Long before anyone told him to do it, Warwick Township Manager Dan Zimmerman was requiring developers to put in stormwater controls, pushing farmers to better manage their runoff and finding ways to pay for water quality improvements that would avoid tax hikes for his 19,000 residents.

The result: The township in Lancaster County, PA, is saving thousands of dollars each year in well water treatment costs. Rainbow trout swim again and even reproduce in Lititz Run, which the state has reclassified as a coldwater trout stream. During heavy rains, streets flood less than they do in neighboring boroughs. Although the stream water turns a little brown, it never takes on the chocolate-milk hue of some other Susquehanna tributaries. On sunny days, neighbors walk their dogs and jog on forested land where barely any trees grew just two decades ago.

Zimmerman, who has managed the township for 31 years, has accomplished all of this in an area where Amish buggies still ply the roads and local government control is paramount. His achievements started in 1997 with one promise to collaborate with Trout Unlimited, which morphed into a comprehensive overhaul in land and water management.

How does he do it? “I pick up the phone, and I say, ‘Hey, we have common interests, you want to work together?’” Zimmerman said. “It’s simple stuff. It’s not hard. I’m not sure why people can’t wrap their heads around it.”

Zimmerman’s partners include the Warwick School District, where 11th– and 12th-grade chemistry students monitor the water in three streams; the Lancaster County Conservation District, which partners with farmers to install runoff controls; developers, who add new housing to the fast-growing county; and other private businesses.

Among them is Rock Lititz, a 98-acre campus where rock stars such as Usher and Taylor Swift bring their entourages to rehearse before taking their music shows on the road. The partners in Rock Lititz agreed to fund a 17-acre floodplain restoration that is expected to provide annual pollutant reductions of 248,000 pounds of sediment; 1,010 pounds of nitrogen; and 173 pounds of phosphorus, according to its contractor, Land Studies.

Zimmerman and his partners in the Lititz Run Watershed Alliance, a township-managed entity created to advance this water quality work, have led many tours of their projects. These include bio-basins on township property to retain water and prevent flooding. The township requires developers to use bioretention basins to control stormwater runoff and to use only native plants.

In 2012, the township, along with Lititz Borough, won the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Source Water Protection Award for encouraging better runoff management on the farm that includes the drinking water wellheads. The state Department of Environmental Protection worked with the township to make projects successful.

And yet, only a few municipalities seem to be following their lead.

Just six miles away, Manheim Township is fighting with the city of Lancaster over its lack of stormwater controls, and Manheim residents are increasingly concerned that new development will increase their flooding.

“A lot of municipalities believe in local rules, regulations and controlling the environment, so it’s difficult for them to see beyond their political boundaries,” said Donna Morelli, former Pennsylvania director for the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. “It’s really hard to manage stormwater in a stream that doesn’t respect political boundaries, but Pennsylvania’s culture is to really keep things local.”

Tougher stormwater regulations may be coming statewide, but Zimmerman said that he believes regulations won’t necessarily clean up the Chesapeake Bay. Instead, here are some of the tools that worked for Warwick Township.

  • Talk about clean water. No matter what a person believes about climate change, government limits or increased stormwater fees, everyone loves clean water. The effort to better manage runoff in Warwick Township began with a question from Greg Wilson, an avid fly fisherman who is active in the Donegal Chapter of Trout Unlimited: Why can’t we get reproducing trout in Lititz Run? The answer was linked to a dam at the Millport Conservancy property that, according to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, was creating a 12-degree increase in water temperature. Working with the conservancy’s owners and funding from the state’s Growing Greener program, Warwick Township and Trout Unlimited got the dam removed. Nearby, Trout Unlimited financed the redevelopment of Riparian Park, a 3.5-acre “living classroom” that includes wetlands and stream buffers. Students come to the park to test water. Trout swim there now, and reproduce as well. “The evidence is pretty credible,” Wilson said. “You can see we’re making improvements.”
  • Build partnerships. In addition to millions of dollars in investments from developers to create stormwater and floodplain improvements, Zimmerman also secured private funds, including $48,000 from Pfizer for stream monitoring. How did he get it? Zimmerman said he asked.
  • Create fair rules for everyone. Despite competition in the fast-growing Lancaster suburbs, Zimmerman said that developers want to build in Warwick Township, too. When they come to him, he tells them about the township’s stormwater and native plant ordinances. If the developer understands the expectations up front, Zimmerman said, they’re not only willing to do what’s required, but they often will go beyond it.
  • Focus on the pocketbook. Zimmerman wanted to reduce nitrates in his community’s well water to protect public health and reduce treatment costs. But the wellhead for most of the county’s water is located on private farmland, and Zimmerman had no authority to make the farmer reduce his nutrient runoff. Instead, Zimmerman offered to assist the farmer with nutrient management. Then, with help from the Lancaster Conservation District’s Matt Kofroth, Zimmerman expanded the effort to ensure that all of the township’s 122 farms had conservation plans — and got them for free. The farmers are saving money on fertilizer, Kofroth said, and the county has a better idea of the nutrient load washing off the land. The township has hired the Lancaster Farmland Trust to inspect every farm and track how much of the plans are implemented.
  • Share the most local data possible. Some Pennsylvania government leaders talk about the Chesapeake Bay, some talk about the Susquehanna and some drill down to the community’s river or streams. Zimmerman talks to farmers about their land’s runoff into Lititz Run, Hammer Creek or Cocalico Creek. Not only that, he shows them data that come from his own monitoring and watershed maps. It personalizes the data and gets their attention.
  • Put up lots of signs. Warwick Township’s many projects include signs that explain the how the project supports clean water and why the business or township put it in place.
  • Get a leader who “gets it.” Zimmerman has only two staff: himself and a local zoning officer, who was hired last year. Though Zimmerman says he’s an outsider — a native of neighboring York County — Zimmerman has tapped into a love-thy-neighbor ethos that residents understand. And that’s true whether the resident is a Plain Sect farmer who rarely uses the telephone or a rock star technologist planning Beyonce’s latest hologram.

“What he’s done in Warwick is old school,” Morelli said of Zimmerman. “People used to help each other all the time. Warwick is a wonderful example of what can get done when you work together.”