Spring Creek Watershed Commission Discussion of Proposed “One Water Plan” – Tonight in Bellefonte

The Spring Creek Watershed Commission will meet on Wednesday, May 15 at 7 p.m. at Bellefonte Council Chambers, 236 West Lamb Street.

On the agenda is an “educational topic: roundtable discussion” of the proposed “One Water Plan.”

The Spring Creek Watershed Commission is governed by an intermunicipal agreement adopted in 2007. Current municipalities participating in the Spring Creek Watershed Commission, and their representatives, include:

Bellefonte Borough – Joanne Tosti-Vasey

Benner Township – Tim Robinson

College Township – Bill Sharp

Ferguson Township – Peter Buckland

Halfmoon Township – Bob Strouse

Harris Township – Dennis Hameister

Milesburg Borough – Unknown

Patton Township – Chris Hurley

Potter Township – Unknown

Spring Township – Bill McMath

State College Borough – Janet Engeman

Walker Township – Don Franson

The Draft Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document reprinted below was written by Cory Miller, University Area Joint (Sewer) Authority Executive Director, and Jason Detar, Pa Fish and Boat Commission, with some input from members of the Spring Creek Watershed Commission’s technical working group for the One-Water Plan proposal (list below). The technical working group reviewed and discussed the FAQs at their May 7 meeting. The Phase 2 report and FAQ document are to be considered pending until formally accepted by the Spring Creek Watershed Commission, which will review both documents at its May 15 meeting…”

The following individuals were present at the May 7 Technical Working Group meeting: Janie French, Headwaters Charitable Trust/Spring Creek Watershed Commission (consultant leading “one water plan” process); Dennis Hameister, SCWC Chairman, Harris Township SCWC rep and Harris Township Supervisor; Joanne Tosti-Vasey, SCWC member (Bellefonte rep) and Bellefonte Borough Council Chair; Bill Sharp, SCWC member (College Township rep); Cory Miller, UAJA Executive Director; Jason Detar, Pa Fish and Boat Commission; Jon Eaton, Bellefonte Borough Council; John Balay, Susquehanna River Basin Commission (Manager, Planning and Operations); David Swisher, Penn State University (wastewater utility engineer); David Roberts, Nittany Valley Environmental Commission rep; Terry Melton, ClearWater Conservancy and Nittany Valley Environmental Coalition rep; and Caitlin Teti, Spring Creek Watershed Commission Communications Director

Spring Creek Watershed One Water Plan – Frequently Asked Questions – May 10, 2019 DRAFT

What is a One Water Plan? 

A One Water Plan develops partnerships among local governments and other stakeholders in developing a prioritized, targeted and measurable implementation plan. Key principles are planning at the watershed scale and aligning local and state plans and strategies. One Water Plans aredesigned to foster collaboration between upstream and downstream neighbors to work where it’s most important in the watershed, not limited to the county or other jurisdictional boundaries. Plans identify and prioritize resources and issues and set measurable goals. A targeted implementation schedule describes planned actions. Plans also describe programs and the future partnership that will implement the plan. Plans are comprehensive: they address water quality and quantity, groundwater, drinking water, habitat, recreation, and other issues. Collaboration between local, state, and federal agencies creates opportunities for dialogue about water management goals and activities, and coordinates the work of various regulatory bodies and agencies, not regulate their work. A One Water Plan is not an effort to change local governance but to integrate management and leadership.

Why a “One Water” plan?[“Value Statement”]

One Water believes that all water  drinking water, groundwater, wastewater, stormwater, and greywater – is a precious resource with enormous value. The world’s fresh water is limited, but must sustain all life. Water grows our food and powers our economies, especially those that are dependent on water-centered tourism such as fly-fishing. One Water wants to unite diverse water-concerned entities precisely because they share a closed system – the watershed –  and will help address watershed-wide challenges such as aging infrastructure and climate change. With a holistic- and sustainability-oriented philosophy, One Water seeks to protect the value of our water for us and our children.

