Students voice their opinion on water allocation
Armed with knowledge, a group of students has taken action. And Connellsville Mayor Judy Reed hopes adults will follow their example.
Sixth graders in Arnold Burchianti's class at Connellsville Township Elementary School have written letters to the Daily Courier objecting to the Army Corps of Engineers' plan to provide 50 million gallons of water per day from the Youghiogheny River to the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County.
Reed, a teacher at the school, addressed the class about the allocation and five students responded. Their letters have been published and express concern that the river may no longer be a resource for their generation and future children and that the river's ecosystem will be damaged by additional water removal. They have also sent the letters to the Army Corps of Engineers.
"The mayor came in and talked to us. We got mad and that's why we wrote the letters," said Amber Johnson, 11. "When I was little, we could go swimming and if they take all the water, we won't be able to go."
Kevin Sherwood, 12, also values the Yough. "The river means a lot to me and I don't want to see it drained until it's nothing. We swim, we fish, we take rafts by Ohiopyle or upstream. This was my first letter to the editor. I was really mad at the Corps of Engineers. I think they're incompetent and I think they should be responsible for their own rules before draining the water. If they drain the river, the temperature of the water will rise and the fish and animals will die and the river won't come back."
Chris Faith, 12, recently moved to Connellsville from Texas and has already become involved in the future of the Yough. "I'm mad and disappointed. I don't like that they'll spoil it for me and the generations to come. We won't be able to go down to the river and swim and fish and raft. I agree with Kevin, I don't think the Army Corps of Engineers should take more water. They have to take care of the environment."
Michelle Richter also got mad following Reed's talk. "I'm still mad," the 12-year old said. "My family and I go rafting, swimming, fishing. We spend time together and that's fun. It was upsetting because it ruins the fun for my family and me. We start at Yough River Park and go down to Dawson. We have our own rafts and canoes. I swim in the Yough Dam."
"I like the river," said Audra Humphrey, 12. "It's fun to swim in. I usually go rafting, too."
And as far as writing the letter to the editor, she says, "It felt good to express my feelings, but I was real angry when I wrote it."
Burchianti said the students didn't have to write about the Yough,. But he was pleased that several did. "I look for any occasion for the kids to apply the skills they learn in school. I wait for a topic the kids are interested in. It keeps them involved in current events and history. Some also wrote to the Army Corps of Engineers."
Reed moved the students with the facts. "When I addressed the children, I told them the Corps was going to take more water," Reed said. "My main concern is that we're going to find ourselves high and dry. All of the water is going to be allocated. It can affect Connellsville and all of Fayette County, as well. The Corps of Engineers do not own Yough Dam. Taxpayers built the dam. The water is owned by everyone in the state of Pennsylvania. They're acting like brokers here."
Reed sent comments to the Corps on behalf of the City of Connellsville objecting to the allocation. The comments reached the Corps before the official deadline.
Reed hopes that adults will join the students in questioning the 50 million gallons of water per day that MAWC has requested from the Yough. Although Friday was the official deadline, the Army Corps of Engineers will continue to accept comments on its river study.
Bob Waigand, project engineer of the Army Corps of Engineers study, said on Friday that starting this week, "we'll begin reviewing the comments that we've received and develop responses to those comments. We'll then look to see if changes need to be made to the report. And, while we're going through the process, we'll continue to receive comments."
Comments can be addressed to: Bob Waigand, Department of the Army, Pittsburgh District Corps of Engineers, William S. Moorehead Federal Building, 1000 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222-4186. They should arrive by mid-month.