Peters resident enrolls Washington County in Groundwater Guardian program

April 21, 2014
Joan Jessen of Peters Township walks along Canonsburg Lake Friday as anglers fish along the shoreline. Joan and Washington County were recognized by the Groundwater Foundation for their efforts in cleaning up Canonsburg Lake. - Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

When the Groundwater Foundation of Lincoln, Neb., put out a news release recently noting Washington County was designated as a Groundwater Guardian Community, it wasn’t surprising when the website identified the person behind the effort.

Joan Jessen of McMurray has worked tirelessly over the years to make people aware that there is a treasure beneath the feet of those who tread upon Western Pennsylvania soil. What many people here take for granted is groundwater.

Think groundwater is of little importance? Try living in a desert for any length of time.

Jessen submitted to the Groundwater Foundation a community profile for Washington County, noting that groundwater provides 45 percent of the drinking water to the area’s 200,000-plus residents. Groundwater flows from beneath the surface to feed wells and springs.

“We’ve been a member of the Washington County Watershed Alliance, working with the Groundwater Guardian Foundation,” Jessen said in a recent interview.

The nonprofit Groundwater Foundation recognizes the groundwater protection accomplishments of community teams throughout the country and encourages citizen involvement at the local level.

Jessen didn’t need anyone to prod her into action.

In 1991, she helped found the Washington County Groundwater Coalition, which later became known as the Groundwater Coalition Education Committee of the Washington County Watershed Alliance, of which she served as president.

The alliance is made up of the various watershed associations monitoring resources in different parts of the county.

Jessen also was recognized a few years ago when she received the national Edith Stevens Groundwater Education Award from the Groundwater Foundation for her work on water issues in the county.

For 13 years, Jessen coordinated the annual Washington County Children’s Groundwater Festival, the first of its kind in the state. She also arranged for the purchase of groundwater flow models for all schools in the county and has set up teacher training workshops to show them how to operate the model.

Washington County residents may come in contact with Groundwater Guardian as a source of information at Ag Days via Chartiers Creek Watershed Association and Washington County Watershed Alliance, which includes associations from major watersheds in Washington County that include King’s Creek, Harmon Creek, Raccoon Creek, Robinson Run, Miller’s Run, Cross Creek, Chartiers Creek, Buffalo Creek, Mingo Creek, Peters Creek, Houston Run, Pigeon Creek, Maple Creek, Pike Run, Two Mile Run, Ten Mile Creek, and Wheeling Creek and the Monongahela River.

One may not be thinking global when driving by sheer cliffs that line some of our highways and byways, and seeing water dripping from them, but Washington County’s groundwater flows to the Monongahela or Ohio rivers, both of which empty into the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico before the water makes its way into the Atlantic Ocean.

Jessen also was involved with other clean-water efforts.

The Dominion Foundation, in partnership with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, in 2012 awarded $1,550 to Chartiers Creek Watershed Association for Catfish Creek streambank restoration in the City of Washington. A bank was stabilized with plantings and rocks.

A $2 million Canonsburg Lake project completed in 2012 included stabilization of the dam. Rock anchors were added, as was a training wall, which keeps water within the dam’s spillway. The project was the recipient of grants of taxpayer money, local share funds from gambling proceeds at The Meadows Casino and grassroots fundraising efforts including that of GETMAD – Girls Empowered To Make a Difference.

Keeping the lake in top shape is a work in progress, or, as Jessen puts it, “continual improvement.” The next step is construction of a weir to trap sediment, minimizing its flow into the lake.

“We have a fair amount of money, enough to get the project started for the construction of the weir,” she said.

Jessen counts as current threats to groundwater the possible impacts from development of natural gas resources in the Marcellus Shale formation and the impact of urban and suburban development on groundwater.

Manure management workshop

According to Pennsylvania law, all animal operations that produce or use manure are to have a written plan outlining how the manure is used, or disposed. The Washington County Conservation District plans workshops to help owners understand the regulations, and to write a plan for their operation.

A workshop geared toward equine and other small operations will be held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, April 26, at 2800 N. Main St. in Arden. The deadline to register for the workshop is the close of business today.

Using the Manure Management Manual created by the state Department of Environmental Protection, participants should create a farm plan map. Financial support for this project is provided by the DEP through the Clean Water Fund, so the workshop is offered at no cost. To sign up, or to have questions answered, those interested may call Stephen Gilkinson at 724-206-9446, or email

The Washington County Watershed Alliance meets the first Tuesday of the month in May, July, September and November at the Washington County Conservation District office at the above address.

Keep PA Beautiful partners remove trash

To date, a partnership of the organization Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful, the Washington County Courts’ Furlough Into Service program, local officials, and law enforcement has removed 261,000 pounds of trash and 3,200 tires from Washington County, according to Stephanie Larson, program coordinator of Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful, based in Greensburg, Westmoreland County.

Local landfills, County Hauling Corp., Tervita-Westmoreland Waste LLC, Waste Management Inc. and Lawver Tire Disposal have provided a reduced rate for the cost of the disposal of the trash and tires.

To deter dumping, signs and cameras will be placed at previously cleaned sites, as well as random sites throughout Washington County. The cameras are capable of capturing license plate numbers and images of vehicles during both day and night, and evidence gathered from the cameras will be used to prosecute those who dump.

Cameras will be repositioned around the county as needed, according to Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful. The organization’s slogan is “Let’s pick up PA.”

Questions regarding proper disposal of waste and recycling in Washington County may be directed to Jason Theakston, recycling coordinator at the Washington County Planning Commission at 724-228-6811, or by email at

Barbara S. Miller covers politics, Washington County government and a variety of other topics for the Observer-Reporter. She is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, majoring in English and history. Follow her on Twitter @reporterbarb.

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