The Lebanon County Conservation District (LCCD) hosted its annual legislative roundtable Friday, June 2.

Those in attendance included state Representative Tom Jones (R-98), state Representative John Schlegel (R-101), state Representative Russ Diamond (R-102), and Lebanon County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz (D).

Following updates on LCCD’s activities, LCCD board treasurer Bob Arnold made recommendations to legislators.

Arnold discussed the drought, noting that last month was the driest May on record. He said that he and other environmental officials have been informing legislators for over 20 years of the possibility of watershed shortages.

“We’re to blame when we do nothing,” Arnold said.

Litz pushed back at this, saying that while she and other legislators have not added a new water source, they have been at work with water conservation, which also plays a role in preventing watershed shortages.

Jones discussed the importance of water conservation in our daily lives, such as through turning off the sink while we brush our teeth.

LCCD director Jim Tomanelli recommended in-ground irrigation for farmers, saying the method conserves water, increases the volume of crops, and is relatively low-cost.

Arnold also thanked legislators for their role in the Pennsylvania General Assembly in increasing funding for conservation districts, with an increase of $6.8 million in the 2022-23 fiscal year. This brings funding for these districts up to $10.185 million.

“Conservation districts are appreciative for the significant increase and are strongly advocating that the increase be continued into the Governor’s and General Assembly’s proposed 2023-2024 state budget,” read a handout at the meeting.

One major use for the funding is agricultural preservation, another major topic of the roundtable.

LCCD is celebrating the major milestone of 20,000 acres of farmland preserved, around 20 percent of Lebanon County’s agricultural land.

Read More: Lebanon County reaches landmark: 20,000 acres preserved in perpetuity

“One of the biggest threats to farmland is loss to other uses,” said Doug Wolfgang of Pennsylvania State Conservation.

Agricultural preservation specialist Craig Zemitis noted that over the last five years, farmland loss to commercial or residential construction is over 1,000 acres per year.

He said that LCCD is currently working off of a waiting list of 31 farms totaling 2,800 acres.

Tomanelli recommended legislators consider more enforcement of Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) legislation, which allows legislators to redirect growth from farmland or other protected areas to areas more accommodating to growth.

LCCD’s work includes mosquito management, Chesapeake Bay management, Envirothons in local schools, tree sales, and more.

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Emily Bixler was born and raised in Lebanon and now reports on local government. In her free time, she enjoys playing piano and going for hikes.

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