Study finds Poconos Special Protection Streams deliver $3 billion in economic benefits

Environment. An estimated 80 percent of Pennsylvania’s “Exceptional Value” streams are located in the Poconos. In addition to their aesthetic and ecological value, new research quantifies the regional waterways’ economic benefits.

| 16 Aug 2022 | 03:09

The first study to quantify the economic impact of the Poconos region’s protected streams finds nearly $3 billion in benefits for local businesses, property owners, and communities.

The Our Pocono Waters report looks at the relationship between the region’s high concentration of “Special Protection Streams” and various economic, social and ecological indicators.

Without protections, many of the region’s waterways are vulnerable to the growing threats of expanding industrial and commercial land development.

“The health of the local economy, communities, and the environment are all intertwined,” said Donna Kohut, Our Pocono Waters campaign manager.

Ecological benefits translate into real economic value

Stream and riparian protections improve water quality, reducing stress on water treatment facilities. Nutrient retention services generate $553.5 million in annual value.

Watershed and forest buffers help to avoid potential damage from flooding and erosion. Avoided sediment control services represent $2.7 million in estimated savings per year.

Riparian buffers absorb enough carbon dioxide to collectively provide roughly $1.5 billion in carbon sequestration benefits per year.

Each acre of natural riparian land provides potential for wildlife viewing, pheasant hunting, and recreational fishing, among other activities. Avoiding the loss of any of these activities saves an estimated $14.3 million of recreational value each year.

In total, ecological services bring $2 billion in benefits to the region:

Wayne County: $478.2 million

Luzerne County: $435.4 million

Monroe County: $331.2 million

Pike County: $327.3 million

Lackawanna County: $243.6 million

Carbon County: $178.9 million

Northampton County: $114.5 million

Stream protections boost the region’s outdoor recreation economy

“Exceptional Value” or “High Quality” waterways, frequented by the region’s fishing, hunting, hiking, and water sports enthusiasts, could increase outdoor recreation spending by 2-8%, bringing in as much as $982 million in sales to the region per year.

Potential increases in visitor spending on outdoor recreation could produce as many as 7,380 new jobs, resulting in up to $246 million in wage increases.

The study found both residential and commercial land is more valuable in areas closest to Special Protection Streams.

On average, landowners are willing to pay 2-3 percent more for properties closer to an Exceptional Value or High Quality stream.

Waterways designated by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection as “Exceptional Value” are the cleanest of all the Commonwealth’s streams, rivers, and lakes. Roughly 80 percent of these waterways are located in the Poconos.

Many of these Special Protected Streams are valuable tributaries to the Delaware and Lehigh rivers.

“A century ago, the Lehigh River was used as a transportation tool for a booming industry. Today, it is the industry,” said Sierra Fogal, operations manager and co-owner of Jim Thorpe-based Pocono Whitewater and Skirmish. “Our rivers and streams are premiere tourist destinations, drawing hundreds of thousands of tourists each year and providing outdoor recreation for a diverse audience.”

The considerable economic benefit of Special Protection Streams is recognized by many Poconos residents. A recent survey, conducted on behalf of Our Pocono Waters, revealed widespread support for “Exceptional Value” stream protections.

More than three quarters of Pocono residents have observed increases in commercial development in recent years, with two thirds expressing concern that greater development poses a negative impact on water quality for Pocono-area streams.

Our Pocono Waters is a campaign that advocates for continued protection of the clean, Exceptional Value streams of the Pocono Mountains region.
Watershed and forest buffers help to avoid potential damage from flooding and erosion. Avoided sediment control services represent $2.7 million in estimated savings per year.