Concern for clean water in York County was at high tide when legislators, business leaders, and other guests gathered at the John Wright Restaurant in Wrightsville for a reception sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's (CBF) Pennsylvania office. The restaurant on Front Street was the ideal setting for the event; its outdoor patio overlooking the lower Susquehanna River.
"It was wonderful to see such a large and diverse group of citizens and leaders gathered to talk about why clean water counts," said Harry Campbell, CBF executive director in Pennsylvania and emcee for the evening.
Since last summer, CBF has been conducting its "Clean Water Counts: York" campaign in York County, to raise awareness of local water quality issues and solutions, and to motivate residents to take action to reduce water pollution.
The 70 people who attended the reception came together to talk about the successes and challenges of addressing the 350 miles of York County rivers and streams that are polluted by agricultural and urban/suburban runoff.
At the reception, CBF President Will Baker commended partnerships within the county, and hailed York County as a proven leader in conservation. He noted that York County was the first county to adopt the "Clean Water Counts" resolution, and lauded efforts to clean up Codorus Creek, work by the conservation district, and the planning commission's progress in managing polluted runoff.
Wrightsville teenager Brynn Kelly explained why, to her, clean water is a big deal. She grew up near the river and became excited about clean water after a trip to CBF's Merrill Center. The high school senior at Lancaster Catholic High School has spoken publicly about the value of reducing pollution, and wrote a letter to Governor Tom Wolf urging him to clean up Pennsylvania's waterways. Kelly also serves as president of CBF's Pennsylvania Student Leadership Council.
York County Planning Commission Director Felicia Dell offered insight as to how the board views and plans to address clean water challenges. She reminded the gathering that streams aren't bound by municipal boundaries, and that the commission is working to help municipalities collaborate on ways to reduce pollution.
Growing Greener Coalition Executive Director Andrew Heath said his group is looking for "champions" in the state House and Senate who would be willing to put together a Growing Greener III proposal that calls for revenue to pay for conservation efforts. He said Growing Greener funds would be spent primarily on improving water quality in Pennsylvania.
Heath also highlighted the "Clean Water Counts" statewide campaign that urges county commissioners to pass resolutions encouraging leaders in Harrisburg to make improving water quality a priority. He said 16 counties have passed resolutions and efforts will be renewed next month to enlist the remaining counties.
State Representative Stan Saylor offered one of the highlights of the evening in announcing that the York County delegation will introduce a House resolution to declare May as "Clean Water Counts Month." Rep. Saylor said the resolution is intended to outline the importance of clean water and the number of streams that need to be cleaned up in Pennsylvania.
Roughly 19,000 miles of river and streams in Pennsylvania are polluted.
Conversations about clean water took place throughout the two-hour reception.
A group of teachers met with CBF education staff to discuss strategy and messaging. "We discussed how CBF can be the storyteller for the incredible students that teachers bring on our programs every day," said CBF Education Outreach Coordinator Allyson Ladley Gibson.
"We want to tell the story about that student who has trouble participates in class, but comes alive when you ask them to help untie the canoes, paddle the boat themselves, find macroinvertebrates that will tell us about water quality, and be responsible for their own team that day," she added. "That student may start a whole new path because of the day with CBF and go on to find new passions, a certain type of education, and a career."
Staff members from "Heroes on the Water," attended the reception to show their support for clean water efforts. The veterans support group provided equipment and guidance at CBF's "Veterans on the Susquehanna" event in Wrightsville last summer.
CBF President Will Baker also told those at the reception that, "Clean water is unifier in a time when so much divides us."
The message was made clear by those who attended—clean water counts in York County and across the Commonwealth.
— B.J. Small, CBF's Pennsylvania Media and Communications Coordinator