Rep. Mike Sturla (D-Lancaster) Monday announced he is introducing House Bill 2114 (not yet online) which would enact a water resource use fee on 4.4 billion gallons of daily water withdrawals in Pennsylvania that has the potential to generate $245 million annually, based on current usage rates.
The bill would exempt the 1.5 billion gallons of daily water withdrawals for agricultural and municipal water usages.
“The Pennsylvania Constitution makes it clear that Pennsylvania’s public natural resources belong to the people of the Commonwealth. This bill ensures that entities that are currently using our water for free would pay a nominal fee that will be used to fund water-related programs and projects while freeing up money for the General Assembly to close structural deficits in the state budget,” Rep. Sturla said.
Water withdrawn from Commonwealth waterways in excess of 10,000 gallons a day is already required to be reported to the Department of Environmental Protection.
House Bill 2114 would result in a charge of 1/100th of a cent per gallon if water is withdrawn for use and eventually returned to the source. Water withdrawn and not returned beyond 10,000 gallons a day would be charged 1/10th of a cent per gallon.
Revenue generated from House Bill 2114 would be used to fund water-related programs and general governmental operations in the Department of Environmental Protection ($30 million), Department of Conservation and Natural Resources ($25 million) and Fish and Boat Commission ($5 million).
The remaining dollars would be used to fund water-related projects within Pennsylvania’s six major watersheds.
There is an additional option to use remaining funds to pay debt service on a $3 billion bond issue for environment projects, subject to ballot referendum.
“At a time when the state is searching for revenue to implement clean water projects as well as new revenue to close the budget deficit, I think this piece of legislation is a viable option,” Rep. Sturla said. “I am grateful to all those who’ve helped play a key role in developing this concept and for their support today.”
John Arway, executive director, Fish and Boat Commission, said this issue should have been raised 30 years ago, but noted the Commonwealth, over the last 50 years, has been investing money into the infrastructure to protect the state’s water.
He explained that consumptive use of water is the focus of the legislation. He said currently no one is charged to use water the Commonwealth owns, adding, “I think it is an issue of fairness and responsibility.”
He cited Article 1 Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which he argues assigns the responsibility to maintain a clean water supply to the Commonwealth. He said the legislation is the first step to adding value to the water in Pennsylvania and to help manage water before it becomes a crisis.
Ann Swanson, Executive Director of the interstate Chesapeake Bay Commission, explained that Pennsylvania has the highest density of streams of any state in the nation.
“Water is defining in Pennsylvania, so it makes complete sense that Pennsylvania would be establishing a water quality protection fund,” said Swanson. Pennsylvania is home to seven percent of the nation’s waterways and 16 percent of the nation’s impaired waterways.
She contended that non-point source pollution “deeply matters” and needs to be addressed to clean up large bodies of water. She further expressed her belief that conservation practices work when applied to non-point sources.In closing, she argued that public funding needs to be invested in the health of Pennsylvania waterways.
Water Fee Study Resolution
Last week, Rep. Garth Everett (R-Lycoming) introduced a bipartisan resolution-- House Resolution 908-- calling for a study of a new water use fee to fund water quality improvement programs.
“As a member of the Pennsylvania Delegation of the Chesapeake Bay Commission and the Environmental Resources & Energy, Game & Fisheries and Appropriations Committees, I am acutely aware of the challenges facing our water resources and water quality here in Pennsylvania and the need to come up with innovative funding mechanisms to reinvest in our land and water and the programs and agencies charged with their stewardship,” said Rep. Everett.
Rep. Everett’s resolution directs the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to conduct a study of the establishment, implementation, and administration of fees for the consumptive use and the use and return of “waters of the Commonwealth” by industrial and commercial users.
The study would look at the establishment of both a royalty fee for the consumptive use of water and a royalty fee for water used and returned. It would examine proposed and successful attempts of other states to assess fees for the use of water; identify the uses to which the fees would apply; estimate the revenue generating potential of the fees; and evaluate how to assess, collect, and manage the proceeds of the royalty fees.
The study would also make recommendations on creating a new Water Quality Improvement Fund and on how the proceeds of the fees might be apportioned among the major watersheds in the Commonwealth and the departments and agencies involved in water quality efforts in Pennsylvania.
Examples might be funding for Growing Greener, water quality improvements to meet our Chesapeake Bay and other TMDL requirements and cleanup of our many impaired streams.The resolution was referred to the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee for consideration.
Rep. Sturla also represents Pennsylvania on the interstate Chesapeake Bay Commission.