Planned stormwater authority to streamline cleanup

This Op-Ed originally appeared in the York Daily Record. 


York County will soon be handling stormwater on a more regional basis that will increase efficiency in implementing environmental measures and financial stewardship to benefit waterways throughout the 72 municipalities in the county. It’s a model for the state of Pennsylvania and other cities and townships to emulate.

A feasibility study was conducted that included input from a wide spectrum including people from local townships of all sizes, boroughs, cities, industries, a water authority, and a local water supplier to get an array of perspectives.

The York County Planning Commission found that a big take-away is that municipalities do want more help with stormwater and they are willing to support a fee to help pay if it relieves them of some of the responsibility.

Waters aren’t stopping at municipal boundaries. Anything upstream may or may not be taken care of, which makes things more complicated downstream.

A National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) grant, made possible in part with financial assistance from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program office, is helping to put together the plan for the stormwater authority at the county level to coordinate efforts and resources.

In general, when looking at permitting on an individual level, there is only a narrow slice of the watershed improved. Depending on where that is, if a downstream neighbor isn’t working as hard, all that hard work gets washed away.

So why duplicate effort when you can do things on a larger and more effective scale?

The challenges in managing stormwater affect individuals, businesses, and communities; each municipality is equipped to deal with those challenges in varying degrees.

In Manchester Township, for example, the biggest issues are impacts of the older neighborhoods, those built in the 50s and 60s when planners didn’t realize the need to have stormwater controls in place. This has left a burden on the sewer system, which needs remediation.

Forty-nine of the municipalities are urbanized so in looking at the four main watersheds in York County, it is vital to get cooperation from all of them to act in concert to really have an impact on the watershed.

Each municipality is driven by local issues. In rural areas, farmers need to be able to work unimpeded; urban areas have slowing development and the edge of suburban areas anticipate some new growth. The Stormwater Authority wants to have impact county-wide, including the strong agriculture community. That ag community is assisted by county conservation districts to get conservation plans developed and implemented on farms. There is a waiting list of over 300 farmers that want assistance. The Stormwater Authority would help with urban compliance as well as get technical assistance to farmers and help them catch up and get best management practices in place.

Everyone has to have pollution reduction plans as part of their MS4 permit. The regional Stormwater Authority blueprint is to come up with one plan all municipalities will help create, help implement, and they will then get permit compliance. The approach mirrors similar models financed by NFWF in Blair and Lancaster counties that are already paying dividends there.

Businesses and residents will find relief in other ways as regulations affect everyone and folks are seeking more predictability.

The proposed Stormwater Authority will mean faster and more uniform permitting. Currently, for example, if a resident wants to put a shed on a property, the construction company may have to tell the resident that the work to get permits costs more than the shed does. The plan is to streamline all those things as well.

There have been years of different pieces of water planning in Pennsylvania that affect stormwater runoff. The unique municipal structure in Pennsylvania makes it imperative to find more financially and operationally efficient ways for communities to partner on clean water implementation. People want to be good stewards but some feel they are at the bottom of a regulatory hill and this unique plan can help give a level playing field for all municipalities.

This plan will show a good rationale with details worked out so ownership of the issue won’t be fragmented going forward. The group has already met with the state to make sure they are on board with the regional approach.

The good news- about 72 municipalities will hopefully be sharing what has historically been a heavy lift- easing the load for all.