Ongoing Issues & Problems in Autumn 2017

     Like riverkeepers everywhere, the Quittapahilla Watershed Association seeks to improve the water quality of our watershed by first being clear about the main problems & issues it faces.  Powell's 2006 study offers a thorough and compelling analysis of those problems & issues and a clear path forward for addressing them.  (Right:  click on icon to enter portal to materials on pipelines in Lebanon County).

     On this page we build on Powell's discussion to briefly outline what we see as the major problems & issues our watershed confronts today and into the foreseeable future; the most viable strategies for mitigating them; and resources one might tap into for learning more.  The discussion here is by no means comprehensive, but we hope it is provocative, useful & helpful.

     We focus on six main issues:

1.  Urban Stormwater Contamination

2.  Agricultural Contamination

3.  Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System Issues (MS4)

4.  Public Indifference & Apathy

5.  Inadequate & Inapt Laws & Regulations

6.  The Fracking Revolution & the Proposed "Atlantic Sunrise" Natural Gas Pipeline

     In what remains of this page we briefly address each of these spheres and suggest resources for learning more.

URBAN STORMWATER CONTAMINATION

      The photo at right, a fairly typical scene along Quittie Creek, only begins to suggest the dizzying variety of human-produced toxic substances that make their way into the Quittapahilla mainstem as a result of urban runoff, mainly from the City of Lebanon. 

      Every street, driveway, and parking lot in this city of 26,000 drains directly into the Quittie.  The result is not only systematic contamination by stuff that floats and that you can see, like Styrofoam, wrappers, bags, bottles, cigarette butts (clustered at lower right in the photo), juice boxes, lighters, shoes, toys, and endless other pieces of petroleum-based plastic -- what the Quittapahilla Creek Garbage Museum features in its exhibitions and calls "rogue garbage" (trash that escapes the conventional waste stream). 

      Uncounted toxic substances invisible to the naked eye also wash into the creek from city streets, driveways & parking lots:  oil, grease, power steering fluid, brake fluid, and other toxic residue from cars & trucks; drugs from discarded pharmaceuticals; herbicides, pesticides & fertilizers from lawns & gardens; detergents from people washing their cars; pet waste; road salts; the spills that the local newspaper reports in the Police Log almost every day (under the heading "spill control," and usually without naming the contaminant).  Car tires sit at the bottom of the creek slowly decomposing, as does electronic waste, iron, and other metals and toxic substances.

      We don't really know the extent of such contamination, but we do know it's huge, ongoing, and systemic.  No scientific studies on urban runoff into the Quittie have ever been conducted, and Lebanon County's wastewater treatment plants do not test or treat for the vast majority of human-produced toxins.  We also know that the Chesapeake Bay is being choked by the constant infusion of such contaminants from hundreds of creeks like the Quittie.

    Do viable solutions exist?  The city could sweep its streets more often, and make a special point to sweep at certain key seasonal moments -- especially right after the snowbanks melt but before the first big spring rainstorm.  Municipalities and new developments could install, clean & maintain filters on the storm drains, and conduct public education & outreach campaigns to encourage residents to clean the small sections of street in front of their homes & businesses.  Corporations could be compelled to pay a tax on each of the zillions of pieces of throwaway plastic they produce, or to offer redemptions for returned wrappers & packaging, though passage of such a tax plan in PA is highly unlikely.  Plastic bags could be outlawed altogether, as in California -- though such a ban would likely never become law, given the immense power of industry lobbies.  If past experience is any guide, market-based solutions can at best tinker around the edges of the problem.

      In light of tight municipal budgets, the crushing power of industry lobbies, and the severe limitations of market-based initiatives, the only viable solution that we can see -- one that would also be virtually cost-free -- would be for thousands of ordinary people throughout the watershed to become more mindful of their trash disposal habits, routinely clean up the urban debris that accumulates in front of their homes & businesses, and, over time, integrate into their consciousness an urban land ethic à la Aldo Leopold

      In sum, the most viable solution to the problem of contaminated urban runoff in the Quittie is, in our view, working to develop & nurture greater mindfulness among a critical mass of the citizenry, especially in Lebanon City.  We need to do more to educate people -- a requisite first step in changing their behavior.

