Pennsylvania Lawmakers, Groups Urge Forested Streamside Buffers

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, June 18, 2008 (ENS) – A proposal that would require all new developments in Pennsylvania to protect rivers and streams on their properties with a forested strip of land at least 100 feet wide was presented today to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, DEP. The Pennsylvania Campaign for Clean Water launched the proposal under the banner “Buffers 100.”

Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper, explains, “If we are to protect our communities from flooding, drought and pollution, if we are to provide our communities with high quality drinking water, recreation, and growing businesses, it is critical we protect our streams and rivers with forested buffers that are a minimum of 100 feet wide, and greater where we have more sensitive streams.”

The proposal requesting the DEP propose new regulations requiring the buffers has been endorsed by 110 citizens groups, businesses and municipal organizations from across the state, along with 25 legislators from both parties and both chambers of the General Assembly.

A forested streamside buffer zone
in Maine (Photo courtesy Maine DEP)

The proposal would apply to new development only and could not affect existing structures within the buffer zone. Buffers would be built and maintained by developers, at no cost to taxpayers.

State director for the nonprofit Clean Water Action Myron Arnowitt says 12,500 miles of streams in Pennsylvania are already degraded by pollution. “Buffers can help restore many of these streams to health and protect the rest from harmful pollution,” he said.

Tavis Dockwiller, a landscape architect from Viridian Landscape Studio, described how streams would benefit from buffers. “Through a lack of understanding about how important protecting our streams is, we have paved over and otherwise abused our watersheds. We must stop making the same mistakes.”

“One hundred foot minimum stream buffers are not a luxury of environmentalists but instead are necessary to protect our health and safety,” he said. “These buffers protect and clean our water, and reduce both flood damage and the cost of stormwater management.”

Andy Paravis of the Federation of Northern Chester County Municipalities noted that his township, North Coventry, has already adopted a 100 foot buffer requirement and has seen positive benefits from it. But he said, “The state needs to require buffers on all streams since water doesn’t respect municipal boundaries and we’re all affected by what the municipality upstream does.”

State Representative Kate Harper, a Montgomery Republican, said, “We have only recently become aware of how our use of nearby land affects the quality and quantity of water and aquatic life in our rivers and streams. With that knowledge comes a responsibility to define for the entire Commonwealth a safe buffer area for Pennsylvania waterways so that we can continue to enjoy the benefits of clean water for generations to come.”

“Mother Nature needs a buffer zone. We need a buffer zone,” said Rep. Camille George, a Clearfield Democrat. “There is nothing extreme about this except for extreme common sense.”

Rep. Robert Freeman, a Northampton Democrat, agreed, saying, “Establishing riparian buffers along our Commonwealth’s waterways is critical to protecting the quality and availability of water across Pennsylvania, enhancing our environment, and mitigating the potential for destructive flooding.”

The three legislators were joined by other members of the House and Senate who demonstrated their support for the Buffers 100 proposal by urging the DEP to propose regulations that would require minimum 100 foot buffers.

So far, DEP Secretary Kathleen McGinty has not responded to their request.

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