Category Archives: Water

Why can’t I compost my food waste in the Lehigh Valley?

compostlogo2I am new to the Lehigh Valley and am really enjoying spring and the beauty of the area.   Learning about the EnvisionLV Sustainability Challenge has inspired me to want to take action to preserve the beauty of the Lehigh Valley.  I have developed a more eco-minded and sustainable lifestyle by reducing my household environmental impacts.

What does this mean?  First, I started by reducing plastic bags. Second, I have found several farmers’ markets that help me to consume more fresh local food. Third, I would now like to find ways to reduce my household waste, especially food waste. I have noticed that residents of the Lehigh Valley are able to recycle glass, plastic, aluminum cans, paper and cardboard. Actually, I have been informed that even if you live in an area where recyclables are not picked up, you could drop them at many recycling facilities, including those in Allentown and Bethlehem.

I have seen online educational material about yard waste recycling and composting offered through many municipalities in the region. Many websites show how to compost at your home. However, home composting is not feasible for people, like me, who live in apartments. I would like to use my food and organic waste for composting instead of sending it to the landfill, but where can I do it?  As a new arrival I have noticed that the missing piece of the Lehigh Valley is food waste composting.

Read the rest of this entry

Farming and Community Health

How does the protection of farmland correlate to the health of a community? Kane County, Illinois is working to find out.

Over the past ten years, their farmland protection program has preserved over 5500 acres of farmland in the county and they are currently considering a new amendment to broaden investments in local food production. New investments would include small farms and organic farmers producing fruits, vegetables and meats, intended to increase availability of fresh produce in schools, farmers markets, corner stores, and other sites in the community.

Enter the Health Impact Project. HIP is a project funded by the Pew Charitable Trust and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to fund Health Impact Assessments (HIA) that will be used to inform policies at any level of government. Kane County won funding from this project and is expected to produce their HIA next month with measurements from their community. The HIA will assess the ways in which their new amendment could affect the health of local residents through, for example, changes in availability and price of fresh fruits and vegetables, food safety, and economic changes resulting from increased food production in the region.

HIAs are conducted by a panel of stakeholders in the community to ensure that they are engaged in considering health and health disparities with any given policy. The assessment is completed in six steps:
A Health Impact Assessment has six steps:

  1. Screening: Determines the need and value of a HIA;
  2. Scoping: Determines which health impacts to evaluate, the methods for analysis, and the work plan for completing the assessment;
  3. Assessment: Provides: a) profile of existing health conditions, and b) evaluation of health impacts;
  4. Recommendations: Provides strategies to manage identified adverse health impacts;
  5. Reporting: Includes development of the HIA report and communication of findings and recommendations; and
  6. Monitoring: Tracks impacts of the HIA on decision making processes and the decision, as well as impacts of the decision on health determinants.

Kane County hopes to use this assessment to inform the debate surrounding their new amendment, hoping that they will find it could lead to improved health.

The Health Care Council of the Lehigh Valley is doing similar work much closer to home. They created a forum process where they engaged stakeholder organizations from the Valley to discuss their input on community health, and held two series of meetings. In the second set of meetings, they were able to bring back results and analysis from the first round. Participants in the forums were asked what they thought the biggest health concerns in the region were, what would help their community become healthier and what leads to health problems in their area. They were asked follow up questions to these in the second round of meetings.

In these public meetings held last fall, they found that the health care system and services are fragmented, that there is a lack of communication and connection between the community and care providers as well as poverty, lack of jobs and language differences being barriers of access to medical resources. There were also positive findings, the community responded that the local health care providers care about the community and were willing to listen to their needs as well as looking for short and long term solutions to improve community health. Their Community Health Profile breaks down their findings and the particular issues in each city, and can be found here.

Bringing the Water Infrastructure Discussion Above-Ground

Water.

We all need it, and we all want clean water to come out of our faucets.  Unfortunately, our aging infrastructure system threatens the delivery of that necessary, clean water.  The underground pipes are reaching the end of their useful lives.  The decline of these systems means more water disruptions, more contaminated water, and less reliable delivery of water to our ever-growing population.  The cost of repairing and replacing our water and waste water systems will only continue to grow the longer we wait.