RESOURCES:

•  Quittapahilla Creek Garbage Museum.  Locally, the organization that has done the most to document the stunning variety of plastic & other types of trash in the Quittapahilla watershed is the Quittapahilla Creek Garbage Museum, backyard of 8 East High St., Annville PA; see the QCGM Facebook page, at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Quittapahilla-Creek-Garbage-Museum/182372358478777

•  Environmental Protection Agency.  The federal Environmental Protection Agency has a very useful set of pages on urban runoff, at http://water.epa.gov/polwaste/nps/urban.cfm  and http://water.epa.gov/polwaste/nps/urban_facts.cfm

•  Wikipedia.  The Wikipedia page on Urban Runoff offers an excellent overview of the problem:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urban_runoff  

•  Natural Resources Defense Council.   A very useful discussion, with further references, can be found on the NRDC website, at http://www.nrdc.org/water/pollution/storm/chap3.asp

AGRICULTURAL CONTAMINATION

Content is forthcoming. 

 

 

MUNICIPAL SEPARATE STORMWATER SEWER SYSTEM ISSUES (MS4)

Content is forthcoming.

 

 

PUBLIC INDIFFERENCE & APATHY

      If you stop & ask an average US citizen what watershed they live in, chances are very good that they don't know.  Indeed, most Americans don't understand the concept of a watershed  (see "Watersheds — An Important But Often 'Impenetrable' Idea" by Kevin J. Coyle, President of the National Environmental Education & Training Foundation, Nov. 1999, at http://www.neefusa.org/pdf/watershedfinal.pdf).

     This widespread public indifference, apathy, and ignorance comprises one of the most important and, to borrow from Kevin J. Coyle, "impenetrable" obstacles to improving the water quality in the Quittapahilla watershed specifically, and all US watersheds generally.

     How do we get more people to pay attention to such things?  How do we get watershed issues on the public radar screen?  How do we encourage ordinary people to care?

     All we can do is try.  Education must start with young people -- the younger, the better.  Kindergartners ought to be learning about watersheds -- their brains are certainly mature enough to understand the concept.  Public schools ought to be integrating learning units on watersheds and the rudiments of ecological science into K-12 curricula:  the difference between a river and a lake, for instance; the hydrological cycle; food chains; the mutual dependency of organisms; how ocean currents work; the world's five Great Oceanic Garbage Patches and how they got there -- basic information that all citizens should know.

     MS4 has a "public education & outreach" component that ought to be taken more seriously by municipalities.  The Lebanon County Clean Water Alliance, as part of its MS4 initiatives, has sponsored a number of advertisement campaigns in the local newspaper (see LCCWA on this website).  But these seem more intended to gain the necessary credits for municipalities' MS4 programs than as serious & sustained efforts to educate the public about watershed issues.  Few kids read newspapers, and the sad fact is, not many adults do either.

     Penn State Extension's Watershed Education Programs are a good start, but need to be supplemented by more local initiatives.  The Quittapahilla Creek Garbage Museum in Annville hosts field trips by local schools, to help kids learn that "what's in the street ends up in the creek."  But such initiatives only touch a tiny percentage of the school-age population.  Little plaques on stormwater drains that read "NO DUMPING • DRAINS TO STREAM," like the one at right along Main Street in Annville, also help raise public awareness, though there aren't enough of them -- every storm drain in the county ought to carry this little emblem or one like it, but right now only a tiny fraction do.

     Public signage, like "You are in the Quittapahilla Watershed" and "Garbage in the Street = Garbage in the Chesapeake Bay" ought to be peppered throughout the City of Lebanon.  These needn't be big or obtrusive -- the size of a "No Parking" sign would do.  A half-dozen or so large billboards, especially around the City of Lebanon and financed through grants, ought to feature watershed-related content. 

