john-coxJohn D. Cox is president of Turkey Hill Dairy, immediate past chair of the Economic Development Company of Lancaster County and former board member of the Lancaster Farmland Trust.

There is a unique intersecting interest among members of the agricultural community, municipal officials and real estate developers in Lancaster County.

What they all have in common is the focus on clean water – or cleaner water – as a result of our central location in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and the associated federal and state cleanup requirements to restore the health of this important estuary.

For those in agriculture, real estate development and municipal stormwater management, this high priority issue is being dealt with daily as each sector tries to navigate various regulations, compliance requirements and costs.

Today, the pressure on these sectors to improve water quality is increasing, given looming deadlines to hit targets outlined in a 2010 “pollution diet” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

By most accounts, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is well behind in meeting its targets.

For many in the Lancaster County community, this issue hasn’t hit their radar screen, which is ironic given Lancaster County’s rich tradition in good stewardship of our land through farmland preservation efforts or intentional investment in our city and boroughs.

Clean water is one of our most important natural resources, yet today, more than half of the county’s 1,400 miles of local streams are considered impaired.

While the pressure to clean up our waterways has largely come out of Washington and Harrisburg, the issue of clean water is a local one.

It is hard to argue against having cleaner streams in our own community – just think about the impact on opening day of trout season.

Still, there is a good amount of discussion among players in those sectors directly impacted by clean water requirements about what works better, the carrot or the stick?

Should we clean up our water because it’s the right thing to do or because we are being forced to?

Either way, we’re on the path to cleaner water, but surely the success rate will be higher if improvements are implemented because as a community we agree that having local clean water is important to Lancaster County.

The good news is that Lancaster County has demonstrated its leadership capacity through a variety of clean water efforts.

Important, impactful projects at Landis Homes and Rock Lititz are now model showcases for riparian buffer installation and stream restoration that resulted in improved water quality while maximizing developable land.

Lancaster city has implemented creative green infrastructure projects, such as porous basketball courts and rain gardens, so that stormwater seeps back into the ground instead of entering a combined sewer system.

Key organizations including the Lancaster Farmland Trust, the Lancaster Conservation District and the Lancaster County Conservancy are implementing a wide range of educational outreach initiatives while working with land owners to implement best management practices across Lancaster County.

And important work has been conducted at Franklin & Marshall College on the impact of legacy sediments.

Such a track record is a good foundation for the hard work that is ahead of us.

What’s ahead can be challenging because innovative practices don’t always align with current government regulations, needed solutions are costly, and ensuring that results are measured and progress is being accurately tracked is critical.

It’s also an effort where coordination is needed among the many organizations and sectors already involved in clean water activities.

Yet it’s important work since getting our impaired waterways clean is an issue that impacts all sectors of Lancaster County – and all sectors stand to benefit.

See the column on LancasterOnline.