April 22, 2022
To: Rep. Daryl Metcalf, chair House Environmental Resources & Energy Committee; and Rep. Greg Vitali, Democratic chair, House Environmental Resources & Energy Committee.
Dear: Chairman Metcalf and Chairman Vitali,
Thank you for giving farmers the opportunity to talk about the problems that we have been seeing in our local communities due to the lack of routine stream maintenance.
Our families have farmed in the Northern Tier for several generations. We are invested in the community and want to grow our family businesses. The best way for any farm to succeed is through a mindset of conservation of natural resources. Our farms are productive due to healthy soil and clean water. Take away our topsoil, or clean water for our crops and animals, and we would have a difficult time running our businesses.
Over the past decade, we have seen strong storms pass through our region in the summer and fall, dropping significant amounts of rain in our region. The planting practices that we have incorporated on our farms anticipates some of these changing conditions. Crops planted using no-till practices have a better rate of success in preventing soil from being washed away during heavy storms. Building diversion ditches to channel and control stormwater also helps absorb nutrients before they are deposited into nearby creeks and streams. Additionally, stream bank buffers present another option that agriculture producers can use to prevent nutrients from reaching the soil. A properly maintained buffer acts like a sponge, absorbing nitrogen and phosphorus and sediments.
In the state’s Northern Tier, our streams are in a constant state of flux. Heavy rain events cause the further erosion of creek banks and the creation of gravel bars at bends in our streams. Over time, these deposits significantly alter the flow of the stream and create a point of deflection for the water at heavy flows. As a result, adjacent streambanks, and in many cases farmland, are eroded. Washed away with it are the conservation work that farmers have done to protect those very same streams.
Last year, our area was hit with another devastating storm, resulting in damage to our farm fields, to road and bridge infrastructure and to numerous homes in the community. There was 8 to 10 inches of rain, but the resulting flooding cannot be placed only on the rainfall. The problem lies significantly with the chronic lack of maintenance on our creeks and streams.
Many farmers in the region can remember a time when stream maintenance and removal of gravel bars was part of our routine maintenance. It was a way to protect the work that we were doing on the land—by preventing it from being washed away. Restrictions put in place by environmental agencies made it difficult for farmers or other landowners to remove gravel bars, particularly if they have vegetation on them, or to remove them to a point below the water line. As a result, we have seen year after year of damage caused in large part by that lack of routine maintenance.
The southern part of New York state faces many of the same challenges that we do in terms of erodible stream banks and glacial soils. New York created a stream intervention program that takes a proactive approach to stream maintenance in an entire watershed and makes long term structural improvements that makes the watershed better able to handle high water flows. Closer to home, Bradford County has been working on a similar model to create a comprehensive approach.
It is long past time for Pennsylvania to adopt similar statewide programs. We need to embrace changes that empower local officials, like county governments and conservation districts, to direct comprehensive changes to waterways in their communities. Our permitting process needs to empower local control and oversight. That is why we are in full support of the steam maintenance package that has been introduced and referred to this committee. We can no longer afford to kick this can down the road.
Year after year, we continue to see homes, businesses and farmland destroyed by flooding. Doing nothing to address this situation is not an option. It is clear that the approach embraced by our Department of Environmental Protection is not working. It has failed Tioga County, Potter County and the rest of the Northern Tier. We are tired of seeing valuable topsoil being washed away time and again. Our work on conservation is being eroded.
We are hopeful that the General Assembly will act swiftly and adopt the reforms outlined in the stream maintenance legislation. Equally as important, we hope the Department of Environmental Protection embraces these changes. Instead of fighting against them, we hope the administration takes this opportunity to work proactively towards a solution. Because we have years of experience to show that what is being done now has failed.
We welcome the chance to answer any questions that you might have.
Farmer, Tioga County
Farmer, Tioga County