Westmoreland Conservation District
PROMOTING CLEAN STREAMS…STABLE SOILS…HEALTHY FORESTS…PRODUCTIVE FARMS…AND SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES THROUGHOUT WESTMORELAND COUNTY, PA
For 65 years, the Westmoreland Conservation District has been successfully encouraging loggers, earthmovers, developers, farmers, and others whose daily work directly affects our natural resources to voluntarily incorporate conservation practices in their projects, and so protect the quality of the soil, forests, and streams.
The District’s ability to elicit this voluntary care of our natural resources is extremely high, because its approach is personal, often one-on-one, and because the actions it recommends are both proven and practical.
The Westmoreland Conservation District promotes, educates, and implements conservation principles through examples and programs.
We encourage best management practices and voluntary compliance of laws. Our Board of Directors, professionals, and volunteers are committed to the leadership and service required in pursuing a better environment. We use our skills and talents, and the cooperation of our partners, to build a culture of responsible stewardship and sustainability.
The Westmoreland Conservation District was established in 1949, when local farmers, seeking help to conserve their soil and water resources, approached the Westmoreland County Commissioners.
As Westmoreland County has grown and changed in the 65 years since that founding, the District has responded with new programs to help ensure minimal impact on all aspects of the county’s natural wealth – its soils, forests, streams, and open space – as well as its valuable, productive farmland.
During the 1950s and 1960s, the District first expanded its efforts to include the broader-based issues of flood prevention, an inventory of county soils, anti-litter campaigns, and land-use planning.
When the 1970s brought increased urbanization to Westmoreland County, the District added programs to control sediment and manage stormwater. It is one of the few districts in the state to have a hydraulic engineer (PE) on staff.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the District undertook efforts to reduce nonpoint-source pollution, protect groundwater, manage solid waste, beautify highways, and provide quality recreation areas.
Since 2000, the District has focused many of its energies on education and outreach. It established a formal conservation education program, targeted to upper-level students and adults, and created a number of citizens advisory committees to help ensure that the District’s programs and services are relevant to the public’s needs.
The organization also moved into its own building next door to its former location (Donohoe Center). This new location – an 1880s-era barn constructed with conservation technologies, recycled materials, and water-saving landscape practices – not only serves as the District’s headquarters, but also as a practical demonstration of conservation-in-action. (See “About,” “Our Unique Facility.”)
The organization also completed GreenForge, the first green rehabilitation of a commercial building in Westmoreland County. Located between Donohoe Center and the District’s headquarters, GreenForge exemplifies low-impact design and sustainable development. Among the building’s many notable features are: the first green roof in Westmoreland County; the first installation of permeable concrete in Westmoreland County; one of the largest photovoltaic “solar power” installations in Westmoreland County; a geothermal heating and cooling system; native landscaping; and cellulose fiber insulation made of recycled newspapers.
In day-to-day use, GreenForge provides low-cost office space for grassroots conservation, agricultural, and rural development organizations.
Stormwater Management Services — In recent years, demand for the District’s technical help in the area of stormwater management began to grow exponentially, to the point where this is now the organization’s fastest growing service area.
Demand for stormwater services is coming from old and new communities alike, which share the same challenge of finding more effective, less polluting, and less expensive ways to manage rain and melting snow and ice.
In growing communities, the need is spurred by land development that exchanges open space for the hard, impervious surfaces of driveways, parking lots, and building roofs. In older, urban areas, the catalyst is the limited capacity and age of the storm sewer infrastructure.
Residential development alone has been adding an additional 41 million gallons of stormwater runoff annually in Westmoreland County in recent years, increasing pressure on our infrastructure, swelling small streams, and carrying a growing load of pesticides, road salts, pet waste, and other pollutants into our waterways. This increased stormwater runoff has created a variety of serious challenges for our communities — frequent flooding, expensive repairs of aging storm sewer systems, and compromised water quality.
Our organizational challenge is to find an efficient and fiscally responsible way increase our capacity to meet the demand for stormwater services.
Shale Gas Development — The onset of drilling for Marcellus Shale natural gas in western Pennsylvania presents an opportunity for the District to encourage the same kind of voluntary conservation practices in this industry as we do in agriculture, forestry, and others…and to help achieve a balance between the need to extract this natural resource and the need to limit the impact of that extraction on other natural resources.
We have been talking with the gas industry and other potential partners about a way to make conservation best-management practices on drill sites a routine part of gas extraction.
The Westmoreland Conservation District is located in an historic, 1880’s bank barn that has been adapted with a variety of energy-saving and conservation materials.