A proactive approach to accommodating ongoing natural gas industry development was the message driven home by panelists invited by the state Fish & Boat Commission Monday night.
As commission officials are visiting the Genetti Hotel for their quarterly business meeting this week, they took the evening opportunity to break away from fish and boat regulation review to explore how Marcellus Shale exploration is affecting water quality.
"We need to be proactive," said Walt Nicholson, acting executive director for the Williamsport Municipal Water and Sewer authorities. "We need to document what the conditions are now."
There are different ways to document, according to the other panelists.
Jerry Walls said he and his fellow volunteer Pine Creek Waterdogs plan to use digital cameras, log books and water sample tubes and meters to manually record stream characteristics.
More than 400 citizens are recruited to watch for changes in water quality and quantity, according to Walls.
Waterdogs plan to safely monitor their water supply without being confrontational.
Walls said, "Waterdogs are not the junkyard dog, vicious type of animals. We are citizens watching what's going on because we value our streams."
Somerset County Conservation District Manager Leonard Lichvar, who also is a fish and boat commissioner, described utilizing technology to gauge water in his area.
As he spoke in the hotel's Terrace Room, Lichvar said six cylinder-shaped meters were recording data including temperature, water level and conductivity in 15-minute intervals closer to his home.
By gathering donations from organizations, Lichvar said the devices were purchased without using grant money.
He said each one, which fits in the palm of the hand before they're placed in the stream, costs about $1,500.
"We found that today's technology can be a very good support mechanism for conservation," Lichvar said.
Just as landlords assess their property before tenants move into an apartment, Nicholson said monitoring is necessary and fines could be levied if the area isn't properly maintained.
"We can document the condition of the watershed and send out a damage deposit," he said.
Nicholson said continuing inspection is necessary for comparison as industry develops, a point reinforced by Mark Hartle of the commission's aquatic resource section.
Commission waterways conservation officers across the state usually find gas companies in compliance, according to Hartle.
"Of the sites we go to, 30 percent of the time there needs to be more investigation, there's a potential problem there," he said. "It means there's a change in water quality that should be investigated."