Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Letter to the Editor: Environmental group responds to Capital Region Water letter

A sign along Harrisburg’s lower river walk warns of the combined sewer overflow.

A September 19, 2019, letter to the editor published in TheBurg by Charlotte Katzenmoyer, executive director of Capital Region Water (CRW), titled “Capital Region Water is Committed to Addressing Environmental Threats, Concerns,” makes two factually incorrect statements about an August 22 report by the Environmental Integrity Project, titled “Sewage Overflows in Pennsylvania’s Capital.”

The letter incorrectly asserts that our report claims that: “Capital Region Water has avoided paying penalties or fines for CSO or other violations.” In fact, we make it clear on page 8 of our report that Pennsylvania fined the water and sewer authority 29 times for sewage violations from 2015 through 2018. However, the state failed to fine the authority for an additional 102 self-reported sewage violations over this time period (out of a total of 131 violations), meaning that only 20 percent of the violations resulted in penalties.

The letter from Capital Region Water also wrongly claims that our report says: “Capital Region Water’s plan targets 60 percent capture.”  Our report does not say that. On pages 5, 9, 11, 14, and 21 our report states that the water authority’s proposal would allegedly “reduce” the current volume of sewage and stormwater flowing on an annual basis into the Susquehanna River, from an annual average of 800 million gallons to about 300 million gallons annually. That 60 percent estimate is correct, based on numbers in Capital Region Water’s written plan, “City Beautiful H20,” and CRW did not dispute those numbers we discussed the figures with CRW in a meeting at their offices on June 6 or in subsequent emails.

However, it should be noted that it is very different to say that the authority’s plan would “reduce” the volume of sewage and stormwater pouring into the river by approximately 60 percent (which is true, according to CRW’s figures), and to say that the plan would “capture” 60 percent of the total volume in the system (which would include both the liquid being piped to treatment at the wastewater treatment plant and the liquid being discharged to the river.)  Our report only focused on the percentage of reduction in pollution flowing directly into the river, which produces a different number than what CRW is highlighting (the percentage of capture.)  

We think it’s more important to focus on reducing the pollution into the river, which is why we chose the language we selected.  The figure and language that CRW is highlighting makes their plan appear to be more effective, so I understand why the authority would want that framework and emphasis.  But as a kayaker on the Susquehanna River, what I am more concerned about (and what I suspect many people are concerned about) is reducing the amount of raw human waste that we actually encounter in the river. Thank you for the opportunity to set the record straight on those factual issues.

Tom Pelton is the director of communications for the Environmental Integrity Project.

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