Farm owners take first steps into new Pa. water plan


SALEM, Ohio – When an envelope from Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection appeared in Dave Minner’s mailbox a few weeks ago, he wondered what the government might be sending him.

The New Wilmington-area dairyman scrawled ‘save’ across the envelope, threw it onto a pile of other mail that would eventually require his attention – “more restrictions, more intrusions, more regulations” – and went back to his chores.

Just last week he opened the envelope and examined its contents: The state was asking him to do his part in its newest plan to track where Pennsylvania’s water is, who’s using it, and how much they’re using.

By Oct. 15, he’s got to report his farm’s daily water consumption and source to the state department.

The reporting is part of Act 220, known as the Water Resources Planning Act.

Keystone plan. The water plan isn’t something lawmakers dreamed up overnight.

The legislation’s roots were planted in 1998 by a governor’s environmental commission. The act was finally passed in December 2002.

The state’s existing water plan was drafted more than 25 years ago, according to Kurt Knaus, press secretary for the environmental department.

“It really didn’t give us a complete grasp on critical water needs. There wasn’t much to it,” he admitted, saying the plan was a “static snapshot” that was probably out of date and unusable by the time it was published.

The newer plan is “more sophisticated and relies more on electronic data and GIS.”

“It actually has potential to be used,” Knaus touted.

Over the next five years, committees on the state and local levels will identify areas with peak demand and low supplies and work on voluntary conservation efforts.

“Water is our most critical resource and an important part of the economic infrastructure,” Knaus said.

“We need plenty of clean water to be profitable, and [the supply] needs to be sustainable for all users,” he said.

Start at beginning. By March of next year, every industry that withdraws or uses more than an average 10,000 gallons of water per day in a month, including farms and ranches, is required to register a water source and withdrawal amounts.

Other industries that will be registering include public water suppliers and hydropower facilities, Knaus said.

Farms and homes that use less than 10,000 gallons of water per day aren’t required to register, but can do so voluntarily to help the state create a more accurate picture of water use.

Registering is free.

Want to know more. Registration forms are also asking questions about well construction, the manner of water disposal and location, and metering information.

Most agricultural users will not need to provide metered information and will be given guidelines for estimating water use, according to Knaus.

Estimate, please. The plan says farmers should plan on reporting their use once a year – either exact use determined from a water meter or estimates and calculations.

Penn State specialists say coming up with the number to report may be the toughest part for farmers.

To help them out – not many farms have water meters installed – those specialists have developed online tools to give each farmer a rough idea of his use.

Estimate tools are available online at or from county extension offices.

Trading water for milk. Large dairy farms, like the one operated by Minner and his brother, Bob, will be hardest hit as they’re expected to report all water used on the farm – from drinking water to milk line rinse to spraying down the parlor floor.

“More than anything, this might be a good awareness tool for farmers, to let them know how much water they use,” said Rodger Keith, an extension dairy agent in Butler County.

The Minners pull their water from on-farm wells – one primary and two back-ups, according to Vonda Minner, Dave’s wife. They estimate they pull an average of 15,000 gallons each day.

In the summer, Dave Minner said, that number could easily be doubled.

Minner estimated that number by calculating drinking water for his 350 milk cows, adding in the capacity of the dairy’s wash system, and guesstimating the number of gallons used each day around the farm.

One of his biggest guesses was the farm’s temperature-activated sprinkling system used to cool the cows.

“All we really can do is estimate,” he said.

Nature’s call. And though Minner isn’t totally against the plan, he does have his reservations.

“They say eight of the past 10 years we’ve had drought, but I remember the 10 years before that when I was pulling wagons out of [muddy] fields with bulldozers. It’s the swinging pendulum of nature,” he said.

“I understand what they’re getting at, but [reporting water use] isn’t something I would jump out of bed in the morning to do,” he said.

Going along. Since 1900, Pennsylvanians have increased their daily water use from 5 gallons to 62 gallons per person, according to the Department of Environmental Protection.

Total water use in the state is estimated at 10 billion gallons per day, creating increased conflicts over water rights.

The water plan’s overall goals are to determine how much water Pennsylvania has; how much water the state uses; and how much water the state will need in the future.

(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at

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You may use more than you think

Need help in estimating your daily water use around the farm? Here are some average water use values. Keep in mind your actual use may vary; these numbers are merely estimates.

Get the details

* Act 220 Hotline



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