Abundant forests and wetlands are critical to protecting water quality and quantity in the Delaware River. The Poconos region has been developed as a resort destination for surrounding metropolitan areas, and tourism is the single-largest economic driver. People who commute to New York City and northern New Jersey have flocked to Pennsylvania’s Pike and Monroe Counties, which have experienced significant increases in the number of permanent residents. This makes land protection essential in an area where rapid and poorly planned development is a growing concern.
The Poconos-Kittatinny Cluster is located in the rugged Delaware River headwaters of the Pocono and High Allegheny Plateaus.
Residential & Commercial Development
With parts of the Poconos now a bedroom community for New York City and northern New Jersey, development can threaten the region’s significant economic activity that relies on forests, wetlands, clean water and floodplains.
Expansion of Energy Infrastructure
Inappropriate siting, construction and management of facilities and rights-of-way, especially for new electricity and gas lines, can cause both immediate and long-term damage to water quality.
Why it’s Important
The cluster’s abundant forests and wetlands are critical to protecting water quality and quantity in the Delaware River. The Poconos region has been developed as a resort destination for surrounding metropolitan areas, and tourism is the single-largest economic driver. People who commute to New York City and northern New Jersey have flocked to Pennsylvania’s Pike and Monroe Counties, which have experienced significant increases in the number of permanent residents. This makes land protection essential in an area where rapid and poorly planned development is a growing concern.
Population growth has brought challenges as well as opportunities to this region. Local businesses and leaders often rely on development projects to provide jobs and revenue, but the degree to which land use and development decisions protect water quality varies with the local application of land-use law and design and engineering principles. Municipal officials must act upon development applications relatively quickly and may not always have the time and access to the technical resources needed to fully consider a project’s water-quality impacts.
In addition, projects are usually reviewed individually without a way to measure the cumulative impacts of multiple projects on water quality or the potential economic impacts of reduced water quality in the region. New energy infrastructure and shale gas development pose another critical threat. Inappropriate siting, construction and management of facilities and rights-of-way, especially for electric lines and gas pipelines, can have both immediate and long-term impacts on water quality.
Once cleared, rights-of-way historically have been maintained by removing vegetation and suppressing regrowth with chemical treatment, which impedes natural processes for reestablishing forest cover and increases erosion and sedimentation in local streams.
What We Can Do
Focus Areas The cluster plan targets the lands most important to maintaining water quality and amplifies efforts to protect them. Projects focus on four sub-watersheds: Upper Delaware River Corridor; Neversink River; Upper and Middle Brodhead Creek and Bush Kill/Hornbecks Creek. The cluster organizations seek to protect a portfolio of key lands—forests, wetlands and floodplains—that preserve the landscape’s ability to filter water and regulate its flow, and that provide ecosystem services including water filtration and flood protection valued by downstream consumers in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Illustrating the benefits of forests in protecting water quality and the impact of development on watershed resources through modeling could help unite citizens and municipalities around implementation of strong conservation projects, practices and policies.
Seventeen conservation projects targeting water quality are designed to protect an estimated 10,000 acres and permanently conserve cold water trout streams. Other strategies encourage adoption of model ordinances and increase funding for the region. To amplify the pace and effectiveness of permanent protection efforts, the cluster organizations will:
- Protect a portfolio of high-priority properties that deter forest fragmentation and deliver a high return for water protection, while also capitalizing on acquisition opportunities and leveraging available funding.
- Increase landowner enrollment in conservation related programs and their interest in permanent protection options (such as the Working Woodlands program, niche forest management and habitat programs through the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Common Waters Fund).
- Strengthen the ability of municipalities in priority areas to conserve water quality by improving land-use regulations, creating a baseline by reviewing land-use regulations for 31 priority areas, presenting results to county planning directors, evaluating gaps in land-use ordinances and engaging stakeholders in improving regulations.
Monitoring and Measurement
With robust monitoring and complementary research, improvements in land use and land protection will offer insight into the relationship between conservation and water quality, and provide the rationale for investment by downstream water utilities in source-water protection in the cluster.
With a focus on maintaining the existing high water quality, monitoring will look for a stable signature—no change in water quality or degradation—in biological and chemical indicators associated with stream health. Macro-invertebrate and water chemistry monitoring will take place at approximately twelve locations, pairing sites upstream and downstream of land protection projects. Cluster organizations will collect fish samples as well as data on salamanders and algae. Watershed models will provide insight into the potential degradation averted through the permanent protection of key forest areas that may otherwise have experienced significant development. The cluster organizations are collaborating with Monroe and Pike Counties in Pennsylvania, and Orange County in New York, to obtain water-monitoring data to extend the range of sites, and will inform them of the Initiative’s activities.
Timeline and Investment
Needs as of January 2014, the estimated cost to address the stressors, protect critical landscapes, build constituencies and monitor impacts was just under $49 million over the next three years, with land protection constituting $36 million of this amount, and support for land use, energy planning outreach and monitoring totaling just under $13 million. The William Penn Foundation awarded $1.7 million in grants to advance this cluster’s plan in 2014, with additional support available through a competitive re-grant fund for land protection.