They used to call me H2Joe.
Back in 2002, there was a severe drought that hit southcentral Pennsylvania, and I was working at The Evening Sun in Hanover, covering the borough, which also owned the water company.
I wrote a lot of water-related stories and, as a result, earned that little nickname.
But I also learned a few things. For example: I learned that when you flushed the toilet in downtown Hanover, the water, after treatment at a plant outside McSherrystown, went into Plum Creek. Eventually, that flowed into Conewago Creek, from which the New Oxford Municipal Authority drew its drinking water, four magical miles downstream.
I say “magical” because, as it was explained to me by state and borough officials, the effluent that comes out of the sewer treatment plant is theoretically drinkable, but the state would not let Hanover use that water in its street sweeper. Hanover thought using that water would mean not having to fill the machine from the regular tap.
However, it was acceptable for processing to drink for the folks of New Oxford.
But another fun thing I learned, and something I found fascinating, was that Hanover’s water intake on the South Branch of Conewago Creek was in the Susquehanna River’s watershed. Yet just a few hills south and west, the water drained to the Potomac River.
Obviously, both the big rivers drain to the Chesapeake Bay. But each river and its watershed is very distinct.
Now the federal Environmental Protection Agency has made it a little easier to know in which watershed you live.
Head out to this website, punch in your ZIP code, and you’ll see exactly where you sit.
For example, typing in Hanover’s ZIP code of 17331, you learn the postal district (which doesn’t include all of the water system) actually encompasses three watersheds: The Lower Susquehanna, the Monocacy and the Gunpowder/Patapsco. (The Monocacy drains into the Potomac; the Gunpowder/Patapsco flows into the bay directly.)
The website also gives the states and congressional districts through which each watershed flows, as well as links to citizen groups that work to protect the watershed, data on pollution and other issues facing the watershed.
We’re not facing the kind of severe drought we saw in the early part of the millennium. But it’s still worth knowing what is downstream, especially if your business uses a lot of water.
At least, I find it worth knowing.
They didn’t call me H2Joe for nothing.