Conservation organizations excluded from water resource legislation negotiations

Sept. 27, 2002
A group of environmental and conservation organizations is calling on the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to include them in ongoing negotiations over proposed water resource legislation.

HARRISBURG, Pa., Sept. 27, 2002 -- A group of environmental and conservation organizations is calling on the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to include them in ongoing negotiations over proposed water resource legislation.

"We are extremely concerned and frustrated that no one from any environmental or conservation organization has been involved in months of negotiations over proposed water resources legislation," said Jan Jarrett of Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future (PennFuture).

"DEP has been talking with representatives of industry behind closed doors all summer. DEP finally shared a draft of the bill with us more than two weeks ago - a draft that did not address a single concern that the conservation community raised in testimony last spring. We asked to be included, but we continue to be left out even though we know negotiations are ongoing with industry."

DEP's proposed water resources bill would require water users that withdraw more than 10,000 gallons of water a day to register and monitor their water use. However, it contains a loophole that allows DEP to exempt classes of users from the requirements of the bill. It provides for an update of the State Water Plan which is now about 30 years old.

The bill allows the creation of critical water planning areas where there are currently water shortages or where shortages are anticipated in the near future. However, the bill does not require any water conservation nor does it give any agency more authority to regulate water use, even where water shortages occur.

"As it stands now, this bill does nothing to help communities deal with drought conditions," said Bob Wendelgass of Clean Water Action. "This is just a planning bill. It really doesn't help state or local governments to address some serious water conflicts that are cropping up. If DEP can exempt any user or industry it wants from the registration and reporting provisions, it won't even be able to gather the complete information it needs to develop a sound State Water Plan."

The conservation groups are also concerned that the bill does not provide explicit protection for in-stream flows to protect aquatic life and recreation, that local governments would be unable to solve local water problems and conflicts, and that the state and regional advisory committees do not have adequate representation from the conservation community.

"The conservation community is interested in making sure that any water resources legislation lays a good and fair foundation for better management and protection of our water," said Jeff Schmidt of the Sierra Club. "We know that many legislators are extremely concerned about this, too. Apparently DEP and industry are not working with members of the General Assembly on this either. So far, DEP has allowed water resource policy to be hijacked by private interests."

The groups asking to be included are: Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future (PennFuture), Clean Water Action, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, PennEnvironment, the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, and Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter.

Source: PennFuture

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