Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Action Needed Now To Save Watershed Specialists

by Andy McAllister, Watershed Coordinator
Western PA Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation

The County Conservation District Watershed Specialists have been a vital force in Pennsylvania's watershed movement for nearly 10 years, providing much needed environmental services in their counties and saving the state millions of dollars in project costs, in part by locating matching funding and in-kind contributions for environmental projects.
Whether it's fighting Abandoned Mine Drainage, restoring streamside vegetation, or reducing water pollution caused by agricultural or urban runoff, our Watershed Specialists have been instrumental in many of Pennsylvania's environmental successes.
Perhaps one of the most important roles they fulfill is giving watershed groups the tools and support to become more effective environmental ambassadors in their community... local folks tackling local environmental problems with local solutions. How great is that?
But there's a fly in the proverbial ointment. A large portion of the Watershed Specialist program funding comes directly from Growing Greener, the sweeping environmental legislation originally enacted in 1999.
Funding for several perennial Growing Greener programs, including the Watershed Specialist positions, has been mandated only through 2010, when Growing Greener is slated to end. The future of the Watershed Specialist program is in jeopardy.
Speaking plainly, if action isn't taken in Harrisburg, there will be NO further Watershed Specialist action. After all of the environmental successes over the past 10 years and after all of the hard work, we don't think that program should end. You probably don't either.
The Pennsylvania General Assembly (our state senators and representatives) need to hear that the County Watershed Specialist program is important and effective and deserves dedicated funding.
You can help. There is no one better than you to let your local legislators know what you think. Call them, write them, email them, or yes, personally visit them. Tell them how important the environment is to you. Let them know we NEED our County Watershed Specialists to continue Pennsylvania's environmental success! Let them know NOW!
There are several ways to communicate with your legislators directly or through their aides. Some of these methods carry more weight than others.
Face-to-Face meeting: A face-to-face meeting is the best way to communicate your views. Many legislators are impressed when you take the time to visit them (or their aides) personally to share your views. Set up an appointment at their local office to discuss your views.
Writing a letter: Taking the time to craft your own letter is a great way of getting your legislator's attention to matters that are important to you. Printing and signing a form letter also communicates your opinions however, form letters are increasingly being seen as "Astroturf" instead of "Grassroots."
Often, legislators are impressed when they receive just a handful of handwritten letters or emails on one topic because most people don't take the time to write their legislators.
Phone call: While not always as effective as a letter, expressing your opinions to either your legislator or their aide via phone call is still a good way of getting your opinions heard.
To find your legislator, go to the General Assembly's website and enter your zipcode. Follow the link to your legislator's webpage to find contact information.
Here are some talking points that may help you craft your own letter.
-- The County Watershed Specialists have been instrumental in the improvement of Pennsylvania's environment by:
-- Securing millions of dollars of matching funds and in-kind contributions for Growing Greener projects thereby increasing Growing Greener's effectiveness by stretching our state dollars even further.
-- Ensuring project success by serving as project managers.
-- Acting as liaisons between watershed groups and various state agencies, improving communication and understanding between state government and its citizens.
-- Educating citizens about the value of a healthy environment and ways to improve water quality.
-- Working with citizens and municipalities to find local solutions for local environmental problems.
As most of our readership knows, our Watershed Specialists are an asset to Pennsylvania. In a 2006 Press Release, Gov. Rendell commented about the value of the Watershed Specialists:
"Local efforts are absolutely essential to the Growing Greener partnership. Watershed Specialists are an invaluable connection to restoring watersheds and promoting environmental protection at the local level - helping us achieve continued success in cleaning up the environment and revitalizing our local communities."
We understand that the DEP is generally supportive of the Watershed Specialist program. However, it certainly couldn't hurt to let DEP Secretary John Hanger know that you are behind them.
Secretary John Hanger, Department of Environmental Protection, Rachel Carson State Office Building, 400 Market Street, Harrisburg, PA 17101
If we are to continue restoring Pennsylvania's watersheds and promoting environmental protection at the local level, we need to keep our Watershed Specialists. Please consider writing your legislators and Secretary Hanger to tell them how important our Watershed Specialists are and that we need to find a way to keep that program funded.

This call to action was posted on the Western PA Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation Abandoned Mine Posts webpage.

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