What are the goals of the plan that benefit all municipalities and the environment?

  • Improve and maintain a high quality of life
  • Increase community engagement
  • Advance thriving local economy
  • Develop innovative solutions to meet water needs
  • Improve and maintain healthy ecosystems
  • Conserve ecosystem flows
  • Improve water quality
  • Ensure that a reliable water supply is available
  • Promote outdoor and water-based recreation
  • Enhance emergency preparedness
  • Prevent erosion and soil transport into surface water systems
  • Restore, protect, and preserve natural surface water and groundwater storage and retention systems
  • Minimize public capital expenditures needed to correct flooding and water quality problems
  • Enhance, restore, and establish wetlands
  • Identify priority areas for riparian zone management and buffers
  • Conserve and enhance fish and wildlife habitat

What is “Environmental Infrastructure”?

When we think of infrastructure, we usually think of large, expensive projects to support human activity such as roads, bridges, public transportation systems, drinking water supply systems (wells, reservoirs, pipes, pumps, etc.), sewer systems (sewers, pumps, treatment systems, etc.), airports, railroads, etc. Similarly, Environmental Infrastructure is the system of environmental resources that supports human activity. For the purposes of a One Water Plan, the ecological infrastructure is the managed system of streams, wetlands, riparian zones, springs, groundwater, sinks, surface flow, etc.  It interacts with the water-related infrastructure built by human action. Just like other infrastructure, environmental infrastructure can be improved to increase its capacity by restoring and enhancing natural systems.  For example, flood plains can be restored, expanded and enhanced to manage downstream flooding better.  Storage projects can ensure that there is adequate drinking water supply and flow in streams, even during periods of prolonged drought.

Why aren’t mandatory, enforceable standards a priority of a One Water Plan?

Over the past year, the framework for a “Spring Creek Watershed One Water Plan” has been developed under the direction of the Spring Creek Watershed Commission. This proactive framework includes goals and objectives that clearly describe what the One Water Plan needs to accomplish in the next phase of its development. Development of the framework and objectives comprises the Phase II Report; It was guided by input from local municipalities, businesses and industry, state and federal agencies, non-profits, and the public.

Until recently, watershed planning has often been an attempt to reduce the impacts of growth and development on the environment.   It is viewed as a zero-sum game, where the environment is slowly degraded to allow for more human activity, with limited or no investments made to conserve, improve, and increase the resiliency of the environment. Most Federal, State and Local regulations are reactive and assume that it is a zero-sum game.  That assumption is incorrect and is why the One Water approach provides a more beneficial solution by taking a proactiveapproach to water management.  Significant investment is made to water-related projects to increase the environmental resiliency so that as growth happens, the watershed gets healthier. The growth produces enough funding to pay for the projects. 

Incentives are a key component of successful One Water Plans. Rather than passing ordinances to restrict property owners from taking actions on their property that might be a water supply area, or a riparian area, or a flood plain, the plan identifies ways to provide incentives to make them want to do it voluntarily. If the plan determines that a collection of parcels is vital to the drinking water supply, then the land could ultimately be purchased and conserved for this purpose.  With a great One Water Plan, it will be easy for each municipality, municipal authority, business, and private citizen to decide to participate, without being mandated by regulations. A One Water Plan minimizes the need for mandatory enforceable standards, which makes a One Water Plan easier to adopt.

What will be included in the Phase III Plan?

The Phase III Plan will develop the roadmap with specific actions and milestones to achieve objectives identified in Phase II and will provide a picture of the future environmental infrastructure and the other water-related infrastructure.  It will project at least 50 years into the future and will provide a list of projects needed to advance from the existing to the future system of infrastructure that supports the goals and objectives from the Phase II Report.  It will also include an estimate of the cost of each project, how it will be funded, and which entity or entities are responsible for the project. The plan may also include recommendations about changes in organizational structure to facilitate the implementation of the projects.