      There is so much that could be done.  We need to be creative, aggressive, and relentless in working to raise public consciousness about these issues.

 

RESOURCES:

•  The Environmental Protection Agency features a useful set of resources on its website, at http://water.epa.gov/learn/training/wacademy/toprelated.cfm

•  The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation & Natural Resources (PA-DCNR) also features a useful set of watershed education materials, at http://www.watersheded.dcnr.state.pa.us/

•  The Susquehanna Watershed Education Program (SWEP), sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, offers a series of educational day programs for young people; as described in their "Program Overview," "These hands-on adventures introduce participants to the complex relationship between land use and aquatic habitats, local water quality, and the health of the Bay. They promote a deeper understanding of environmental issues, and motivate future leaders to take action to improve the water in their communities and beyond."  See http://www.cbf.org/join-us/education-programs/one-day-field-programs/susquehanna-watershed-education-program


 

 

INADEQUATE LAWS & REGULATIONS

Content forthcoming.

 

 

THE FRACKING REVOLUTION & THE PROPOSED "ATLANTIC SUNRISE" NATURAL GAS PIPELINE

      The Quittapahilla watershed sits in the crosshairs of the fracking revolution in Pennsylvania -- not as a fracking field, thankfully, since the Marcellus Shale doesn't doesn't extend this far south, but as a transit point whose lands & waters the oil & gas industry envisions as being honeycombed with underground natural gas pipelines in the very near future.  Here the fracking revolution will be experienced as a pipeline revolution -- a latticework of pipelines orders of magnitude bigger & more extensive than anything this area has ever seen.

     The spearhead of this pipeline revolution in Lebanon County is Williams Partners' proposed 42-inch, 1,480 p.s.i. Atlantic Sunrise pipeline (a.k.a. Central Penn Line South), the subject of considerable controversy since Williams announced its proposal to build this behemoth of a pipeline in early 2014.  With its Orwellian-sounding name, the proposed pipeline is essentially a shortcut from the fracking fields of northern & western PA to processing & export facilities on the East & Gulf Coasts. The image below, a screenshot of Williams' webpage on this $2.1 billion project, shows the proposed 178-mile north-south pipeline route in red:

      The route of the proposed pipeline in Lebanon County is sketched out on the map at right (click on the map to view full, higher-resolution image).  As can be seen, this massive pipeline is projected to cross Swatara Creek and the Quittapahilla mainstem in North Annville Township, and Gingrich Run in South Annville Township.

      The exact route has jumped around a lot in the past year or so, mainly because there is no safe corridor for this pipeline to cross Route 422.  To the east lie Lebanon & Cleona and a continuously occupied commercial & residential corridor all the way to Annville.  Just to the west of Annville lies Annville Township's Wastewater Treatment Plant.  Then a little space opens up before we hit Pennsy Supply's huge quarry, and then an uncrossable series of population centers, from Palmyra to Hershey to Harrisburg . . .  Where to put this thing?

     This bottleneck has compelled Williams' engineers to try & pinpoint the least bad corridor across Route 422.  In fall 2014, Williams' maps showed the pipeline crossing about 50 feet due east of Annville's Wastewater Treatment Plant (the property is owned by Annville Township but is located in North Annville Township).  Annville Township formally asked Williams to move the proposed route further away from this $13 million piece of vital public infrastructure, and voted unanimously to oppose the Atlantic Sunrise project from being located anywhere in the township.  At this point, Williams engineers toyed with the idea of nudging the pipeline east, toward Annville, before they decided to re-route it a few hundred yards west, paralleling Clear Spring Road in North Annville Township along the western edge of a 31-acre, multi-million dollar retail mall & commercial development currently under construction at Rt. 422 & Clear Spring Road, called Clear Spring Crossing.

