HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) – In less than two months, Pennsylvania lawmakers will be required to finalize the state budget for Fiscal Year 2023-24. Wednesday, clean water advocates were at the state Capitol seeking funding increases for clean water initiatives, state parks and more as part of Clean Water Education Week.
“I think Presque Isle is very much connected to our cultural identity, our history, our economic identity as a region and definitely helps define who we are,” said Jenny Tompkins, the campaign manager for clean water advocacy with PennFuture based in the Lake Erie Watershed.
Tompkins hopes proposed funding increases for state park and forest maintenance and infrastructure in Governor Josh Shapiro’s budget will head to Pennsylvania’s most-visited state park.
“Presque Isle State Park is hopefully going to get a nice and fair share of the 112 million that was outlined,” said Tompkins. “It was great that everybody spent a lot of time outdoors during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it also meant that it put a lot of stress on our state park system,” Tompkins added.
In addition to state parks, Tompkins says promoting the health and vitality of watersheds, like Lake Erie, is paramount. But healthier watersheds start with Pennsylvania’s 86,000 miles of waterways and tributaries, and the programs that protect them, like the Clean Streams Fund- the first dedicated state fund for clean water.
“What the Clean Streams Fund does, is it actually tackles the three largest sources of water pollution in Pennsylvania: acid mine drainage, agriculture and urban stormwater runoff. And there’s no additional appropriation for that fund this year,” said Tompkins.
The Clean Streams Fund was created in last year’s budget with $220 million from the American Rescue Plan Act. It established the Agricultural Conservation Assistance Program and the Urban Municipal Stormwater Program. Tompkins would like to see funding boosts for the programs.
“Additional injections of funding for those I think would be critical,” said Tompkins.
However, recurring funding levels for the Clean Streams Fund are uncertain.
“All of that is sort of open to negotiation,” said Representative Joe Webster (D-Montgomery), who rallied with advocates for the fund and similar clean water initiatives today in Harrisburg.
“The endgame is clean water, less flooding and erosion, healthy creek beds and buffers,” said Webster. “We all know that the health and welfare of the community in Pennsylvania, historically and today, is based on the health of those streams and clean water,” he added.
Webster says it’s time to address decades of pollution and neglect for waterways, as well as underfunded state parks.
“It’s not in a good spot now, we definitely need more, we need the big plan. It’s capital investments in our parks, because it’s been 20 years of sort of neglect,” said Webster. “We have to dream that we can do these things.”
Advocates today also discussed the need to codify environmental justice offices through the Department of Environmental Protection.
Senate Republicans sponsored the legislation to establish the Clean Streams Fund last year.
“The Clean Streams Fund puts money into action by correcting decades of non-point source pollution with innovative solutions, like farming cooperatives, without demanding a single cent from taxpayers,” said Senator Gene Yaw (R-23). “Senate Republicans championed this historic $220 million investment last session that will provide a roadmap for Pennsylvania to meet our clean water goals. Through this legislation, our caucus again delivers on protecting Pennsylvanians’ constitutional right to clean water,” Yaw added.