On February 28th, Aurel Arndt, general manager of Lehigh County Authority, spoke before the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment on behalf of the American Water Works Association (AWWA).  Aurel is no stranger to the need to rejuvenate our water infrastructure; he has worked for the Lehigh County Authority since 1974.  During his service, he has seen the decline in our community’s water infrastructure.  Aurel highlighted the large, yet absolutely necessary, expense to restore the buried drinking water systems as well as the above-ground drinking water facilities, waste water, storm water, and other water-related infrastructure in his remarks to the subcommittee.  The cost for such an overhaul is well over $1 trillion, but the ultimate cost for letting our water infrastructure deteriorate further and attempting expensive emergency repairs without a feasible solution will be much more costly.

AWWA recently released a report entitled, “Buried No Longer: Confronting America’s Water Infrastructure Challenge.” The report focused on the need to address the current water infrastructure nearing the end of its useful life.  It succeeds AWWA’s report, “Dawn of the Replacement Era,” in which AWWA first noted hat the time had come for our water systems to be replaced before they completely fall apart.  (This report and other AWWA material can be found on our website at www.renewlv.org/water.)

In his remarks, Aurel and AWWA endorsed a new approach to funding the overhaul of our water infrastructure– the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA).  The act is modeled after the highly successful Transportation Infrastructure and Innovation Act (TIFIA).  WIFIA would lower the cost of infrastructure investment and alter the financing process so that communities would be able to afford the necessary replacements in their water systems.  WIFIA would “assist communities in meeting the nation’s water infrastructure needs in a manner that would have minimal cost to the federal government while complementing existing financial mechanisms, maintaining the current federal role, leveraging private capital, and creating vital manufacturing and construction jobs.”  The entire program would provide a feasible solution for communities to address the water infrastructure problem, while also providing a cleaner environment and greater quality of life for residents.  (Read Aurel Arndt’s full statement.)

Renew Lehigh Valley has encouraged a regional and cooperative approach to the water infrastructure challenges facing the Lehigh Valley.  The WIFIA legislation would provide a means for cost efficient solutions to be developed for the communities within the Lehigh Valley, while also fostering a mindset of sustainable growth and development.  Water is vital to our existence.  It’s time to bring the discussion about our water infrastructure challenges above-ground and address them as an entire Lehigh Valley.

Marcellus Shale Citizen Organizer Training

Sure, the Marcellus Shale drilling isn’t happening here in the Lehigh Valley, but the effects will certainly be felt statewide both economically and environmentally.  This is a hot-button issue in Pennsylvania right now.  Even if the drilling isn’t occurring right in the Lehigh Valley, it is still every Pennsylvanian’s responsibility to become educated about the issue as an informed and active citizen.

PennEnvironment, a state-wide citizen-based environmental advocacy organization will be in Bethlehem on December 6th for a Marcellus Shale Citizen Organizer Training Session.  Their goal: “to train 1,000 Pennsylvanians with the skills they need to protect their communities from gas drilling. Whether you’re new to activism or been [sic] on the front lines of the Marcellus Shale, this training will help you take the fight to the next level.”  Below are the details of the training:

WHAT: Lehigh Valley Marcellus Shale Citizen Organizer Training
WHERE: Unitarian Universalist Church of the Lehigh Valley, 424 Center St, Bethlehem, PA
WHEN: Tuesday, December 6, 6-9 p.m.

RenewLV is not a sponsor of this event, but strongly encourages citizens to become educated to participate in their local communities.  If you are interested in this event or want more information regarding PennEnvironment, visit: https://secure3.convio.net/engage/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=3865.

Check Out EPA’s Policy on Clean Water & Water Infrastructure

I’m not sure that we ever posted the new EPA sustainability policy on clean water and drinking water infrastructure, but it is something that we link to on our Regional Water Infrastructure page and tend to mention often in our presentations.

It’s noteworthy that the policy places a tremendous focus on long-term planning approaches and sustainability. This is very similar to RenewLV’s own water and wastewater policy, and we are pleased to be aligned with the EPA’s standards.

Check out the policy here. What are your thoughts on this document?

Want to keep up to date on RenewLV’s work on water/wastewater resource management? Make sure you subscribe to this blog via our RSS feed and sign-up for our e-mail list on our Join Us page.

Water infrastructure spending in Lehigh County

Yesterday, Gov. Rendell announced that the state would be investing $174 million into PA’s water infrastructure across 21 counties. Most of this money is being spent in the form of low-interest loans to the various county entities and water treatment plants, with only $20 million being used in the form of grants.

