Sunday, May 23, 2010

Preserving waterways likely to be tougher as Pennsylvania funding evaporates


By Chris Ramirez
Saturday, May 22, 2010

Keeping the region's waterways clean could get tougher because the state is losing its biggest bundle of money for environmental restoration, a former state Department of Environmental Protection secretary said Friday.

David E. Hess, a consultant for a Harrisburg government relations firm, told the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy that the state's $1.3 billion Growing Greener program is projected to run out of money this year. That isn't the DEP's only problem. One-fifth of the agency's staff has been reduced since 2003 because of budget cuts.

"The state simply won't have the capacity to take care of its watersheds the same way," said Hess, who served as secretary from 2001-03 under former Gov. Tom Ridge. "You're looking at the wheels coming off."

.......Conservancy officials celebrated environmental protection victories since the 1950s, when pollution from steel-making and coal-mining industries made orange- and brown-colored rivers commonplace.

"It took us decades to get where we've gotten to today ... and it will take us decades to get where we want," said Nick Pinizzotto, senior director of the conservancy's Watershed Conservation and Conservation Services.

Populations of freshwater drum and 52 species of mussels, each at one point considered endangered, have begun to flourish in the Clarion and Allegheny rivers, respectively, said Charles Bier, the conservancy's senior director of conservation sciences.

Specimens of the Eastern Hellbender salamander tested in Little Mahoning Creek in Indiana County and Tubmill Creek in Westmoreland County weighed more and seemed healthier overall, said Eric Chapman, director of aquatic sciences for the conservancy. He said the findings suggest creek water is cleaner and abundant in food sources.

"You have to have good quality conditions for these animals to survive," Chapman said.