlife species, and the Old Loggers Path - one of Pennsylvania's finest hiking trails. Gov. Wolf has already worked to protect other state lands, beginning with Executive Order 2015-03 to prohibit new leases for gas development in our state parks and forests. Earlier this summer, the coalition sent a letter to Gov. Wolf asking him to use his power to protect the Clarence Moore tract, to which the previous order does not apply. Our letter was signed by 14 of Pennsylvania's conservation and citizens' organizations. Please join us and sign (and share) the petition today. Visit for background, photos, maps, and to sign up to receive more information on next steps you can take.

Kate Gibbons is Northeastern Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for PennFuture and is based in Wilkes-Barre.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Wildlife in Hot Water: Philadelphia Edition

This is the first in a multi-part series localizing the National Wildlife Federation's (NWF) recent report, Wildlife in Hot Water: America’s Waterways and Climate Change.

Last week, PennFuture joined the NWF in Scranton to release its new report, which examines the affects climate change is having on wildlife and the nation’s waterways. 

The report details the rapid changes to the Earth’s water cycle that are already having negative impacts on ecosystems. As a result of disruptive carbon pollution, these changes include earlier and more rapid snowmelt, fewer and more intense rainfall events, and more frequent and extreme droughts and floods. The very character, chemistry, and quality of our waterways are changing in some of the following ways: 
  • Reduced dissolved oxygen levels in streams and lakes
  • Loss of habitat for cold and cool water fish species as climate change is prompting warmer temperatures
  • Loss of wetlands and reduced riparian/floodplain connectivity
  • Loss of upstream/downstream connectivity caused by the drying of stream and river reaches
  • Reduced extent, diversity, and quality of in-stream habitat for aquatic biota
  • Increased pollutant concentrations from urban and agricultural runoff
These effects are already being felt throughout Pennsylvania. Last Wednesday, speakers at our press event discussed the negative effects of climate change on water and wildlife in the Lackawanna and Susquehanna Rivers. But northeast Pennsylvania isn’t the only region of the commonwealth feeling these effects. The City of Philadelphia, bordered by two tidal rivers, is particularly at risk to sea level rise and extreme weather events. 

Flooding on Kelly Drive in Philadelphia

Some findings concerning Philadelphia and climate change-related flooding:
  • According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), nuisance flooding in Philadelphia – think road closures, overwhelmed storm drains, and infrastructure damage – has increased by 650 percent over the past 50 years. This significant increase is due to many factors, including climate-related sea level rise. NOAA concluded in its report that acceleration in sea level rise “will further intensify nuisance flooding impacts over time, and will further reduce the time between flood events.” 
  • Sea levels in the Delaware Estuary have already risen by about a foot in the last century and experts expect to experience a rise of at last three more feet within ninety years.
  • A report from the Union of Concerned Scientists projects that over the next thirty years tidal flooding events in Philadelphia will grow in frequency from 19 to 200 per year.
  • The National Weather Service’s Sea, Lake, and Overland Surge from Hurricanes (SLOSH) model shows the that large sections of Philadelphia would be inundated if a Category 1 or 2 hurricane were to directly impact the region. In particular, southwest Philadelphia, which includes the Eastwick neighborhood as well as Philadelphia International Airport, would be particularly vulnerable to surge flooding where water levels would be higher than the elevation of the area. In an op-ed in Plan Philly’s Eyes on the Street blog, author Amy Laura Cahn shares that during Hurricane Floyd, “Eastwick’s slab-on-grade homes filled with six feet of water.” As a result, Eastwick residents have experienced spikes in the cost of flood insurance. 
Without climate action, it is expected that the rate of sea level rise will accelerate and extreme weather events will occur with greater frequency. Fortunately, there are many options for combating the causes of climate change while simultaneously preserving and protecting wildlife and the waterways they depend on, including: 
  • Supporting the Clean Power Plan and reducing our carbon footprint: The Environment Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan is an important step first step toward mitigating climate change. The plan presents opportunities to not only reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants, but to also invest in a zero-carbon, clean energy future. The commonwealth should expand upon its existing wind, solar, and energy efficiency programs to meet our reduction goals in a manner that is both cost-effective and emissions-neutral. 
  • Encouraging Clean Water Act Protections: In order to better protect our wildlife and waters, support for the Clean Water Rule is essential. Without this rule, at least 60 percent of America’s streams and 20 million acres of wetlands would be left vulnerable to the destructive hands of industrial activities. 
In the coming weeks, we plan to share more region-specific stories that underscore the need to act on climate to protect our waterways and wildlife. Stay tuned!

Katie Bartolotta is southeastern Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for PennFuture and is based in Philadelphia. She tweets @KatieBartolotta.  

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Plains Township animal hospital achieves energy efficiency while healing pets

This is the third in a series of blog posts about northeastern Pennsylvania sustainable practices.

A previous blog post about the Plains Animal Hospital and Northeast Veterinary Referral Hospital (NVRH) in Plains Township highlighted ways in which the facility helps reduce flooding, storm water damage, and water pollution. Not only does this green facility feature smart water practices, but it also uses many energy efficient techniques. After touring the building and discussing its features, it was apparent that energy efficiency was a goal from the beginning.

Utilization of natural lighting is one way in which the facility promotes energy efficiency. While visitors sit in the waiting room, they are surrounded by windows. Oriented in such a way that allows natural light to come in, the windows take advantage of the sun for heat during winter months yet remain in the shade for summer. As a result of this smart use of natural light, only half of the overhead lights are turned on at any given time. In the center of the building where animals are treated, there are tubular skylights that provide all of the necessary lighting, resulting in reduced energy costs.

Recycled styrofoam wall insulation
Another way in which the animal hospital and NVRH make efficient use of energy is through their use of smart features and the building materials. Each individual examination room is equipped with a motion sensor that trigger the lights when people are present in the room. Additionally, after roughly five minutes of constant inactivity, the lights will automatically shut off. The building material that largely supports the facility also increases its energy efficiency. All of the walls in the facility are made of recycled Styrofoam. Styrofoam is a much better insulator than other building materials, making it able to hold more heat for longer periods of time. 

Brittany Czerniakowski is an intern in PennFuture's Wilkes-Barre office. She is entering her senior year and working toward a B.A. in Environmental Studies at King's College, Wilkes-Barre.