October 18, 2021 -
COLUMBIA, Pa. — A new resource is available for Lancaster and York County landowners who are seeking solutions for their stormwater management problems.
The Center for Water Quality Excellence opened the doors to its 1,500-square foot office at 430 Walnut St., Columbia, in August.
The program offers a no-cost service that’s funded by PennVest, the state’s infrastructure investment authority.
The center is designed to help farmers, municipalities and businesses understand the most cost-effective stormwater practices.
“Our job was to unravel all of this and simplify it,” said Sally Holbert, the center’s manager. “I don’t want to call it a one-stop shop. We’re certainly not that. We help connect the dots, listen to your needs and be responsive.”
The center provides “stormwater coaches” who explain the financing opportunities that are available, including low-interest loans. Both in-person and online resources (at cwqe.org) are provided.
The center’s goal is to accelerate the implementation of stormwater and farm conservation efforts to reduce runoff that adds nutrients and sediment to streams and rivers. These practices can benefit both the environment and the landowners themselves.
“This is trying to get people to think about their own water supply resources,” Holbert said. “Fresh water for their dairy cattle. Fresh water for their family. Doing management and land-use practices on their property that aren’t going to impact in a negative way water quality on their property.”
One tool available is called Farm-A-Syst. This is a self-evaluation program that allows farmers to assess their water resource protection. Digital worksheets ask about tillage, erosion, pesticide storage and more.
Landowners receive a digital record of their answers, visible only to them, and gain an understanding of how the conditions on their property affect water resources.
“It can be used as a self-assessment,” Holbert said. “The owner of a property can walk around and do it themselves. It asks a series of questions. Then it gives you a ranking from 0-4. Closer to 4 means you’re doing a really good job.”
Another option is to have an ag specialist walk the land and make suggestions. This helps farmers target areas for improvement.
If it’s determined that a change in practices could be beneficial, the center helps landowners find funding. Holbert emphasized that the center is not part of the government and won’t be looking for violations. Her team is looking to help.
“We understand that your soil is your biggest asset,” Holbert said. “You don’t want to lose any of that. Is there anything you’re doing on your farm that would potentially be a loss of your soil or the productivity of your soil?”
Conservation in Mind
Efforts to reduce pollutant runoff from farms and construction sites are a priority in Pennsylvania. The center is hoping to streamline and speed up the process.
The hope is to eventually expand the model to other areas in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. For now, though, the program is open to residents of Lancaster and York counties, which are two of the largest contributors of agricultural runoff to the bay.
“You might be able to get some funding through a non-profit who just got a chunk of change to do these practices,” said Pat Devlin, one of the center’s stormwater coaches. “There are all these different avenues to get help, but no one before the center had been able to pull it all together. We have it in one place.”
The group’s Columbia office is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.Tuesday through Thursday. Walk-ins are welcome, and appointments can be made by calling 855-227-1202.
The center encourages local government, farmers and business owners to visit or send an email.
“Never before has there been this much available funding,” Devlin said. “If you need help, now’s the time.”
Source: Lancaster Farming