Get used to hearing about it.
It’s the next big crackdown on water pollution, and local government officials across Lancaster County are scrambling to meet sweeping, long-ignored regulations.
Tens of thousands of residents in the county’s population clusters and suburbs — parts of 40 municipalities in all — will likely be paying for those efforts soon, either in the form of larger municipal staffs or special stormwater fees.
“There’s no doubt we’re playing catch-up,” said Jim Caldwell, a municipal engineering manager for Rettew, a Lancaster consulting firm helping 16 boroughs and townships meet both the old and stiffer new regulations.
“Regulations are catching up with the ills of the past.”
The measures are being undertaken as part of the ongoing efforts to reduce the amount of pollutants flowing into the Chesapeake Bay.
Pennsylvania is lagging and has put increasing pressure on farmers to keep manure, fertilizers and soil from running off of fields and into local streams. Taxpayers have also been tapped for sewage-treatment plant upgrades.
The next big thing are the latest efforts aimed at preventing rain runoff and stormwater from reaching waterways from yards, fields, streets and parking lots.
It is proving to be a massive undertaking.
Like manure and erosion controls for farmers, stormwater regulations have been in place for years. And they were put in place without government funding to carry them out.
Now, local government officials are hurriedly trying to catch up with the requirements, which are expensive and require municipalities to map and monitor every source of stormwater on public and private property.
In addition, new regulations take effect in 2018 requiring each local government to significantly reduce the amount of sediment, phosphorus and nitrogen flowing into waterways over five years.
“It’s a big deal and they’re putting a lot of pressure on us to make it a bigger deal,” said West Cocalico Township manager Carolyn Hildebrand.
Some municipalities are seeking to cut costs by joining forces to pay for stream restorations and stream improvements on farms. Six local governments around Ephrata, for example, may underwrite a restoration of 1.2 miles of stream at a cost of $3.5 million.
Stormwater regulations require municipalities to have detailed plans to prevent chemicals from being washed into waterways. For example, only trained and certified workers are allowed to change the oil in municipal vehicles.
Road salt must be used judiciously.
One of the most cumbersome regulations is on illicit discharges by residents. In some areas of the county, local government employees drive around neighborhoods looking for, say, stained grass that may indicate someone draining their washing machine or shower into a stormwater swale.
Even backyard rain barrels are supposed to be monitored under stormwater regulations.
Paying for it
All of this is costing municipalities money they did not anticipate spending several years ago. Lancaster Township, for example, just hired a full-time stormwater manager. Lititz Borough has added staff.
“We’re being asked to enforce what is really a state or federal matter. But we will do it,” said Lancaster Township manager William Laudien.
The costs are likely to trickle down to residents and businesses, said Kara Kalupson, whom Rettew hired as a stormwater coordinator to meet the pleas for help from local officials.
“Municipalities have to start looking at a stormwater fee. That’s what’s really starting to come to the forefront,” she said. Lancaster city has had a stormwater management fee on all property owners since 2014.
Another option: tax hikes.
“We haven’t had a tax increase in 15 years ... but sooner or later, sure, we have to figure out a way to make up those costs,” said Laudien.
State and federal environmental officials mean business this time. They’ve shown up for unannounced audits at three local municipalities. In the first, in 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency spent two days sifting through Manor Township’s stormwater plans.
The agency said the township was out of compliance with its stormwater permit and Manor paid a $41,000 fine.
Lancaster city also was audited that year, found to be out of compliance, and completed a stormwater project that covered most of their fine.
The potential to face fines for lax stormwater plans has struck fear in the 40 Lancaster County municipalities with urban areas subject to stormwater permits.
“It was, this is real and it’s not going away,” said Caldwell. “It upped the ante across the board.”
The state Department of Environmental Protection has begun performing “soft audits” on municipalities, pointing out any discrepancies to help local officials prepare.
Jay Snyder, the environmental resource manager for Ephrata Borough, doesn’t argue stormwater cleanup is due.
“We ignored it for 200 years and we've gotten away with it,” he said. “We see dirty streets, soil erosion. We need to be wise stewards of the resources that we have been blessed with.”