As Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee and a member of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which is a tri-state legislative assembly representing Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia, I have been proud to work towards the betterment of Pennsylvania’s 85,000 miles of rivers and streams for the better part of a decade. Clean water is vital to our state’s health, local communities, and economy. We need clean water upstream to have healthy, vibrant communities downstream. By working to restore our waterways, we will reduce the cost of drinking water treatment and invest in our top two industries – tourism and agriculture – by helping farms improve soil health and increasing recreational opportunities.
As stewards of the land, Pennsylvania farmers know that protecting the environment and natural resources is vital to the success and future of our farms and communities. Farmers all across Pennsylvania have been leaders in implementing practices to improve water quality, but we know there is more to be done. Many of the investments needed are too costly for many farm owners to afford on their own, especially in a difficult farm economy. As a result, I have recently sponsored Senate Bill 465, which would create a new Agricultural Conservation Assistance Program (ACAP), providing funding and technical support to expand on-farm conservation practices throughout Pennsylvania, using a formula that benefits all parts of the state while directing additional resources to areas with the greatest opportunity for improvement. This legislation has already garnered support from the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau (PFB), Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and other environmental organizations working to promote and protect Pennsylvania’s waterways.
Unfortunately, almost one-third of our commonwealth’s streams do not meet standards for drinking, fishing or recreation, and agriculture remains one of the largest sources of impairment. If implemented, SB 465 would help meet these challenges.
The proposed ACAP would work similarly to the State Conservation Commission’s Dirt and Gravel Roads program. Funding would be distributed to county conservation districts throughout the commonwealth. Conservation districts would then partner with farmers and landowners in their communities to complete the conservation projects that make the most sense locally.
The ACAP puts decision making in the hands of the people who know best which conservation practices would have the most benefit in their communities: local farmers and conservation leaders. This locally focused approach will help ensure that our state’s investments in water quality will be as effective as possible.
The bill allows the program’s funding to come from multiple sources, including federal and state dollars and private investment. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (aka Federal COVID Stimulus) has provided almost $7 billion to Pennsylvania for several dedicated uses, one of which is water infrastructure. We propose $250 million, a mere fraction of a percent of Pennsylvania’s allocation, go toward establishing a new Clean Streams Fund to support the ACAP and other proven methods of reducing pollution in our local streams.
For every one dollar invested in local water quality, $1.60 is returned to the community through locally-hired labor and locally-sourced materials. For every mile of stream improved, over $100,000 will be generated in the local economy from improved fishing and boating opportunities.
We are at a critical juncture in cleaning up Pennsylvania’s waters, and we are making progress. Now is the time for Pennsylvania to enact legislation that will provide a roadmap for meeting those goals.
For more state-related news and information visit Senator Yaw’s website at www.SenatorGeneYaw.com or on Facebook and Twitter @SenatorGeneYaw.