The Tioga County PA Source Water Protection Coalition formed in 2011 with a grant and assistance from the Water Resources Education Network, (WREN) a project of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania Citizen Education Fund. Read about their efforts in the article by WREN reprinted in PA Borough News magazine.
See what Source Water Protection looks like in Tioga County today.
Check out two new YouTube videos produced June 2015 by the Tioga County Conservation District with support of a 2014-2015 WREN Watershed Education Grant – click here>>
Dealing with Common Threats to Drinking Water
The collaborative effort reflects a growing trend in Pennsylvania where public water systems within a county or region are meeting and working together to address risks identified in their source water protection plans, and looking for proactive ways to protect vulnerable drinking water recharge areas from a variety of threats, ranging from natural gas development to agricultural runoff to enhanced emergency coordination with 911 EMS Centers to combat hazardous spills along roadways.
Speaking with One Voice on Proposed Rules and Regulations
Water system coalitions are beginning to take joint action in Pennsylvania, including formulating a collective response to proposed PA DEP regulations to weigh in on the use of brine from gas wells on roadways which could runoff into water supply areas, challenging PennDOT to come up with better stormwater designs in sensitive recharge zones, and integrating source water protection maps into county 911 center GIS maps to help with quick notification to water systems of spills that could reach water supply wells or intakes.
Improving Emergency Response Coordination with 911 Centers
The initial driving goal for the Tioga County Coalition founders was to improve emergency response coordination to potentially hazardous spills in sensitive water supply areas with the Tioga County Department of Emergency Services. To accomplish this objective, the members deemed it essential to integrate the source water protection areas defined in each water supplier’s source water protection plan with Tioga County’s 911 system. Part of the process is improving dialog and coordination with emergency responders and with County 911 EMS Centers to hasten accurate response using geographic information systems (GIS) to effectively combat hazardous spills along roadways.
Scott Zubek, Director of the Tioga County GIS Department, took on the challenge and supervised Pennsylvania’s first successful integration of source water protection data into a County 911 GIS system. (which stands for Geographic Information System, GIS is a way to link the spatial representation of an area, like a map, to a database of important information, in this case, local drinking water supplies.)
The Tioga system is designed so that when a call comes into a 911 operator about an accident with a spill, the GIS software can display the source water zones “live” on the dispatcher’s emergency response map with other layers such as roads, structure location points, etc. It immediately notifies the dispatcher if the spill is in a source water protection area. The operator is able to quickly relay precise location information to the DEP emergency response team.
According to Zubek, “a dispatcher… now has a digital, geographic element which will determine if a spill incident has occurred within an SWP-watershed area and relay further geographic detaiol.” 911 Communications The Tioga system is designed so that when a call comes into a 911 operator about an accident with a spill, the GIS software can display the source water zones “live” on the dispatcher’s emergency response map with other layers has occurred within an SWP watershed area and can relay further geographic detail.”
Rapid notification coupled with accurate geographic data about the spill location is especially important in rural areas, and enables water systems to take immediate proactive steps to avoid damage to water treatment equipment or worse, possibly jeopardize public health. Without source water area coordinated spill response, many public water suppliers may be unaware that a spill event has even occurred in their recharge area that could threaten their water system.
The Tioga EMS 911 Center, which covers neighboring Potter County and parts of Lycoming, McKean and Bradford counties under its Emergency Services dispatching, is the first region in the state to develop a GIS-based system with automatic notification to assist affected drinking water suppliers so they can take immediate action to protect the community.
Tioga Coalition members hope that the successful implementation of this system will encourage other coalitions and counties to dust off their source water protection maps and update them with this new technology for improved emergency response. Zubek commented, “The techniques and concepts used to create this SWP data layer are well known contemporary methods utilized by most GIS professionals. So I do not for see any reason why these GIS initiatives would not be compatible with other regions and systems.”
Faster response times to hazardous spills are an important way to protect water supplies and the whole community. Zubek was delighted to present the project and have one of the work products, the hard-copy 3’ x 3’ maps generated for the water suppliers and the 11”x17” EMS- 911 map books, win first place in the map gallery/poster exhibit at the 2012 NW PA GIS Conference at Clarion University this past October.
The Tioga County Source Water Protection Coalition reached out last fall to inform the Tioga County Board of Commissioners about their goal to ensure that there is enough clean water in the county today and for future generations. While gas well drilling has sparked concerns in the county, the Coalition recognized the need to address the full range of potential threats that also include agricultural impacts, roadway spills, failing septic systems, and polluted runoff.
The Board of Commissioners demonstrated their support by authorizing the time and involvement of Tioga County Planning Commission Director, Jim Weaver. He has been actively involved in source water education for years. Among his many community outreach efforts, Jim has trained citizens in a group called the Pine Creek Headwaters Protection Waterdogs to recognize and report public safety concerns or environmental problems associated with gas well drilling. “The opportunity to collaborate with on the ground water operators and municipalities charged with protecting and providing our drinking water is a powerful tool. While the day to day running of a water supply is fundamental to the community the public outreach and education of how and why can best be delivered by a coalition of suppliers working together,” said Weaver.
The Tioga County Source Water Protection group has reached out even further to other Source Water Protection coalitions in nearby Lycoming and Potter counties exchanging ideas and setting the stage for future cooperative efforts. “Water supplies, recharge areas, pollution – these things don’t understand political boundaries,” said Mark Stephens, P.G., SWP Program Manager at the DEP North Central Region in Williamsport. He feels that increased cooperation among water systems, municipalities and source water protection groups bolsters drinking water educational and legislative efforts in the state.
The Tioga County Source Water Protection Coalition developed a logo, and used a portion of grant funds to produce an educational brochure that informs local residents about potential threats to their drinking water, and outlines easy steps that community members can take to help protect their water.
Tioga County Coalition Profiled in Pennsylvania Borough News
The January/February 2013 issue of PA Borough News, published by the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs, featured WREN’s article about the Tioga County Source Water Protection Coalition titled: “Power in Numbers: The Tioga County Source Water Protection Coalition finds Successes through Cooperation.”
Click to read about the Tioga Coalition in PA Borough News article: Power in Numbers
Click to read WREN Profile Feature about the Tioga County Source Water Protection Coalition
Read about other source water protection coalitions in PA – click here>>