Administrator, Pennsylvania Watershed Program
John Dawes served as an alternate Commissioner on Governor Tom Ridge’s 21st Century Commission on the Environment and was part of a policy team for the Heinz Endowments Environmental Program. He currently serves as President of the Board of POWR – the Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers. Dawes is also a well-known Angus breeder on his Huntingdon County farm, where he continues his lifelong commitment to land and watershed management. He holds a Master’s degree in Education from the Penn State University College of Education.
Pennsylvania’s number one water quality problem is drainage of acids from abandoned mines. This problem, which occurs every time it rains, has resulted in 250,000 acres of toxic, non-productive land — about the same land area as all of our State Park System. If not for acid mine drainage much of this land could be made available for crop production, grazing, or forests. It also has degraded 4,600 miles of streams to the point where they are biologically dead.
The Foundation for PA Watersheds was founded in 1994 by the Heinz Endowments in order to provide small grants to leverage state and federal agency dollars for watershed assessment, preservation and reclamation. It has granted more than $6 million, resulting in $76 million in projects across the state, the majority of which are for treatment of acid mine drainage.
The foundation was intent on continuation of the Abandoned Mine Lands Program, which was a part of the original law that first regulated mining in this country. Knowing that the program was due to sunset in 2004, we formed the PA AML Campaign and last December, it was renewed, providing funds for reclamation of old mining sites in the state.
Now Pennsylvania has the hope of reclaiming old mining sites using measures such as treating water with innovative passive treatment systems and amending soils to a healthy status, planting cover crops for trees. The PA AML Campaign has agreed to stay involved in the implementation and oversight of the Fund, providing input to the federal Office of Surface Mining so that mountain top removal — an approach mining interests have used elsewhere —does not come to Pennsylvania. For its work, the campaign has won numerous awards.
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