Protect Water Quality
Pollution has impaired more than 24,000 miles of Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams, making them unsafe for fishing, swimming, and other uses. Environmental Stewardship Fund investments restore the health of these damaged waterways and help protect them from future pollution. Communities also use grants funded by the Environmental Stewardship Fund to ensure safe drinking water for their residents, treat wastewater, and manage stormwater.
- 1,500+ projects to improve water quality, prevent water pollution, and control flooding
- 600+ miles of streams improved
- 350+ projects to improve drinking water and wastewater facilities
- Ensuring Safe Drinking Water, Protecting and Restoring the Health of Waterways, and Reducing Flooding in Pennsylvania (WeConservePA)
- Integrated Water Quality Report (Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection)
Abandoned Mine Drainage (AMD) and Mine Lands (AML)
Drainage flowing—sometimes gushing—from abandoned underground coal mines, as well as toxic waste from former surface-mining sites, are major sources of water pollution. Together, AMD and AML combine to pollute thousands of miles of Pennsylvania’s waterways. The cost to clean up watersheds damaged by mining has been estimated as high as $15 billion.
Chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and livestock waste from farms choke oxygen from waterways, killing fish, amphibians, and other wildlife. This runoff also pollutes drinking- water sources and makes waterways dangerous for fishing, paddling, and swimming. And agricultural runoff doesn’t just damage rivers and streams in Pennsylvania—it is also substantially responsible for declining oyster, crab, and fish populations in the Chesapeake Bay.
During storms water runs off roads, parking lots, and lawns into nearby waterways, carrying with it chemicals, sediment, and other pollutants. Between 1992 and 2015, the amount of developed land in Pennsylvania increased by 134%; as more open space is replaced by impermeable surfaces and climate change causes more severe storms, the pollution from stormwater runoff will only get worse.
The Cost of Pollution
Outdoor recreation is one of Pennsylvania’s major industries, supporting 251,000 jobs and generating $29 billion in annual consumer spending. When polluted water makes fishing, boating, and swimming impossible, Pennsylvania’s economy suffers—especially rural communities trying to remake themselves as outdoor-recreation destinations after the decline of traditional industries. If the water is too polluted to enjoy safely, anglers, boaters, and paddlers won’t visit and spend money in these communities.
And because a majority of Pennsylvanians drink treated surface water, pollution increases water treatment costs for municipalities. Money that could be invested in schools, roads, and other important social services must instead be used to remove the toxins from people’s drinking water. Polluted waterways can also reduce the property values of nearby homes—after all, who wants to live next to a lake covered by toxic algal blooms or a stream full of dead fish?
Nationwide, the total cost of polluted waterways, from lost recreational opportunities to increased treatment costs, has been estimated at over $4 billion per year. The funding gap for necessary repairs to water-treatment facilities in Pennsylvania is $18 billion.
The Environmental Stewardship Fund has funded hundreds of efforts to treat waterways polluted by AMD. In many of the projects, community groups and volunteers have restored miles of streams and rivers that were completely devoid of aquatic life after decades of AMD. Now, the waterways are teeming with fish, amphibians, and insects, and are safe for activities like fishing and swimming. The treatment systems used for these projects are expensive; without help from state funding, purchasing and installing them simply wouldn’t be possible in most cases.
Implement Agricultural BMPs
The Environmental Stewardship Fund has allowed conservation districts and local organizations to help farmers implement best management practices on their land. These practices, such as installing streambank fencing, planting riparian buffers, using conservation tillage, and controlling erosion, reduce the amount of pollution from animals, fertilizers, and pesticides that enters waterways.
Plant Riparian Buffers and Restore Streambanks
Forests are the natural companions to streams and rivers, serving as wildlife habitats while absorbing floodwater, combating erosion, and mitigating pollution. They are also one of the most cost-effective tools to protect water quality. Environmental Stewardship Fund grants have enabled state agencies, land trusts, conservation districts, and watershed groups to restore and stabilize streambanks by planting riparian buffers and installing other features like log jams to prevent erosion and protect water quality.
Install Stormwater-Management Features
The Environmental Stewardship Fund has supported projects to install features that mitigate stormwater runoff such as rain gardens, swales, slope terracing, and wetlands. These features absorb stormwater and filter pollutants, protecting waterways while reducing the property damage, human injury (or death), and logistical nightmares caused by flooding. They can also make streetscapes and developed areas devoid of greenery look more beautiful and interesting
Fix Water-Treatment Infrastructure
Municipalities of various sizes have relied on Environmental Stewardship Fund funding to repair and improve the infrastructure necessary to manage stormwater and safely treat drinking water and wastewater, such as pipes, basins, and treatment facilities. These repairs and improvements are crucial to prevent the public-health problems and property damage caused by failing infrastructure. The Environmental Stewardship Fund has invested in more than 350 of these projects statewide.
The Environmental Stewardship Fund has enabled organizations and local governments to assess the health and value of waterways, compiling assessments containing information about pollution, wildlife populations, recreational use, and more. These assessments inform land-use decisions and provide crucial information whether or not waterways are safe for fishing, swimming, and boating.