State stormwater laws being enforced, but remain undefined
By Richard Gaw
The stormwater requirements of the federal Clean Water Act, administered state-wide by the Environmental Protection Program [EPA] and enforced by the Department of Environmental Protection's [DEP] Municipal Separate Storm Sewer [MS4] Program, are expected to become more clearly defined in the next few years.
For now, however, they're as murky as a contaminated creek.
Providing a road map for how the DEP wishes to see the MS4 Program moving forward, Mark Harman, assistant vice president with The Arro Group, a Lititz-based civil engineering and environmental consulting firm, told the New Garden Township Board of Supervisors on Sept. 28 that the state is looking to clean up creeks and streams over the next several years. Harman told the supervisors that by 2016, the DEP wants to be able to identify problems, and by 2017, implement programs that hope to eventually reduce sediment run-off in creeks throughout Pennsylvania by 30 percent.
The MS4 Program was begun in 2002, in an effort to allow state townships and municipalities to incorporate several elements into their stormwater management programs, compliant with the state regulations. They include public education and outreach, public involvement and participation, illicit discharge detection and elimination, construction site runoff control, post-construction stormwater management in new development and redevelopment and pollution prevention.
Specifically, the program is looking to reduce nitrates, phosphorus and sediments in waterways.
"If a local creek has too much sediment in it, they [DEP] want to come back to the municipality and say, 'What are you going to do to reduce sediment?'" Harman said. "The whole idea is around ending up with healthier water."
At this point, Harman said, the DEP has not yet set a defined criteria for healthy levels of nitrates, phosphorus and sediment levels. Eventually, when these parameters are more well defined, municipalities will be forced to abide by the DEP laws.
"It sounds odd, but that's the scenario we're in right now," he said. "The problem is, for a long time, the state never really worried about this program, and nobody else did, either. Twelve or 14 years goes by, and the EPA comes into the southern part of Lancaster and blows a gasket and says, 'We're going to start fining people right and left,' and now, the state is shifting gears, trying to make up for 12 or 1 years, and the EPA's stance is, 'We don't care.'"
The program is location specific, Harman said, so that laws and regulations will be created for each township and municipality in the state. Given those parameters, several supervisors created possible scenarios of what may occur in New Garden; namely, the consequences of a neighboring township not following MS4 regulations, and New Garden Township being held accountable for the violation, by virtue of what may flow upstream or downstream.
"How do you see it playing out, when you have a water source going through multiple municipalities, and we're doing our part to clean it up, and someone upstream is making it worse?" Supervisor Randy Geouque asked.
Acknowledging that these guidelines would be incorporated – and likely enforced, with penalty – in a township that is dominated by mushroom farming, Board Chairman Steve Allaband asked Harman to explain how the DEP would establish 'baselines' that constitute what defines acceptable levels of sediment.
Harman balked at answering the questions, for the simple reason that the DEP hasn't established surefire numbers.
The DEP wants "constant baby steps," Harman said.
"The idea is not that we're going to clean the bay up immediately. 'We just want progress,' is what they keep after," he said. "That's my job, to work with [the township]. I have to work with Don to put something in place so that if they [DEP] show up and issue fines, I can come before the public and explain, 'This is what we did, and this is what we found.'
"The idea [coming from the state] is supposed to be that, 'We are to whip these municipalities into shape and tell them to do it this way,' and then they're going to go after the private guy," Harman added. "It's basically legislators saying, 'This is what's going to happen and why.' I am in no means ready to defend the state's position."
Harman told the supervisors that while the fine print of how the MS4 Program is still being written, he said that the power of the program will eventually extend to New Garden Township residents, who will be able to report possible violations of stormwater laws directly to Codes and Zoning Officer Don Suckstorf, who is serving as the township coordinator of the MS4 Program.
"At the end of the day, you're out walking your dog and you see some suds come out of an inlet, and you can call the township," Harman said. "You can get the MS4 coordinator on the phone. Don will pick it up and say, 'Where are you at?' He can drive right out there and find the culprit and issue them a citation on the spot."
Harman said that the township is currently compliant with all DEP stormwater laws.
By 2018, Harman said, each municipality in the state is expected to have "defined goals."
"It all takes place over multiple years," he said. "It's not a sprint, but a crawl to the finish."
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.