• The Water Resources Planning Act
  • August 26, 2003 | Author: James P. Dougherty
  • Law Firm: McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC - Harrisburg Office
  • In the waning days of Pennsylvania's "lame duck session," the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed, by a convincing margin, legislation captioned "The Water Resources Planning Act." This Act offers the first update, in 27 years, of the management of Pennsylvania's water resources. Ostensibly, this bill addresses vital issues that, in light of Pennsylvania's recent, severe and extensive drought, identify the state's "water budget." These issues include a comprehensive determination of available water in Pennsylvania, as well as an evaluation of how water resources are used in light of prospective water demand projections.

    This legislation represents the culmination of a collaborative effort in which many stakeholders participated to identify water issues in Pennsylvania. Ironically, while this legislation seeks to protect one of Pennsylvania's most vital environmental resources, opposition to this bill arose principally from environmental groups seeking to derail bill passage. These environmental groups, while alleging that they were "shut out of" negotiations regarding substantive bill formation, offered no salient objection to bill provisions.

    The linchpin of the legislation is creation of a water inventory that requires end users, consuming more than 10 kgal/day, to initiate a reporting process to assist the state in determining the origin and ultimate use of water resources. The legislation also creates a 21-member statewide Water Resource Advisory Board, in addition to six regional 18-member boards that will oversee Pennsylvania's water resource management. The Water Resources Planning Act also requires Department of Environmental Protection ("DEP") to develop a statewide conservation plan.

    Large volume water users in Pennsylvania, who may be most directly impacted by this legislation, welcome this water resource effort. Members of the Pennsylvania Statewide Water Users Group ("SWUG"), an ad hoc coalition of large volume end users, actively participated in the bill formation process through Triad representation. SWUG, whose total member consumption represents approximately three billion gallons per year, now participate with the various River Basin Commissions that have already implemented volumetric and consumptive use filing requirements.

    For many of these industrial end users, water provides a vital and irreplaceable component of their manufacturing systems and, as such, represents a significant manufacturing and production cost. These high-volume end users have already implemented water conservation projects, wherever feasible, in their operations. For example, one SWUG member, Boeing, in southeastern Pennsylvania, was recently acknowledged by the Water Resources Association ("WRA") for its conservation efforts over a ten-year period. Boeing reduced total water consumption by 43%; in one year alone, Boeing reduced water use in the manufacturing process by approximately 29,000,000 gallons per year. The Water Resources Planning Act harmonizes nicely with the continuing efforts of Pennsylvania's large volume and industrial end users to conserve and optimize water resources.