Conservation Coalition highlights water issues

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Nearly 40 people made it to the Laurel Highlands Conservation Coalition conference on April 23 despite a blizzard that dumped up to a foot of snow on the ridgetops and closed two of the main roads into Ligonier.

Those who braved the weather learned that 1.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water and 2.6 billion people live in areas without sanitary sewer systems.  Dr. Leonard Konikow, an international expert on water supplies who works for the U.S. Geological Service called groundwater “the hidden resource” that supplies drinking water to 50 percent of the U.S. population, including 41 percent in Pennsylvania.

In some regions, groundwater is being used faster than it is being recharged and levels are declining at a rate that is not sustainable – we’ll simply deplete these sources in time.  Even where conservation efforts have stabilized the amount of water being used, the depletion continues, Dr. Konikow said. 

“The tragedy of the commons” occurs where there are no regulations governing water withdrawals because anyone selling that water has an incentive to withdraw it now rather than wait until it’s gone. The result is that we collectively we use up the resource faster.

Worldwide, he said, 13 percent of the rise in sea level is from declining levels of ground water, making groundwater depletion "an increasing and non-trivial cause" of the rising sea levels, which are also being affected by melting ice caps attributed to global warming.

The need to regulate water withdrawals in Western Pennsylvania was discussed.  Chuck Duritisa, chairman of the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO), said eight of the 14 states that have land draining to the Ohio are currently considering a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that would support a study of the issue.

Duritsa was optimistic that Pennsylvania will sign onto the MOU, but was not sure about other states.  States with more agriculture, such as Indiana, have been especially hesitant.  He predicted that no multi-state water-withdrawal regulations will be approved in the Ohio Basin until a serious proposal arises to pipe large amounts of water from the Ohio River to a deep South state with water in short supply.

In Pennsylvania, in the Delaware Basin, any proposal to withdraw 100,000 gallons of water per day must be reviewed and approved, and in the Susquehanna Basin, any proposal to withdraw more than 20,000 gallons per day must be approved.

The program included these presentations, which are linked where available:

Date Posted: 
Mon, 2012-04-30