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Pennsy lawmakers want planners to key on water

January 30, 2001

Pennsy lawmakers want planners to key on water



Two Pennsylvania lawmakers are pushing a revolutionary proposition this month - that the real limit on residential development is not how much land is available, but how much water is underneath it. The two aren't talking about regulating local development matters, but they do want local governments to start thinking about the issue.

The push to get local governments to take a closer look at how development affects water resources comes from state Sen. James Gerlach, R-Chester, and Rep. David Steil, R-Bucks, co-authors of a bill to allow different towns sharing the same watershed to write a single plan to protect water resources.

Their eventual aim, they say, is to make rivers, creeks and aquifers the basis for regional planning, instead of county or municipal boundaries that don't take account of those resources.

The same duo passed bills last year which not only gave grants to encourage regional planning, but also gave governments that embraced the process some immunity from builders' lawsuits.

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It will require a revolutionary change in the public's thinking to get citizens to accept the idea that the groundwater is something to be shared and protected. The real test will come when someone who wants to develop a parcel is told that the protection of the watershed makes that impossible.

At that point, the landowner will head to court, seeking an exemption from the rules or payment for development rights. It would make sense for local governments to look ahead by either acquiring key properties or putting cash aside for easement or development-rights purchases.

Complicating the issue is the fact that when development occurs, much of the ground that would normally act as a filter for precipitation is covered with pavement instead. The challenge for local governments will be to keep that runoff and the pollutants it picks up from getting into the streams at a time when it will make flooding worse and harm the quality of the water that everyone must share.

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