What is Delisting?

Jan 27, 2022 | Blog, Clean Water Fund

What Is Delisting?

Written by Megan Blackmon, Project and Grants Coordinator for the Lancaster Clean Water Partners

It is obvious that “delisting” would be removing an item from a list. But what list? And why and how? 

The list we’re referring to here is not Santa’s naughty list, but it has its similarities – it’s the list of impaired streams. The federal Clean Water Act and Pennsylvania’s Clean Streams Law requires the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to assess physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of streams to determine if they support aquatic life. They also assess streams to determine if the streams are safe to support fish consumption, recreation, and for supplying potable water. 

Basically are the streams healthy enough to support basic bug life and safe for all of us to touch and/or drink. 

Since the majority of streams in Lancaster County are listed as impaired for aquatic life use – that is the primary use that the stream delisting strategy is addressing. You can view how all streams are assessed on PA’s Integrated Report.

Smaller drainage areas called catchments were identified within the Chiques, Conestoga, Pequea, and Octoraro watersheds as prime locations for delisting. Catchments were chosen where previous successes and momentum from landowners will accelerate adoption of practices and resulting water quality indicators like bug and fish populations will rebound faster. The clean water work starts in priority areas and ultimately addresses needs across the entire county.

It’s akin to cleaning your house when everything’s a mess. You can either do a little in every room or make a lot of headway in one room. You can then check that room off the list – or delist a stream in this case. 

There are certainly challenges of concentrating on such small areas. There may be landowners who are unwilling to adopt conservation practices; or storms that arise as influences beyond our control; or drainage features from infrastructure that cannot be addressed within a few years. We realize that not everything will go perfectly, but we are confident that we will see healthier streams and better land use around Lancaster County when communities of landowners come together.

At its core, the delisting strategy is a microcosm of the Lancaster Clean Water Partners – collaboration in action for clean water. In the catchments, partners come together to share information about needs, plans, and to drive action with the common goal of cleaning up that small section of stream. That requires trust and a high degree of collaboration. Success requires a diverse set of partners to conduct outreach, design projects, provide funding, plant trees, and build conservation practices.

Why these streams?

Going back to our house cleaning analogy, when deciding whether to start on the kitchen or the packed garage right before visitors arrive – where should you start when attempting to get a stream off of the impaired waters list? You just mopped the kitchen a few days ago, so primarily dishes just need to be done and the counters wiped. Yes, the garage most definitely needs work, but it’s going to take significantly longer. If you choose the garage, when your friends arrive a few hours later, overall you wouldn’t have much to show for your efforts. The kitchen it is! 

Similarly, local partners who work daily with landowners and others to plan conservation projects and those that conduct monitoring came together to look at the existing data and decide where to focus efforts. The main factors that they used in decision-making were momentum of conservation efforts already in the area and known willingness of landowners, how much of the stream has existing & forested riparian buffers (trees around the stream), and what the most recent water monitoring data tells us. 

Do we know if it is working?

According to one of our partners, Jamie Shallenberger at the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, the Stream Delisting Strategy is still an “unproven, good idea.” It can take years to see the results of conservation practices and delist a stream, so water quality monitoring will be crucial along the way. The Water Quality Monitoring Action Team has pulled together data from around the county and has years worth of information for certain places.  They are finalizing a monitoring plan for delisting catchments, which includes baseline data when possible and emphasizes actions that will take place by multiple partner organizations in the Winter and Spring of 2023.

Want to dive in further?

  • DEP’s Integrated Report gives all the details in a storymap format that’s easy to wade through.
  • Check out this white paper about Lancaster’s Common Agenda for Clean Water, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program which uses the stream delisting strategy as an anchor of the collaborative work
  • Collaborative Mapping Tool to view catchments and water quality monitoring data and other layers that are intended to help partner organizations make informed and collaborative decisions.  An instructional video is available to help guide a user if needed.