U.S. Water News Online
HARRISBURG, Pa. -- The state's new environmental chief has
a message for Pennsylvanians -- there isn't water, water, everywhere,
and it's time to thin k about ensuring that everyone has a drop to
David E. Hess, the new secretary of the Department of
Environmental Protection, estimated that fewer than one-half of 1
percent of Pennsylvania municipalities know how much water they have
available and how much they use.
After droughts in four of the last six years, Hess is making water
resources a priority on his agenda in the remaining 19 months of the
``You have sort of symptoms all over the place of water issues
that no one is really dealing with in a coordinated way,'' he said.
Hershey geologist Richard Wright said water consumption in
Pennsylvania is like someone withdrawing from a bank account without
knowing the balance. Only in a drought year, when the ``account'' is
overdrawn, does anyone seem to think about the water supply, he said.
``We absolutely do not know (Pennsylvania's) water budget,''
``We don't know if there will be enough water for the next housing
development (or) power plant,'' watershed conservation director
Stuart Gansell admitted at a forum in Harrisburg.
With new development, the amount of water used per person has
risen 1,200 percent over the last 100 years, and water resources have
also been strained by frequent droughts. Officials are hampered by a
25-year-old state water plan and a 62-year-old law that addresses
only a small number of users.
Deputy secretary for water management Lawrence C. Tropea Jr. said
the first step will be to determine the state's water resources. To
that end, the department has been holding 15 water forums wound up
``Once we paint that picture accurately, then we really need to
look at what are the water uses today and what will they be in the
future and then do the math,'' Tropea said.
About 1,000 people have attended the hearings, and people across
the state have said they are not satisfied with the current
situation, he said. After the public comment is analyzed, the
department will look at making some regulatory and policy changes and
may seek some legislative solutions to improve water resource
``There certainly is a problem in some parts of the state already,
and I think there's a developing problem statewide,'' said Robert
Wendelgass, state director for the environmental group Clean Water
In the Southeastern Pennsylvania Ground Water Protected Area,
established in 1980 and encompassing 127 municipalities in Berks,
Bucks, Chester, Lehigh and Montgomery counties, assessments have
established that withdrawals of water exceed the supply or threaten
to do so, Wendelgass said. About 1 million residents in the area rely
The situation is better in the middle of the state, said executive
vice president Ted Gayman of Eichelberger's Inc., which drilled about
1,400 wells last year. He said there has probably been a slight
increase in the number of wells that go dry or need deepening every
year, ``but it has not been real significant.''
The state now sets no standards on private well drilling, although
legislation was recently introduced to set minimum statewide
construction standards for wells. Pennsylvania ranks second in the
nation in number of wells, and 10,000 new ones are drilled annually.
The state plans a conservation campaign this fall to promote such
technology as low-flush toilets and low-flow shower heads, officials
``We want to make water conservation a personal ethic for people,
just like recycling is,'' Tropea said.
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