Sunday, November 7, 2010

County Protects Important Watershed and Reservoirs in Northeastern Pennsylvania

"County’s steps to protect drinking water are touted

Urban calls land buys near reservoirs from ’03-’06 even more important in Shale era.


Though threats to Luzerne County’s drinking water from natural gas drilling have drawn the concern and ire of some residents, a county commissioner said the county has already taken steps to protect the drinking water of more than 70,000 county residents.
Times Leader Photo StoreBetween 2003 and 2006, Luzerne County used $4.2 million of a $5 million bond to purchase several thousand acres of property near the Crystal Lake and Ceasetown reservoirs.
County Commissioner Stephen A. Urban, the only sitting commissioner elected then, said the county purchased the property to protect the county’s natural resources.

“With the gas drilling and everything else going on, I think this is one thing we don’t have to be concerned about,” Urban said.

About 40,000 acres of land around the reservoirs was transferred in 1996 to Theta Land Corp. following the sale of Pennsylvania Gas and Water’s water division to Pennsylvania American Water Co. Theta was later sold to a private buyer, whom a Dauphin County grand jury in 2008 revealed to be Louis DeNaples, of Dunmore.
In 2003 the county bought 2,600 acres surrounding Crystal Lake and in 2008 transferred ownership of the land to the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The county also purchased about 1,000 acres around the Ceasetown Reservoir and Pike’s Creek, which – combined with land owned by the water company and state forest land – form a sizeable buffer around two of the county’s primary water supplies.

Urban said the development of the Marcellus Shale was not on the county’s radar at the time it purchased the land, but that the influx of gas drillers has made the need to protect municipal drinking water all the more urgent.

He said state and federal regulations protecting water supplies lack teeth because they do not provide for buffers around reservoirs and the creeks and streams feeding into them.

“Our legislators have been asleep, the Democrats and the Republicans,” Urban said. “They haven’t focused on protecting the land around reservoirs. … They seem to act only when a crisis develops. There’s no forward thinking. I think the county was forward thinking in this purchase.”

Though Theta maintained wind rights and the timber rights through 2028, mineral and gas rights were never severed, meaning the land remains off limits to drillers without the county’s approval.

The same is not true of one of the county’s other major reservoirs, the Huntsville Reservoir, Lehman Township, where several private, waterfront properties have been leased for natural gas drilling by EnCana Natural Gas.

Urban said he doesn’t know why the land around Huntsville Reservoir had been developed, but said he supports the county purchasing more land around the reservoir to create a buffer should the land ever go up for sale.

Pennsylvania American Water’s Ceasetown plant provides water for about 67,500 county residents in 16 municipalities, including the cities of Wilkes-Barre and Nanticoke.

The Crystal Lake plant provides water to 14,000 in Mountain Top and Rice, Fairview and Wright townships."
The above is not my work, the following are my comments:

1. We need to develop detailed watershed management and land developing plan - this would include detailed sourcewater protection plans for all reservoirs and major aquifers.

2. We need to put out signs and train individuals driving truck that contain hazardous chemicals, like gasoline, oil, fuels, etc about the proper response to a leak in these areas.  If possible, we should divert vehicles containing large quantities of potentially dangers chemicals to roadways that would less likely impact the reservoir directly.

3. We should limit land development by purchasing all rights including wind, development, gas, etc.  This land should be put in the hands of the people.   A portion of the funding to protect these lands should come from the Water Company that uses the water to serve residents in the vicinity of the reservoir and outside the watershed.

4. We should establish a real-time and citizen based watershed monitoirng effort and train citizens in the proper disposal of hazardous waste and pharmalogical waste.

5. We should limit the use of road salt and deicing agents in areas that are highly vulnerable to impact.

6. If necessary, we should install detention basins upgradient of the reservoir in cases where there is an activity that may have a direct impact on the reservoir.

7. There may be a need to change the practices of individuals and businesses that currently exist in areas within the watershed that are vulnerable to contamination.

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