A note from Oliver Bass, President of Natural Lands
Water is central to Natural Lands’ work preserving open space and caring for nature across eastern Pennsylvania, whether at our network of 43 nature preserves or on more than 400 other permanently preserved properties. Often, land’s ecological value is based on the streams and rivers that run through it, and we know that every acre saved as open space means cleaner drinking water and additional natural flood prevention for those downstream.
Pennsylvania is faced with a unique opportunity. The recent passage of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 provides the Commonwealth with $7 billion in federal funds. Natural Lands and our colleagues across the state are advocating that a portion of this money—at least $500 million—should be invested in our state’s water resources which in turn support jobs, contribute to a vibrant recreation economy, and supply our drinking water.
We are fortunate to live in a water rich state with 86,000 miles of streams. With that abundance of resources, however, comes the responsibility to invest—and it is an investment that garners wide, bipartisan support in poll after poll across the state. In the fall of 2020, a poll commissioned by Conservation Voters of PA and the Growing Greener Coalition showed that nearly 90 percent of voters support funding for Pennsylvania’s land, water, and wildlife, even during the economic downturn of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Currently, one-third of Pennsylvania’s streams are polluted—unsafe for drinking, swimming, and fishing. Municipalities face huge costs for municipal storm water management. Farmers badly need help to design and implement conservation practices like forested stream buffers to keep soil and nutrients on the land instead of running into the water. Lack of investment in flood prevention leaves many Pennsylvanians highly vulnerable to loss of property and life.
Funding these needs out of the American Rescue Plan is a great fit. These are capital investments, not expenditures that have to be repeated (and supported out of the state general fund) after the federal money is gone. Dedicated funding mechanisms like the Clean Streams Fund and a reinvigorated Growing Greener III program, which have been put forth in recent months through co-sponsor memoranda, could help us capitalize on this opportunity and make lasting change.
American Rescue Plan dollars applied to green infrastructure would support myriad small businesses and good-paying jobs with them. Projects involve surveyors, appraisers, legal services, engineers, planners, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and heavy equipment operators, among others. Supplies and equipment are needed from nurseries, lumber yards, quarries, building material suppliers, hardware stores, equipment manufacturers, and equipment rental businesses.
Increased investments for our water resources are required. Now is the time to act. If you agree, please take a moment to contact your state senator and representative and ask them to support the use of American Rescue Plan Act funds in this year’s budget.