A One Water Plan avoids one of the biggest pitfalls of entities acting alone looking for the “low hanging fruit” projects that give a sizable environmental return for a small cost.  Sometimes, these projects get in the way of a project or series of projects that can have even more significant long term benefits.  For example, a riparian tree planting project or streambank stabilization project may provide significant benefit for low cost, but would then be in the way of a flood plain restoration project that would have even greater long term impact.  A One Water Plan will help ensure that the projects proceed in the correct order.

$500,000 plus administrative costs is a lot for the Phase III Plan. How can the entities in the Spring Creek Watershed afford this?

Typical costs for a One Water Plan are $300,000 to $500,000 for consultants that specialize in water resources planning.  There are also administrative costs for whatever entity is selected to handle the administration of the contract with the consultants.  Finally, the organizations that are routinely involved with water resources management within the watershed will also have costs, because the consultants will need information from each body to complete the plan.

Over the next 20 years, it is likely that the entities in the watershed, acting independently without the Phase III Plan, will spend more than $200 Million on the water-related infrastructure projects.  Those projects are being developed independently, without consideration of how they fit into the entire watershed, and without consideration of any cooperative solutions.  For less than one percent of that cost, the entities could work together on a One Water Plan.  Working together will ensure that the millions being spent would be in the best interest of the watershed, and thus be the most effective projects to meet the needs.  It is likely that the One Water Plan will identify solutions that result in less money being spent. Additionally, the investment in developing a One Water Plan will also benefit the local economy by maintaining and improving outdoor recreation including wild trout fishing, kayaking, etc. which contributes millions of dollars annually. It is estimated that wild trout fishing in the Spring Creek Watershed alone contributes $10-15 million to the local economy each year.

Who Pays for the implementation of the Phase III Plan?

There will be projects thatare specific to one entity.  In that case, it is likely that a single entity contributes towards that project.  Some project will have multiple beneficiaries so that the project cost would be shared. Some projects may benefit a State or Federal agency so that they may contribute as well.  Participation is all voluntary, so no entity is forced to pay for something from which they don’t see any benefit.  The Phase III Plan will identify funding sources and any impacts it may have on individual entities.  Note that it is a 50-year plan.  There will be plenty of opportunities to explore additional funding sources, or even legislate funding sources at the State or Federal level for distant future projects.  Quality One Water Plans have resulted in measurable savings over what was going to be spent.  If that happens, the plan will suggest alternatives for applying the savings.

How do you get all these entities to cooperate?

There are many entities in the watershed, as listed in the Phase II Report.  Currently, each of those entities does what is best for them, or in the case of a public body (municipal authorities and municipalities), they do what they believe is in the best interest of their served communities. During the development of the Phase III Plan, those individual interests are respected and become part of the plan. As innovative solutions are developed to address water-related challenges, how those interests are served may change to meet their customer’s needs better.  For example, the Plan will look at how each entity meets those needs now, and how they will meet them in the future if they continue their current path of working independently.  The plan will identify potential alternatives to the current method of service, and the entity can compare their current and future path with the other options in the Plan. If the body is going to act in the best interest of their served community, they will accept the choice that most benefits their served community. It is possible that the result of the study will be that we already have accidentally discovered the best mix of projects for the benefit of each entity and the watershed as a whole.  However, it is much more likely that there is room for improvement.

Who is involved? 

Developing a plan involves a technical committee (which includes local, state, and federal agencies and other interested or affected parties), who make recommendations to the Spring Creek Watershed Commission, who then makes the decisions on the plan, including the selection of consultants.  A steering team facilitates the process and works with the consultants to help with technical analyses and plan writing. Local governments work together to leverage each other’s strengths to develop the watershed‐based plan. Planning partnerships establish: 

  • agreement on the expectations, benefits, and outcomes for implementing the plan;
  •  implementation activities that address the most significant threats to water resources and that provide the greatest environmental benefit; 
  • an understanding of the procedures for substituting or replacing all or portions of existing water plans; and 
  • an understanding of the next steps for coordinated funding and implementation. 

