Brandywine Valley Association's Jane Fava gave West Brandywine Board of Supervisors an update on the new federal storm water management regulations. These new regulations, known as the small MS-4 program, will make local municipalities responsible for maintaining good water quality within their township.
Fava said there is a need to look at the water cycle a little differently than many people taught in their school days. Fava said when rain hits each acre of land, part of the water gets evaporated back into the atmosphere, some of the water is absorbed by the vegetation and some of the water is absorbed into the ground and becomes groundwater. The ground water feeds primary streams which becomes an area's drinking water resource. Fava said, "An average yearly rainfall is 45 inches, eight of those rainwater inches becomes storm water runoff and 12 inches becomes groundwater. The rest is either absorbed by vegetation or evaporates back into the atmosphere."
Problems occur with the water supply when ground water is not replenished and when the storm water runoff brings pollution into the water supply. According to the federal government studies, the greatest source of water pollution is coming from storm water runoff. The water contamination is coming from various sources like oil and trash from impervious surfaces like parking lots, sediment from construction sites, and fertilizer use from agricultural areas.
These new laws will make local municipalities responsible for monitoring problems within their township, and to make sure they do more than lip service to this requirement, the state Department of Environmental Protection will tie this new program as a condition to the local government's Act 537 plan. An Act 537 plan is the township's sewage treatment plan. In order for any changes or growth to occur within their borders, the state will need to approve those plans. It is an effective big stick to get local governments to comply with the new law.
West Brandywine Township has not yet formally had their Act 537 plan tied to this compliance, but other municipalities have. Fava acknowledged it is just a matter of time before it will be required. Fava said, "You're lucky it hasn't been."
The new measures include the township create public education sessions and encourage public participation in the township solutions. It will require townships to find and eliminate pollutants over a specific level and also find ways to prevent pollution. Townships will have to monitor construction sites to make sure local builders are adhering to the standardized erosion and sediment controls. They will also need to monitor the storm water runoff before and after construction to see that there is no water quality change within the township.
These new measures are not inexpensive. Fava said, "The program is estimated to cost approximately $108,000." Those figures are for a five year time period. Fava also said Pennsylvania, having townships as their form of local government, will have additional burdens coming up with the program funding. The lowest form of local governments in most states is county government.
According to Fava, the federal government has made some acknowledgement their intention was not to place this much of a financial burden on municipalities but to keep it at the county level. However, federal regulations at this point do not state that and leaves it to individual states to decide. Pennsylvania passes these requirements onto the local municipalities. It is another unfunded federal mandate placed on municipalities.
Township supervisor Tom McCaffrey also complained. County government regulates building sewer systems but then expects the local government to clean up the problems that arise. McCaffrey said it is having responsibility without having any authority to regulate the problem.
This was the first educational session for the township. Public discussions will need to be held especially to figure out how the township will handle these new storm water management regulations. Additional discussions will need to be held before any public funding is spent.