  • Allentown City received an $8.6 million loan to replace all of the city’s water meters with new units incorporating mobile read technology, enhancing the ability to detect water leaks and allowing the city to manage its water system more efficiently.
  • Allentown City received a $670,000 loan to repair leaks in the Schantz Spring transmission main that are causing costly water losses to the city.
  • Lehigh County Authority received a $1.8 million loan to replace 2,700 outdated water meters and backflow preventers, thus eliminating possible contamination of the water system and improving the operating efficiency of the system.

Nutrient Abatement Credits

ARC’s dead. Moving on.

So here’s a cool thing. PA farmers have generated a pretty solid amount of nutrient abatement credits by taking means to combat different sources of non-point pollution. These steps are being taken to help prevent nutrient pollution in watersheds, primarily the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

David Thompson of the Sun Gazette writes:

Farmers install riparian forest buffers to filter out nutrients before they enter the waterway, fencing to keep livestock out of streams, no-till planting and cover crops to reduce soil erosion and other conservation practices to generate the credits.

The credits are generated by farmers through abatement methods like those discussed above, and then sold to industries that tend to add nutrients to water, like wastewater treatment facilities.

There are some regulations in place to help guide what does and doesn’t qualify for an abatement credit, though it’s still worth wondering how many pounds of nutrients have actually been abated, and how effective the credit trading scheme has been across different types of pollutants.

Provided the abatement program is properly monitored and regulated, it seems more or less like a win-win. Farmers get money for continued abatement, industry is encouraged to get in line in a way that is not overly economically damaging to them.

The individual counties earn some revenue from the auction of excess credits, but since this revenue is supposed to be directed towards “mak[ing] multiple trips to each farm, creat[ing] detailed spread sheets that calculate the credits, submit[ting] documentation to the DEP and respond[ing] to any questions the agency may have” to certify credits, it doesn’t sound likely that the counties make out with much of a net revenue gain.

I just hope that the program is adaquately enforced, and the threshhold for nutrient emissions is set low enough that treatment plants have an economic incentive to participate in the trading scheme, rather than emit anyway and pay any fines that would occur.

Tremendous Need to Update Our Water Infrastructure

Bob Herbert in the New York Times laments about the blissful ignorance we have exercised in regard to our water infrastructure. We’ve all read the stories (sadly, many of them Lehigh Valley stories) about pipes bursting, stormwater overflows, and many, many other issues (most notably concerning drinking water contamination). Herbert writes:

There is, of course, no reason for this to be the case. If this were a first-class society we would rebuild our water systems to the point where they would be the envy of the world, and that would bolster the economy in the bargain. But that would take maturity and vision and effort and sacrifice, all of which are in dismayingly short supply right now.

We can’t even build a railroad tunnel beneath the Hudson River from New Jersey to New York.

Oooh, nice jab there, Bob. He, of course, is referring to the now-cancelled ARC project in New Jersey.

Where is the political will for infrastructure improvements? And how can the public take a greater interest in our infrastructure — especially our water infrastructure?

To learn more about RenewLV’s work on water resource management, visit our Regional Water Initiative page.

Public Lecture by Dr. Vandana Shiva

Moravian College will be hosting Dr. Vandana Shiva on Tuesday, October 12th at 7:30 in Prosser Auditorium. Shiva’s educational history and awards are numerous, but suffice it to say that she’s a world-renowned activist for environmental issues, especially those centering around climate change and the developing world.

I had the privilege of seeing Dr. Shiva speak a few times at last year’s Conference of the Parties on climate change and, while the conference overall was a massive letdown, Shiva was one of the more interesting highlights of the trip. She’s can be very radical in her approach at times so it will be interesting to see what she discusses at this event.

Here’s a facebook event page for the lecture and Shiva’s wiki.

As far as getting there, Prosser Auditorium is located in the Haupert Union Building(HUB) just off of Main St. in Bethlehem.

Address to get there: 1200 Main St. Bethlehem, PA 18018.

Local Opinions on Marcellus Shale

Did you get a chance to open the Opinion section of the Morning Call today? If so, then you know that it was dominated by thoughts on the drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale and other areas of the Delaware River and Lehigh River watersheds.

On the Sounding Board, today’s question was: “Should regulations come down on the side of “gas rush” economic progress, or should the moratorium be continued until the state has new laws and regulations to make drilling environmentally sound?” Surprisingly, all of the responses came down on the side of waiting longer to draft better regulations — but that’s where the agreements ended. Read the full answers at the Morning Call online.

The issue of Marcellus Shale is sure to be brought up over the next year and during the upcoming election cycle. What are your thoughts on this?

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