Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Foundation For PA Watersheds Study Documents 150%+ Return On Investment For Cleaning Up Little Conemaugh River

The Foundation For Pennsylvania Watersheds recently released an economic study that documented a 150 percent return on investment  for funding a major project designed to treat mine drainage polluting nearly 30 miles of the Little Conemaugh River in Cambria County.
The Foundation’s introduction to the study said, “For far too long environmental groups have been criticized for talking about ‘warm and fuzzy’ qualitative measures of success.
“With a new focus on full time equivalents (FTEs), leverage factors, and a new vocabulary that relates to economics, groups that aren’t talking the talk are finding it hard to access funding and aren’t gathering much of an audience to listen about their great work.
“... [The study] underscore[s] the importance of restoring our environment, and illustrate how a cleaner environment can generate economic impact beyond restoration.”
In 2012, the Foundation formed a group to develop a strategy for cleaning up the Little Conemaugh Watershed involving local, state and federal partners.  
Based on a 2007 study that identified the 7 largest sources of mine drainage pollution and other information, the group developed a plan to treat 3 of the discharges-- Sonman, Hughes Borehole and Miller shaft in one project.
Meanwhile the DEP Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation went ahead with projects to treat or eliminate the mine discharges from two other sources-- St. Michael and Ehrenfeld.
The St. Michael project was developed and completed through an innovative partnership between DEP and the Rosebud Mining Company to construct an active chemical treatment system and provide for its continued operation into the future.
The Ehrenfeld reclamation project is now underway and is being completed with a combination of federal RECLAIM Pilot Program funds, DEP Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation and Foundation support.
The Sonman, Hughes, Miller Treatment Project on the Little Conemaugh will cost an estimated $21.7 million with the DEP Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation contributing about $19.5 million and the Foundation $2.2 million.  The federal Office of Mining Reclamation and Enforcement also provided support for this project. The project is scheduled to last from 2022 to 2023.
This project alone is estimated to result in the restoration of 15 biologically dead stream miles and an additional 20 miles of stream with improved water quality.
With the help of 4award Planning and the Keystone Conservation Trust, the Foundation supported an analysis of what the economic benefit would be of investing $21.7 million in the Little Conemaugh Project to outdoor recreation, tourism and businesses in the local area.
The study found a 150 percent+ economic return from this project-- for every $1 million invested in restoration, there would be between $1.5 and $1.6 million in economic return to the local community.
The new report also contained information gleaned from interviews with local stakeholders that demonstrated how local perceptions of Cambria County’s waterways have changed for the better following the cleanup of portions of nearby Stonycreek River and other projects.
The cleanup of the Stonycreek River resulted in recreation and tourism economic impacts – with a boom in ecotourism, whitewater rafting, boating, kayaking, and year-round fly-fishing. Whitewater and Greenhouse Parks sprang up in Cambria and Somerset Counties because of the Stonycreek cleanup.
These results have raised expectations for a positive economic impact from the Little Conemaugh and other stream cleanup projects.
The Stonycreek can also be used as a cautionary tale for the Little Conemaugh going forward, the study said, because Stonycreek River is facing a threat of degradation in water quality because the mine drainage treatment systems there are 20 to 25 years old and in need of refurbishing.
A Foundation supported economic impact study of the Stonycreek River Watershed also looked at the question of what the impact would be if water quality was allowed to degrade.
Click Here for a copy of the Little Conemaugh study.
For more information on grant opportunities and initiatives, visit the Foundation For Pennsylvania Watersheds website.
(Photo: Difference in water quality made by the St. Michael treatment project on the Little Conemaugh River.
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