Pennsylvania stormwater: There’s an app for that!
The November print issue of the Bay Journal has gone to press, so we will be putting the stories online over the next week or two. One of the first to go up is a piece I wrote about Pennsylvania localities beginning to tackle their polluted runoff.
The story was inspired by a presentation at the annual Chesapeake Watershed Forum in Shepherdstown, WV, which is organized by the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. I try to go every year, and not just because it’s in a beautiful location. The sessions are usually packed with interesting information, and you always meet people from corners of the watershed you didn’t know before. (I now have a long list of places in West Virginia that I must visit, including Smoke Hole Canyon, thanks to tips gathered at the bar.)
But mostly, this year’s program interested me because there were not one, but two, sessions on Pennsylvania stormwater.
We have written a lot at the Bay Journal about Pennsylvania being incredibly behind on meeting its pollution-reduction goals. Mostly, the problem has been with agriculture, but stormwater and sewage treatment are significant issues upstream, too.
The Susquehanna accounts for half of the fresh water entering the Chesapeake Bay. If it’s running off the streets with no treatment, it’s carrying with it the detritus of urban life —nutrients, dirt, sediment, chemicals settling on the road from air pollution, motor oil, cadmium and more.
How to tackle it? I consider myself a Pennsylvanian, though at this point I’ve lived in Maryland more years by far than anywhere else. But I grew up in Pittsburgh, and worked at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as a police reporter for a year. During that time, I made hundreds of calls every night to police precincts in western Pennsylvania. While Maryland has large swaths of unincorporated areas where thousands of people live — I’m looking at you, Towson — it seems Pennsylvania only needs a few dozen people to live along a couple of streets to declare itself a town.
Pennsylvania has more than 2,500 municipalities, 700 of which are in the watershed, many of which have part-time mayors or commissioners. Stormwater is not at the top of their list, and even if it was, most don’t have the money or the staff to address decades-old infrastructure problems.
I knew Lancaster, PA, was working on its stormwater; we profiled the effort several years ago.
But I was surprised at the Watershed Forum to learn of a progressive group of thinkers from Blair County, who were banding together to work on curbing runoff. Blair County’s main city is Altoona, 180 miles from the Chesapeake. But the Juniata River flows through the county, and those in charge could see a need to address problems.
York County, of course, is closer to the Bay, and includes parts of the Susquehanna. But it, too, had to corral 44 municipalities to tackle runoff there. The Chesapeake Conservancy has developed a stormwater tool -- an "app," if you will -- to help prioritize which projects they’re going to tackle. Collectively, the consortium of municipalities pay for the projects, and collectively, they get credit for the reductions. You can read more about that here.
There’s no question Pennsylvania has a long way to go on stormwater, and that other states, like Maryland, are still far ahead — despite widespread criticism of Maryland’s plans in the wake of a stormwater fee rollback.
But I think part of our job, as reporters, is also to highlight places where things are working. Impossible seems impossible when you have not tried it. But once you do, to paraphrase Muhammad Ali, impossible is nothing. Maybe once other communities see that, they will tackle their stormwater, and the Chesapeake will be the better for it.
- Category: Pollution
By submitting a comment, you are consenting to these Rules of Conduct. Thank you for your civil participation. Please note: reader comments do not represent the position of Chesapeake Media Service.
Comments are now closed for this article. Comments are accepted for 60 days after publication.