By Kim Lux
For more than two years, the North East Borough Water Department has been working with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to develop a Source Water Protection Plan.
The plan was recently unveiled to the public during a presentation on Aug. 20.
“Source water protection means taking proactive measures to prevent pollution of our lakes, rivers, streams and ground water that serves as drinking water,” said Christopher Berkey, a geologic specialist with the DEP who assisted with North East’s Source Water Protection Plan.
Berkey added that the borough’s water department and Water System Manager/Superintendent Randy Culver are dedicated to maintaining safe, clean drinking water for its customers.
“Randy has enforced source water protection measures for a long time and I really want to thank him for that because it really does benefit the community,” Berkey said.
“Water is a very finite resource,” he added. “That’s why source water protection is so important. This is a voluntary effort, it’s not restrictive or prohibitive.”
When establishing a Source Water Protection Plan, Berkey said there are five steps a community must go through.
The steps are as follows:
• A steering committee must be formed.
• Public participation must be encouraged through information and educational activities.
• A map of delineation of area to be protected, using approved DEP methods, needs to be established.
• Potential and existing sources of contamination to each permitted water source must be inventoried.
• A management plan to protect the water supply from potential contaminations must be developed.
Berkey and Culver agreed that creating a knowledgeable steering committee was most beneficial.
“We always form a steering committee when setting up a Source Water Protection Plan,” Berkey said. “It’s a great benefit to have local folks involved. They provide that local knowledge that’s needed.”
Culver added that the borough’s steering committee includes individuals from all walks of life.
“Our steering committee has 10 members,” Culver said. “There’s a great mix of people, including members of the water authority, Erie County Department of Public Health and the Planning Commission, reps from North East Township, etc. It’s a really diversified group of community members and county representatives.”
After the committee was formed, members started to review potential sources of contamination within the watershed.
“Through computer databases, and the steering committee’s local knowledge, we compiled a list of potential contaminations,” he said. “Here, we found 40-point sources of potential contamination. These are things like underground storage tanks, sewage discharge, etc. We’re looking at everything that’s in the watershed, not just what’s in the protection zones.”
According to Berkey, the North East community is fortunate to have several sources of fresh water, so if one source was contaminated the water department could receive its intake from another source.
“Fortunately, North East is blessed with many sources of water,” he said. “A lot of other systems rely on one water source, so this is a benefit. For North East Borough, Lake Erie serves as a primary water source and there are several other reservoir and spring intakes.”
Culver said that in case of a water contamination emergency, residents would be notified through an outreach call.
“We belong to a calling database called SwiftReach, where we can send notifications out to the public,” he said. “If anyone isn’t signed up they should be. If you’re a North East Borough resident, call the borough or go to the borough’s website. Same thing for township residents. Call the township office or go online to sign up.”
The link to North East Borough’s SwiftReach log-in is — www.northeastborough.com/for-residents.html. Township residents should visit — www.northeasttwp.org. The link is on the home page.
Berkey added that North East’s Source Water Protection Plan is so impressive, the department has become a Showcase System with the Great Lakes Commission.
“We belong to the Great Lakes Commission, which is an organization of municipalities that sit on the Great Lakes in the U.S. and Canada,” Culver explained. “We give them input on water quality and other issues.
“Out of all the members we are the only ones with a Source Water Protection Plan,” he added. “They’re really interested in the process, so that’s how we became a Showcase System. We’ve gained a lot of knowledge through this process and we’re ready to bring it back to the table and help educate others.”