     The maps below show the most recent siting of the pipeline (June 2015), plucked from materials submitted by Williams to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) as part of the approval & permitting process.  The first map shows the pipeline crossing Route 422 at Clear Spring Road, right next to Pennsy Supply's office complex (opaquely visible as green area with buildings, driveways & parking lots).  The second map shows the "Sheet 95" referenced in the first map.  Here we see the pipeline paralleling Clear Spring Road till it takes a sharp rightward (eastward) turn at Syner Road, just before it crosses Quittie Creek.  Click on images to view higher-resolution maps.

     The map below shows the route of the proposed pipeline and other relevant features superimposed on a GoogleMap of this area; click on the map for a higher-resolution image (© Google 2015).

 

      The pipeline is now projected to skirt the western perimeter of the Clear Spring Crossing mall -- something the mall's developers likely find more than a little disconcerting. 

      We in the QWA are more concerned with the the possible effects of the proposed pipeline on the health & safety of the watershed and the people who live in it.  So I hoofed it down to Clear Spring Rd & Syner Rd, where the route jogs to the east, to take a peek at where the pipeline is projected to burrow under Quittie Creek.  Pennsy's oversize & ominous looking "No Trespassing" sign would dissuade just about anyone from plunging into the woods from the south side of the creek.

 

       So I followed the little private road on the north bank.  The photos below show the low-lying, flood-prone area the pipeline is projected to traverse -- part of a sheep pasture on the north bank, looking over to woods on the south bank.  By my reckoning, the sandbar in the middle of the creek in the photo below lies directly in the projected path of the pipeline.

     Yellow & blue ribbons with coded markings were found in the surrounding open forest honeycombed with sheep paths -- ribbons tied to bits of sticks attached to nothing in particular and apparently placed there very recently. 

 

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     A recently placed & anchored orange surveying ribbon was also found amidst the sheep turds & floodwater debris: 

 

      So this is the little patch of woods surrounding Quittie Creek along the route of the projected Atlantic Sunrise pipeline project.  Needless to say, the QWA has an abiding interest in this project, which we'll keep a close eye on in the coming months and, if we're unlucky, years.

     Below:  Looking past two sets of yellow-and-blue ribbons, tied to flimsy little sticks on the ground, looking toward the creek.  This is the currently projected right-of-way of the proposed Atlantic Sunrise pipeline.  If & when this massive, high-pressure, underground pipeline gets built, none of these trees will be left standing, and Quittapahilla Creek and the surrounding woods & fields will be subjected to the perennial threat of natural gas leaks & explosions.

RESOURCES:

•  Public Debate on "The Fracking Revolution:  Good or Bad for Pennsylvania?"  Click on the image at right to view a terrific 90-minute video of a public debate on the fracking revolution in PA & beyond, held at Lebanon Valley College on Earth Day (April 22), 2015, pitting anti-fracking activist and organic farmer Dr. J. Stephen Cleghorn against Kevin V. Lynn, of the Communications Division of Linde Corporation ("at the forefront of the Marcellus Shale industry").  After the debate, Dr. Cleghorn compiled a huge collection of the most recent scientific studies on a host of issues relating to fracking, from well-pad leaks to watershed contamination to health risks & much more.  This invaluable collection of resources is available in a 27-page PDF file that can be accessed by clicking HERE

•  Lebanon Pipeline Awareness.  The most active citizens' group in Lebanon County on pipeline issues, Lebanon Pipeline Awareness hosts a very active Facebook page that provides information & links to a wide range of resources on fracking & pipeline issues.  This page also includes a link to a separate series of pages, housed on this website, on pipelines in Lebanon County, that can be accessed by clicking on the icon below.

•  "We Are Lancaster County" website.   A very useful & informative website (formerly called "Lancaster Against Pipelines"), with links to a wide range of material on the fracking & pipeline revolutions in Lancaster County, across Pennsylvania & beyond.

 

 

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