Fish and Boat Commission Mulls Charging Industry for Water
13 April 2013
By John Hayes
What's water worth? Depends on whom you ask.
To some 850,000 trout anglers expected to hit Pennsylvania's lakes
and streams for today's statewide opening of trout season, that's
like asking the value of a day out fishing with your dad.
But for industries that extract Pennsylvania's most abundant
natural resource from 83,000 miles of streams and rivers, nearly
4,000 lakes and an estimated 80 trillion gallons hidden
underground, water is free. Billions of gallons per day are taken
at no cost, much of it never to be returned to the citizens who
With a $9 million budget shortfall threatening to hit the state
Fish and Boat Commission in 2017, executive director John Arway
said he's "searching high and low" for alternative funding to hold
afloat an agency financed mostly by anglers and boaters. One idea
with possible legal precedent and tentative bipartisan support in
Harrisburg is imposing a new fee for the "consumptive use" of
water, with revenues going to Fish and Boat and the state
Department of Environmental Protection.
Consumptive use refers specifically to water that is extracted by
industry and permanently removed from the environment, Mr. Arway
"When people drink water or take a shower, it's returned through
the sewage system," he said. "When farmers irrigate fields it
drains back into the ground. The Pennsylvania Constitution says
we, the citizens, own the water. Some of these companies take it
out of the environment, use it for free and it's gone, never
returned to Pennsylvania's environment."
The bottled water industry, for instance, pays nothing to remove
it from the state's waterways. It treats and packages water and
ships much of it out of the state. The Marcellus Shale industry
also extracts water for free. The process of hydraulic fracturing
pumps much of it so far below the water table it is rendered
forever unusable. Other industries make similar permanent use of
"That's our water they're taking for free," Mr. Arway said.
"They're stealing the resource from us, and that makes me mad."
In the American West, most land ownership includes water rights.
But in Eastern states, including Pennsylvania, rules dating to
English common law leave most flowing water and the aquatic life
that inhabits it in a trust owned by the citizens of the state.
Under a 1940s state law, dredging companies that remove sand and
gravel from the riverbeds of the Allegheny and Ohio rivers
compensate the state with revenues shared by Fish and Boat and
DEP, agencies with roles in managing those waterways. Mr. Arway
sees the law as precedent for a new regulation that would
compensate the state for the permanent extraction of water.
The idea has conceptual support from Republicans and Democrats in
Harrisburg. Submitted in March with bipartisan co-sponsorship,
State Senate Resolution 39 would allocate money to study the issue
and recommend an as-yet undetermined fee structure for the
permanent use and degradation of water.
"Billions of gallons of water are either never returned to
Pennsylvania's water cycle or returned in a degraded condition
each day, and the commonwealth of Pennsylvania receives no
compensation for either the consumptive use or degradation of
water," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Richard Alloway, R-Adams,
Franklin and York counties, in a written statement. The resolution
is in committee.
The bottled water industry supports regulation of the industrial
use of water. But Chris Hogan of the International Bottled Water
Association said the trade group opposes the kind of state-levied
fees suggested by Mr. Arway.
"The consumptive use of water for bottled water is arguably one of
the highest and most appropriate consumptive uses of water in a
product, since it quite literally is then directly consumed by
consumers," Mr. Hogan said.
In 2008, the bottled water association supported ratification of
the Great Lakes Compact, which addresses commercial water
extraction from the Great Lakes Basin, including Pennsylvania. But
more than a dozen Pennsylvania-based bottlers extract water from
outside the Lake Erie Basin. Most, including the Nestle brand's
Poland Springs Water, KD Service's Great Oak Spring Water Co.,
Pure Elements H2O and 3 Springs Water, draw from the Susquehanna
and Delaware river drainages.
In 2009, the state denied the request of a bottled water startup
company to drain more than 100,000 gallons a day from the Laurel
Hill Creek watershed in Somerset County. The DEP said the
withdrawal would significantly diminish the flow of the popular
trout stream and its tributaries and cause environmental damage.
With DEP oversight of its operations in Pennsylvania, water
bottlers are subject to permit and inspection fees and taxes.
Considering that much of the product is returned to the
environment from which it came, Mr. Hogan said the bottled water
industry is actually a "net importer of water into states in the
The association's national water policy statement supports
government involvement in long-term sustainable water usage. It
opposes, however, "targeted state and federal fees placed on its
members' operations and products, but is happy to review
broad-based proposed user fees to determine whether or not they
are equitable for all, including the bottled water industry," said
The Marcellus Shale industry moves water from the surface to deep
underground. Each drilling site uses 3 million to 5 million
gallons, almost all of it during the hydraulic fracturing stage.
Steve Forde, a spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, said
that in 2011 in Pennsylvania drilling operations used 8 million to
10 million gallons of water per day, among the least used by water
A 2011 U.S. Geological Survey report said fracking operations
accounted for 0.1 percent of 9.5 billion gallons of water
extracted daily from the state. Mr. Forde said new cost-saving
technologies developed in the past three years enable operators to
reuse water used in fracking, reducing the industry's need for
"There's a good business case to be made for reducing water
withdrawal. Transporting it to the well and then disposing of it
-- it's expensive," he said. "In our business, hydraulic
fracturing is where water is utilized, and the truth is we're not
using as much water as we did just a few years ago."
A DEP spokesman said the resolution, which would provide new
revenue to the department, is under review. Mr. Arway said water
usage revenues would provide a partial remedy for Fish and Boat,
which runs on a $55 million annual budget mostly derived from
license and permit fees and a federal excise tax on fishing and
boating gear and fuel. He said the $9 million shortfall will hit
in four years in the form of employee pension obligations and
growing infrastructure expenses.
John Hayes: 412-263-1991, email@example.com.