John Dawes has served as Executive Director of the Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds since 1994, where he has supervised the distribution of small grants to over 150 environmental and watershed associations throughout the state. The Foundation’s goal is to provide seed money that allows local groups to leverage even larger grants from state and federal agencies to restore damaged rivers and streams. The Foundation was selected as the recipient of $3.5 million to be paid by GenOn Northeast Management Company in settlement of NELC’s Clean Water Act enforcement suit. Its website is www.pennsylvaniawatersheds.org.
How would you describe the condition of the Conemaugh River and its various tributaries?
The Conemaugh River watershed is the most highly degraded watershed in the state, due to the legacy of coal mining. A single 10-mile stretch from Patton to Johnstown contains over 200 seeps of abandoned mine drainage from old underground mines.
This scarred, even toxic, land does not support plant life, and when it does, the first species to take hold are invasives. These invasive species do not support native bird species on their migratory routes and do very little for the integrity of the environment.
Remarkably, the watershed nevertheless retains a number of pristine tributaries that need protection. Our strategy, using input from local watershed associations, is to address the “worst of the worst” and protect the “best of the best.”
How will the funds the received from the PennEnvironment vs. GenOn settlement help the Foundation in its work?
The funds from the settlement will help us tremendously to address impacts in an entire watershed, enabling us to look at multiple projects that relate synergistically, both up- and downstream. Toward that end, we have already convened representatives from more than 20 organizations and agencies, from the Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation and the Blacklick Creek Watershed Association to Trout Unlimited and the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission.
What are the advantages of being able to focus on multiple projects in a single watershed?
As we concentrate our grant making in a targeted region, we will be better able to evaluate outcomes of the work. It is my belief that addressing one situation may create benefits in another problem area. For example, as we re-establish wetlands, or reconstitute soils and then plant over abandoned mine lands, we will reduce the volume of acid mine drainage into rivers and streams.