What goes into the One Water Plan?

Comprehensive One Water Plans contain:

  • A narrative describing the watershed’s land and water resources;
  • A summary of the priority issues and resource concerns;
  • Measurable goals for addressing each priority issue;
  • A targeted implementation schedule outlining actions, including infrastructure projects;
  • A description of the program(s) that will be used to implement the actions in the schedule;
  • A description of the partnership that will work together to implement the plan; and
  • Ultimately, the One Water Plan program encourages planners to look beyond individual water management projects – plans include programs that address education, recreation, soil health, monitoring, and more. The program also encourages local governments to move beyond jurisdictional boundaries to build regional partnerships and to seek out diverse funding sources.

Where can I find more information?

Program information is available at http://springcreekwatershedcommission.org.  

Key documents:

Phase I report: identified environmental challenges and solutions

Phase II report: developed the framework, vision, and objectives of the One Water Plan

Executive Summary Draft — Jan. 21, 2019

Executive Summary – One Water for Integrated Management of Water Resources

The fullreport can be reviewed at www.springcreekwatershedcommission.org

In early 2018 the Spring Creek Watershed Commission embarked on updating the Spring Creek Watershed Plan.  Phase 1 of the Spring Creek Watershed Management Plan entitled “Our Challenges and a Direction for the Future” was completed in 2003 and primarily focused on environmental challenges and solutions.  Phase 2 addresses a new way to address watershed challenges. These challenges can encompass many different aspects from environmental, socio economic, watershed scale, utility management, land use, political, population growth and climate change factors.  

According to the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, groundwater resources may beapproaching or exceeding the sustainable limit of the resource.  Spring Creek has an abundance of water but it is unevenly dispersed throughout the watershed causing loss of flow in headwater areas and low to no flow in some tributaries.   State College area is undergoing rapid growth and the nature of the growth has changed from residential and industrial to dominantly residential, educational, and commercial, with a more diverse employment base.  On average the population in the watershed has increased by 6.5% between 2010 and 2017 with a population reaching almost 131,000.   From a management perspective, there are many players (as many as 31 different entities including municipal and county governments, planning commissions, and water and sewage authorities as well as state and federal management agencies) making decisions about landuse and water.  

Phase 2 takes a proactive approach to solving the fragmented management of Spring Creek’s water resources.  The method, known as “One Water” manages water resources for long-term resilience and reliability to meet both community and ecosystem needs.  The One Water approach views all water—drinking water, wastewater, stormwater, grey water, watersheds and more—as resources that must be managed holistically and sustainably.  Doing so builds strong economies, vibrant communities, and healthy environments.  

Governance, regulations, finance, culture, and industry knowledge/capacity are often cited as barriers to achieving integrated water management. In addition, findings indicate that lack of a common vision, political will, urgency, systems thinking, and lack of ability to collect and share data between and among entities are underlying causes that can stagnate an integrated management approach. The One Water approach relies heavily on partnerships and inclusion, recognizing that progress will only be made when all stakeholders have a seat at the table. A diverse workgroup was established to develop guiding principles, goals, objectives, andmetrics for outcome-based solutions.

Phase 2 builds the framework for One Water by establishing goals leading to Phase 3 which will document the road map with specific actions and milestones to achieve outcomes over a time period ranging from short term to long term efforts. 

The three goals are as follows: 

Goals 1: Protect, Enhance and Sustain Healthy and Resilient Coldwater Stream Ecosystems. 

Goal 2: Maintain and improve water quality and quantity to sustainably meet the needs of the human community.

Goal 3: Integrate and Coordinate Management for Sustainability, Economic Growth, Recreation and Quality of Life.

Pending approval by the Spring Creek Watershed Commission, next steps leading to Phase 3 include: continue to convene the workgroup to begin drafting an RFP for technical services and a funding strategy for Phase 3. Implement a speaker’s educational series; use the SCWC website as a centralized information center and continue using the communications contractor for administrative support

More information at SCWC website.