Monday, October 4, 2010

Bethlehem Plans: Threat To Water And Wildlife?

For decades the two massive reservoirs of the City of Bethlehem water system have supplied Bethlehem and its neighbors with generous amounts of what must be some of the purest and best-tasting water in Pennsylvania, maybe in the nation. Even when the Penn Forest Reservoir had to be totally replaced, there was no threat to the supply.
That was then. Tomorrow could be different. In these crisis-ridden days, the Bethlehem Authority is under pressure to turn what had been essentially two enormous sponges, peaceably collecting water for residents of the city and neigboring communities into a real multitasking money-maker.
Among the many ideas being talked about or in the actual planning stage are these: timbering of selected high-quality trees, the raising of grasses to be sold and converted into ethanol, and the erection of numerous--perhaps as many as 14--industrial-size wind farms.
It may all sound good--even capitalistic in the very best sense, making full use of your resources and adjusting to circumstances. But beware of unintended consequences.
Perhaps the best thing to do with a community watershed is to let it alone as much as possible. At least, if you want it to continue generating a water supply for you. All the projects being mentioned as ways to "finely improve" the Bethlehem Watershed involve intrusive changes, such as hacking roads through the woods and taking out healthy trees--trees being those growths whose roots help filter the water and retain it in the ground until it is needed. Bethlehem area activist Peter Crownfield noted that even well-managed logging "could have significant negative impacts on watershed quality."
But it is the wind farms, in those particular locations, that could have the most disastrous effects on the environment as a whole, notably on wildlife. This is especially true for the great raptors, the hawks and eagles whose migratory pathways take them nearby, past the eager observers at the Bake Oven Knob observation post. The unsuspecting birds--songbirds also are potential victims. as are bats--stand an above-average chance of being sliced up by the blades of the giant wind turbines.
This unintended consequence was pointed out by noted ornithologist (bird scientist) Donald Heintzelman of Zionsville. Heintzelman also noted that a wind turbine in the works for the nearby Blue Mountain Ski Resort could heighten the slaughter.
There is nothing that cannot be improved. That includes the management of the Bethlehem Watershed. But the Bethlehem Authority needs to proceed carefully at this point--VERY carefully. Always, they need to keep in mind that nothing must be done to harm the water supply. And that means not harming the community of life of which it is part.
With that unshakable priority guiding them, nothing too bad is likely to happen.

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