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Clean Water Action Plan aims to address flooding, pollution across Lycoming County

Millers Run and James Short Park in Loyalsock Township on Tuesday. The Clean Water Action Plan hopes to connect the park to the Williamsport Riverwalk. KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

With an upfront price tag of $36.7 million, the county’s Clean Water Action Plan offers a way to proactively address flooding and pollution that affects county farms and homes with increasing occurrences.

The cost of resources needed to implement the plan will be grant-funded, according to Eve Adrian, the county’s natural resources planner and the plan’s coordinator, who presented the plan to the Lycoming County Commissioners at their Tuesday meeting. These costs include additional staff, equipment, funding and incentive, education and outreach materials, training and engineering.

“While this number may sound staggering, it’s important to remember how much it costs to react to pollution and flooding after it’s caused a problem,” Adrian said.

“Farmers have probably noticed that the price of fertilizer has soared since late last year and the rates are predicted to stay high for the foreseeable future. Add to that the cost of managing erosion on farm fields,” she said.

Noting the the county has experienced more and more severe rainfalls over the past several decades, Adrian told the commissioners, “the unfortunate reality is that without mitigation, farmers pay the cost of these intense rain events because soil has value.”

“When soil erodes from a farm field, that’s dollars washing away,” she said.

In terms of municipalities, Adrian cited figures from the National Flood Insurance Program which stated that for every inch of flood water in a 1,000-square-foot home, the cost is estimated to be $10,000. The estimated total cost of property damage from 2010 to 2019 in the county was $37.1 million.

Adrian stressed that municipalities “must prepare for and respond to heavy rain events.”

The county’s plan is what Adrian described as a “bottom-up, voluntary and collaborative approach to meeting state level clean water goals.”

“Please note that this plan is not an unfunded mandate,” she said, “and it is not a plan to increase taxes. We plan to use grant money to fund all the projects and programs in our CAP.”

The plan was developed over a nine-month period and included input from over 150 stakeholders, including federal, state and local governments, nonprofit groups, colleges and other environmental and conservation entities. The projects in the plan were identified by the stakeholders based on their potential for reducing nutrient pollution either directly or indirectly.

“Projects that work toward reducing pollution include specific goals like implementing forested buffers along streams or reducing fertilizer usage,” Adrian said.

“Initiatives that help to reinforce these projects include coordination efforts, education, outreach and training,” she added.

The plan also includes improving reporting and project tracking to improve planning effectiveness and efficiency.

Tim Heyler, an agricultural conservation technician at the county’s Conservation District, shared that his department had applied for a cover crop grant to fund cover crop implementation on farms. He noted that a portion of the grant goes toward a no-till drill.

“We already have a no-till drill that we rent out to farmers. We get quite a bit of us of that. We’re trying to expand the fleet — our offering to farmers,” he said.

“With that, we have $500,000 of grant money that we’ve applied for and leveraged from other sources to barnyard and manure structures on farms which are part of the CAP,” he stated.

The plan lists projects such as rental of the no-till drill Heyler mentioned, with an estimated cost of $40,000 for one additional 10-foot drill. It also lists suggested sources of funding and the cost of storing the drill and for an additional vehicle for each drill. The goal listed is to expand the rental program to increase no-till conservation tillage best management practices with a 300-acre increase per year beginning in 2023.

Cam Koons, a Lycoming County Conservation District director, who also owns a farm near Lairdsville, said that he became involved with formulating the clean water plan because he wanted to “make sure the farmer was treated fair.”

“We can’t go out and dictate to farmers. What we have to do is talk with them. We have to find more grant money to help them,” Koons said.

The plan is being implemented, beginning this month, through 2025. Details of the specific projects in the plan can be found at lyco.org/CWAP.

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