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The Clean Water Act at 50: A closer look at Pa.’s waterways | The Numbers Racket

Credit: iStock

by Cassie Miller, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
April 4, 2022

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the federal Clean Water Act, which laid out the regulation of pollutants in U.S. waterways and established water quality standards. 

In Pennsylvania, the Department of Environmental Protection oversees the enforcement of the federal CWA for waterways in the commonwealth, which includes approximately 85,500 miles of rivers and streams, according to the department. 

Pennsylvania Waterways

Throughout the commonwealth, waterways make up 45,333 square miles of surface area, bringing water to more than 13 million Pennsylvanians.

Presque Isle Bay in Erie occupies an area of six square miles while the Delaware Estuary occupies 17. 

Pennsylvania also boasts more than 200 publicly owned lakes, 63 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, and nearly 1.6 million acres of freshwater wetlands. 

The Chesapeake Bay Watershed

DEP estimates that approximately 4 million Pennsylvanians live in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, which makes up almost half of the state, including part or all of 43 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. 

Within Pennsylvania’s part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed are more than 49,000 miles of rivers and streams, approximately 33,000 farms and nearly 1,000 municipalities.

Pollution & Restoration 

DEP reports that more than 12,000 miles of streams and rivers in Pennsylvania are polluted. Similarly, 33 percent of stream miles in Pennsylvania are impaired for any use. 

As of this writing, DEP reports that it has assessed 11,178 stream miles between 2020 and 2022 to monitor water quality. 

The department has a goal to “restore 30 streams in Pennsylvania by 2030,” according to the Draft 2022 Pennsylvania Integrated Water Quality Report.

Between 2004 and 2022, approximately 920 miles of streams and 28,000 acres of lakes have been restored, according to the same report. 

Funding for restoration programs comes from federal and state sources, including approximately a million dollars annually from a federal CWA grant and approximately $3 million annually from the state’s Growing Greener funds. 

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

Cassie Miller is a contributor at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this story first appeared.