On Tuesday, March 22, 2022, we celebrated World Water Day.
However, I use that term – celebrate – extremely loosely. Usually one who savors finding the silver lining in every cloud, I’m feeling less like Tigger and more like Eeyore about a day that was created to raise important awareness about water quality issues and champion successes in clean water efforts.
There are so many major issues threatening water supplies globally, and yet we can’t even get it right in our own little corner of the world.
Pennsylvania is the only state in the country – to my knowledge – that constitutionally proclaims that residents have “a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment.” (Article 1, Section 27)
Which is completely ironic when you consider that our own governor’s residence drains its sewage directly to the river – as does other main infrastructure within the state Capitol, including our Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) headquarters.
The constitutional right to clean water/state Capitol sewage situation offers a juxtaposition one would only expect from some overly dramatic fictional movie plotline, but shockingly it is real, and it is just one of many discouraging threats to our region’s clean-water resources:
In the past two years as Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper, I have seen elements of all of these threats and many more. I have sat in the homes of everyday people who share their desperate pleas for help as they attempt to stand up to polluters in scenes that I once thought only existed in John Grisham-inspired movies.
The threats are real, and they exist in our own communities throughout our local watershed.
How do we fix this? How do we proceed against such overwhelming odds?
One step at a time.
The Harrisburg sewage fiasco resided well below anyone’s radar system until it was discovered and awareness amplified by Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Ted Evgeniadis.
In a similar fashion, our association attempts to educate and spread awareness on a large number of issues via our blog feed, podcast series, syndication efforts with regional media sources and social media cross-posting. We continue to stand up for communities facing threats from coal ash contaminants, wastewater over-application, AMD issues and a wide gamut of other concerns. Our ability to do so is largely due to our statewide environmental efforts sparked in 1971 and the national Clean Water Act from 50 years ago.
Studies done by local universities and other institutions offer vital reality checks to the issues our waterways face. Groups such as Trout Unlimited and an inter-connected fabric of smaller watershed associations offer boots-on-the-ground assistance with issues such as streambank stabilization and creek cleanups. Scout groups, other organizations and even individuals partner with the Chesapeake Conservancy and the 10 Million Trees initiative for live stake efforts and new tree plantings. A growing number of volunteer water monitoring efforts help us better connect the dots on issues within our greater watershed.
There are opportunities for everyone reading this column to make a difference – to hopefully chip away at the formidable list of threats facing our waterways between now and World Water Day 2023. If you need help in finding your niche within the greater effort, please reach out and we can help you discover it.
In the meantime, please take time to check out the Clean Water Act 50 initiative and webpage offered by the Waterkeepers Chesapeake and the greater waterkeeper movement world-wide.
When it comes to tackling water quality issues within the middle Susquehanna watershed, the threats and challenges are many and the stakes are increasingly high. As I mentioned earlier, the best way to enact meaningful change when it comes to clean water and our aquatic resources likely comes via two important phrases.
One step at a time.
John Zaktansky is an award-winning journalist and avid promoter of the outdoors who loves camping, kayaking, fishing and hunting with the family.