PA Commission Wants to Charge for Water in Western PA Too

John Arway, executive director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, believes that the state is missing out on a lot of revenue it could be making from water sales. At a recent meeting of the PA House of Representatives Game and Fisheries Committee, Arway said the state should start charging industry for the water it takes from the state’s rivers and streams. And by industry, Arway means the drilling industry as well as anyone else using water from public water supplies, like farmers.

"Shallow-well gas drillers in the Allegheny National Forest have been pulling all of the water for their operations from our rivers for decades without paying a penny for it. Farmers do the same," Arway said. "Anyone with a tanker truck can pull up to our water and take what they want without the commonwealth getting a thing for it."*

Ohio River watershedArway points out that in the central and eastern parts of Pennsylvania, both the Susquehanna River Basin Commission and the Delaware River Basin Commission charge for water withdrawals in their respective watershed areas. But not so on the western side of the state, most of which sits in the Ohio River watershed (see the embedded image).

The Susquehanna River Basin Commission charges industry about 27 cents per 1,000 gallons of water from that river, or just enough to replace what’s removed; the Delaware River Basin Commission charges about 8 cents per 1,000 gallons, Arway said. No one regulates who takes water out of the Ohio River drainage, nor does anyone pay to replace it.

The commission itself makes a little money by selling water. It’s getting $5 per 1,000 gallons taken from Donegal Lake in Westmoreland County. The water is being purchased by a Marcellus Shale deep-well driller.*

So who would get the money if the state adopted such a policy?

Rep. John Evans, the Crawford County Republican who serves as majority chairman of the committee, asked how money generated from selling water should be allocated. His first impression seemed to be that Arway was asking for the commission to get all of the money.

"Shouldn’t the commonwealth receive the funds because the water belongs to it?" Evans asked.

That is indeed the case, Arway said. He said he would expect that lawmakers would decide how to allocate that money, with some going to townships for repair of bridges over streams and rivers, some going to water treatment facilities — and some going to the Fish and Boat Commission, because anglers and boaters use the waterways from which the water is being taken.*

Arway is hitting the road with his idea to see if he can drum up support—and a potential new revenue “stream” for his agency.

*Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Mar 14, 2012) – Fish and Boat Commission suggests charging for river water