Questions regarding the implementation of stormwater pollution reduction are primarily focused on the how and why.
Municipal officials say the Environmental Protection Agency allows states to control their respective plans to reduce pollution, but the Department of Environmental Protection has not issued specific standards on what municipal plans should involve. Some officials also question why there is a focus on stormwater, especially in Pennsylvania.
The EPA announced a “pollution diet” for restoring the Chesapeake Bay in 2010 pursuant
to an executive order previously signed by President Barack Obama. The plan calls for reducing nitrogen in the bay by 25 percent, phosphorus by 24 percent and sediment by 20 percent by 2025, with 60 percent of the actions to be completed by 2017.
While Pennsylvania does not directly border the Chesapeake Bay, the EPA is requiring Pennsylvania to play its role in reducing pollution from rivers that flow into the bay — a correct strategy, in the opinion of Jill Witkowski, director of the Choose Clean Water coalition. In fact, Witkowski said, stormwater runoff is the source of bay pollution that is currently increasing.
“To have a clean Chesapeake Bay, we need to have a clean watershed,” she said. “We can’t just clean up the bay itself, we have to clean up everything that drains into it.”
Regulations to improve the Chesapeake Bay have generally received bipartisan support from mid-Atlantic governors, and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett joined the governors of Maryland, Delaware and Virginia in signing a bay restoration agreement in June that goes beyond the EPA regulations.
Still, local government officials are nervous about the “pollution diet,” particularly because they say it is short on specifics and finding cost-effective solutions to the problem remains difficult.
The EPA largely left enforcement of stormwater reduction up to state governments. The DEP is currently requiring “urbanized” municipalities to complete a Chesapeake Bay Pollutant Reduction Plan within a year of receiving their stormwater permit renewals, which are occurring on a staggered basis, said engineer Greg Rogalski of Pennoni Associates Inc., which has a Mechanicsburg office.
In Cumberland County, 12 municipalities are currently required to complete the plan, all in the eastern half of the county, according to DEP: Camp Hill, Lemoyne, Mechanicsburg, New Cumberland, Shiremanstown and Wormleysburg boroughs and East Pennsboro, Hampden, Lower Allen, Monroe, Silver Spring and Upper Allen townships. Cumberland County may also be required to complete a pollution reduction plan for the county prison, Stoner said.
Rogalski serves as Mechanicsburg’s borough engineer, and is in the early stages of working on Mechanicsburg’s plan, which must be completed by the end of the year. However, municipalities currently have little direction from DEP on what the plan should include, and plans that have been submitted so far have varied widely, Rogalski said.
The DEP provided some information in an email about what the plans must include. They must contain a “narrative description” of the municipality’s drainage area; must list planned municipal upgrades and state the potential for using green infrastructure in those upgrades; evaluate stormwater control measures like riparian forest buffers, tree planting, storm bank restoration and rain gardens; and identify which control measures will be implemented.
“We expect to see tangible project completion within the five-year permit term, and (projects to) continue thereafter,” DEP wrote in the email.
Rogalski said his understanding is that DEP will give each municipality a specific goal based on a formula involving their amount of impervious area and different forms of land use.
However, Stoner noted that it is the EPA, not the local municipalities, that has the final say on whether or not the Chesapeake Bay Reduction Plan is being properly followed. Many local officials feel that they are attempting to hit a moving target and will be subject to fines if they fail, Stoner said.
John Thomas, a Hampden Township commissioner, serves on Pennsylvania’s Chesapeake Bay Advisory Committee. In addition to vagueness in the plans requirements, Thomas said local governments have received little information about how to achieve the required pollutant reductions.
“As far as we can tell — and we don’t have all the details yet — they’ve said, ‘You figure out how to do it,’” Thomas said.
He would also like to see more pressure placed on Virginia and Maryland to keep the bay itself clean — for example, by regulating over-fishing — rather than assuming that the bay’s problems stem primarily from upstream creeks and rivers.
If officials are concerned about the how of reducing stormwater runoff, some said they do understand the why.
Thomas said his main concern as a township commissioner is keeping the local Conodoguinet Creek clean — but that does not mean he isn’t focused on reducing stormwater pollution.
“It’s stuff that needs to be tackled (anyway) as part of the Hampden Township situation, and will be helpful inside the township,” he said.
While the regulations are focused on improving the Chesapeake Bay, Witkowski said, local residents also benefit from the improved health of waterways in which they swim and kayak and use for drinking water.
In addition to bringing animal waste, harmful chemicals and metals, and bacteria and virus into local waterways, uncontrolled stormwater also leads to erosion that helps cause flooding problems, said Jennifer Quinn, central Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for Penn Future and state lead for the Choose Clean Water Coalition.
“We believe what’s good for the Chesapeake Bay is what’s good for Pennsylvania. You can’t clean up the Chesapeake Bay without cleaning up the Susquehanna,” Quinn said. “Having good stormwater management is important to protect our communities from flood damage, and also to protect our water supplies.”