On Saturday, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will open for public comment its Draft 2024 Integrated Water Quality Monitoring Report that identifies 28,820 miles of waterways in the Commonwealth that have been damaged by pollution. That is an increase of 930 miles since its last report in 2022. To put that in perspective, 34 percent of Pennsylvania’s 85,568 miles of rivers and streams do not meet water quality standards for water supply, aquatic life, recreation, or fish consumption.
Agricultural activities were cited as the leading source of water quality impairment with 8,212 miles, an increase from 6,432 miles in the 2022 report. The legacy of coal mining in the form of acid mine drainage was the second major source with 5,607 miles, down from 5,536 in 2022; and impacts of polluted urban and suburban stormwater runoff from cities, subdivisions and strip malls are third at 3,828 miles, compared to 3,507 in 2022.
Nearly 48 miles of streams were identified as being restored back to health since 2022.
While it is disappointing that impaired stream miles are increasing, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) in Pennsylvania notes the increasing momentum in the Commonwealth to get back on track to meeting its commitment to cleaner rivers and streams.
In response to DEP’s report, Harry Campbell, CBF Science Policy and Advocacy Director in Pennsylvania said:
“This latest report indicates that the Commonwealth still has a long way to go toward restoring and protecting our lakes, rivers, and streams. With the passage of key legislation, coupled with recent state and federal government investments, the state is poised to accelerate momentum toward clean and healthy waters.
“The Clean Streams Fund is designed to help address the state’s leading sources of impairment. The hallmark of the Fund is the Agricultural Conservation Assistance Program (ACAP), which directs investments locally to support Pennsylvania’s farmers to leave a legacy of healthy soils and clean water for future generations through conservation practices like streamside forests.
“Sustained, long-term investments in ACAP and the other Clean Streams Fund programs are vital to restoring and protecting the health of lakes, rivers and streams across the state.
“Just as the Fund and ACAP provide critical support for cleaner waters in Pennsylvania, so do recent investments at the federal and other state levels add momentum, and those should not go unnoticed.
“These investments will be more cost-effective and successful when applied in priority places, focus in on high-impact practices, and leverage the knowledge and expertise and support of partners on the ground.”