WHY THIS IS A MUST READ:
See what role threatened EPA funding has had on keeping our lakes clean.
PALMYRA TWP. (Pike) - As it turns out, the omnibus spending bill approved by lawmakers for the remainder of the 2017 federal budget year, leaves Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funding mostly spared by threatened cuts. Agencies watching out for protecting water quality, such as the Lake Wallenpaupack Watershed Management District (LWWMD), were watchful as to what might happen to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) budget.
In contrast, the Trump Administration had proposed cuts to the EPA budget that seeks to shrink by as much as 31 percent.
The new budget deal sets the EPA budget at about $8 billion, or $81 million below the current operating level (one percent). Since October 1st the federal government has been operating under a continuing resolution which kept 2017 spending at most agencies at the FY 2016 level.
Reuters reported that both chambers of Congress were expected to approve the trillion dollar budget deal, and be signed into law by President Trump. The continuing resolution was set to expire at midnight, Friday, May 5.
The concern now shifts to the upcoming debate over the FY 2018 budget, which takes effect October 1, 2017.
Lake Wallenpaupack’s water quality protection has benefited from hundreds of thousands of dollars from the federal government over the years, said Nick Spinelli. The administrator of the Lake Wallenpaupack Watershed Management District (LWWMD), he was advising their board at the April meeting about worries at that time, that a valuable funding source, Section 319, could be “zeroed out” of the 2017-2018 national budget.
Had the Trump Administration cut the EPA budget by 31%, the budget total would have gone from $8.1 billion to $5.7 billion and eliminate a quarter of the agency’s 15,000 jobs, The New York Times reported.
Instead, Section 319 was granted an increase.
Section 319 of the EPA program has to do with improving lake quality, Spinelli explained. Grants from Section 319 benefit nonprofit agencies such as LWWMD, conservation districts and local governments that are searching for the financial means to address water pollution. EPA also funnels money down to the state level, which again is a funding source for local efforts.
In March, Spinelli attended the PA Association of Environmental Educators (PAEE) Conference March 13-14, 2017, at the McKeever Environmental Learning Center in Sandy Lake, near State College.
EPA Section 309 grants were discussed by the group. Spinelli explained the Watershed District’s recent success story of having Lake Wallenpaupack “de-listed” by the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) as being endangered.
County conservation districts also shared their successes.
There was stirring at the meeting in Penn State about a rumor that a draft federal budget removed EPA funding altogether. The hope of those attending was that Congress would allocate funds on a line item designated for EPA’s Section 319.
When the LWWMD has been successful at receiving EPA grants, Spinelli noted, money went to local engineers, contractors and others doing work here at home, to improve water quality.
Rather than cutting it, as had been feared by environmental groups, Congress allocated a $6 million increase in EPA’s Section 319 funding.
The LWWMD was organized in 1979 as a partnership of stakeholders to oversee the rescue of Lake Wallenpaupack’s water quality, which had become badly impaired. Excess nutrients from agricultural and road runoff were significant culprits. As a result, the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) added the lake to its 1996 Clean Water Act section 303(d) list of impaired waters.
The EPA acknowledges that providing technical assistance and implementing “best management practices” (BMPs) reduced the phosphorous levels and improved the water quality.
As a result, the PA DEP removed Lake Wallenpaupack from Pennsylvania’s list of impaired waters in 2006.
Local efforts were boosted by a total of $2,200,000 from two federal EPA grants in 1998 and 1999. The LWWMD received the funding to investigate watersheds, develop pollution budgets for the lake, increase lake and stream water quality monitoring, host public education seminars and workshops, as well as work with private property owners, community associations and local governments to undertake BMP projects. These projects were aimed at correcting or preventing conditions that pollute Lake Wallenpaupack, such as controlling manure runoff from farms, stabilizing eroded stream banks and shoreline areas, and diverting storm water runoff. The LWWMD also developed environmental education curriculum for the Wallenpaupack Area School District.
There have been other, smaller Section 319 grants over the years from which the District also has benefited.
EPA’s Section 319 program specifically focuses on non-point sources of water pollution, such as agricultural runoff and soil erosion. This is in contrast to point sources which originate from a fixed point such as a pipe or water treatment plant.
Local economic impact
“There are certainly issues with wasted government spending, but Section 319 was not one of the programs,” Spinelli said. “It put a lot of people to work, did a lot of good things in this community alone, let alone in the entire country.”
Following the budget announcement, Spinelli commented, “It's certainly a good thing that funding in the most recently released budget package will remain very similar to 2016 levels. However, there is much speculation that 2018 will see substantial cuts like those proposed for this year. I've read a few things that referred to it as a ‘temporary reprieve’. I suppose we'll have to wait and see what funding levels are proposed for 2018.”
Skepticism had been voiced at the Penn State meeting that they would be meeting in 2018, or that EPA Section 319 funding would be around.
The LWWMD administrator said that they could certainly benefit from further EPA funding, should it be salvaged from the budget cutters.
National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD, in a press release dated May 3rd, saw the budget announcement as hopeful.
“NACD is very pleased that House and Senate appropriators have finally reached an agreement that will support funding for critical conservation programs,” NACD President Brent Van Dyke said. “The investments Congress makes now in voluntary, incentive-based conservation will yield natural resource and economic benefits for many generations of Americans to come.”
While NACD is pleased no reductions were proposed in mandatory funding for most conservation programs, they were disappointed that Congress kept a $300 million reduction in mandatory funding for the already over-subscribed NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and reduced discretionary funding for the Forest Service’s State and Private Forestry program by $20 million.
“Every dollar reduction in voluntary conservation programs means less conservation is implemented on our nation’s working farms and forestlands,” NACD CEO Jeremy Peters said. “Fortunately, Congress has elected to maintain or increase funding for the majority of the voluntary conservation programs this nation’s private landowners rely on. We look forward to continuing our work with Congress to ensure that CTA, and other voluntary conservation programs like it, receive continued strong funding in FY18.”
Other fund sources
Other grant sources not related to the EPA which the LWWMD has utilized include the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Pennsylvania’s Growing Greener program and the ongoing Local Cost-Share program funded by money set aside as a result of the federal license renewal in 2006 for PPL’s Lake Wallenpaupack hydroelectric project (since taken over by Brookfield Renewable).
The LWWMD also receives donations from the public, an annual motorcycle ride, township funding (Palmyra- Pike and Paupack) and yearly allocations from Wayne and Pike counties.
For more information, visit the LWWMD at wallenpaupackwatershed.org or call 570-226-3865.
Conservation Leadership Academy: See lacawac.org