By House Speaker Rep. Bryan Cutler (R-100) and Sen. Scott Martin (R-13)
Lancaster County is blessed with some of the most productive farmland in the entire United States. With its fertile soil and sufficient rainfall, this farmland is the foundation of our local economy and culture. It has defined our region for over 400 years.
Not far south of Lancaster County is the Chesapeake Bay, the nation’s largest and most productive estuary. Its bounty supported the founding of our nation and an economy and culture of watermen and industry.
It’s no coincidence that this most productive farmland and most productive estuary exist near one another, for they are inextricably linked by the Susquehanna River.
For centuries, the farmlands of Lancaster County and the waters of the Chesapeake Bay co-existed in ecological balance with each other. But in the mid-1900s, profound changes began to occur.
Crop yields increased and human population grew, fish consumption grew and the balance began to unhinge. Now, oysters are at 1% of historic levels, blue crabs are barely sustainable and some days it is dangerous to swim in or eat from the Bay because of harmful algae and bacteria.
The consequences of this imbalance are not limited to the bay. Statewide, one-third of Pennsylvania’s creeks are not safe for fishing, drinking or swimming. It’s even worse in Lancaster County, with over one-half of our local creeks not meeting clean water standards.
The good news is that modern farming and healthy rivers, streams and the bay can co-exist. All corners of Lancaster County have examples of “best management practices” that are keeping soil and nutrients on the farmland – where they belong, instead of turning into pollution heading downstream. What’s needed is more widespread implementation.
A unique partnership of local governments, non-profits and private companies, known as the Lancaster Clean Water Partners, have embraced a shared vision of clean and clear water in Lancaster County by 2040. This is a legacy worth pursuing.
While the estimated cost of over $100 million per year is daunting, such expenses translate to investments: in local materials such as fencing and concrete, as well as local talent such as farmland conservation planners, heavy equipment operators and other skilled laborers, who are critical to success.
Furthermore, these investments will benefit Lancaster County’s local farmers, by helping to keep them competitive in global markets. The community will benefit from these investments through improved recreational opportunities and quality of life. Another great benefit to these efforts is that they will help to also reduce the impacts of flooding which continue to plague many areas across the State.
In the Pennsylvania General Assembly, several bills are pending, with bipartisan support, to dedicate new funding to this effort at no additional cost to Pennsylvania taxpayers, using federal money provided to the Commonwealth for pandemic recovery.
Senate Bill 832 and House Bill 1901 would create a new Clean Streams Fund to allocate $250 million for efforts across the state. These bills would also establish two new programs that would provide for administration of the dollars at the local level by county conservation districts, with guidance from a local oversight committee and create a Clean Water Procurement program, which directs some of these dollars to innovative and cost-effective projects.
We look forward to working with our colleagues from across the state to finally turn the corner toward restoring a balance between productive, healthy farmlands and productive healthy waters throughout our Commonwealth.