When land is left undeveloped, stormwater can easily penetrate the ground and become part of the natural hydrological cycle. This cycle allows the water to be absorbed by soil and vegetation, naturally entering our groundwater and recharging our aquifers.

Once land is developed, structures are added and precipitation cannot as easily penetrate the ground and it becomes a significant burden on our local municipal stormwater infrastructure. Stormwater runoff from streets, parking lots and construction sites can carry oil, grease, sediment and numerous other contaminants and is a major source of pollution in surface water.

State and Federal laws and regulations have been enacted to protect and maintain our community’s water resources. These policies are enforced by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The EPA has focused its enforcement actions on large government bodies. These actions have resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in civil penalties as well as compelling major upgrades to their stormwater infrastructure that are extremely expensive.

For example, in Philadelphia, the Delaware County Regional Water Quality Control Authority (DELCORA) entered into a settlement agreement with the EPA that required them to spend as much as $200 million to implement an overflow control plan that complies with the Clean Water Act. This settlement agreement also required DELCORA to pay a $1.375 million penalty for prior violations. EPA Press Release, August 17, 2015.

The Pennsylvania DEP has focused its enforcement efforts on educating municipalities on the regulations and offering compliance assistance. Their goal is for local municipalities to take incremental steps towards full compliance with all stormwater management rules and regulations. That said, the day looms when the DEP will shift its focus from education and assistance to actual compliance, which would inevitably include fines and sanctions levied against the municipality.

Compliance can be extremely expensive and municipalities struggle to fund the necessary updates and changes to ensure compliance. In light of the significant potential costs a municipality could face, it is imperative that a proactive approach is taken to implement best management practices when it comes to stormwater management plans and infrastructure.

Act 68 of 2013 amended the Municipal Authorities Act to authorize creation of Municipal Stormwater Authorities. These Authorities possess the express power to engage in stormwater management, planning and implementation of projects. One of the biggest benefits of these agencies is their ability to collect a reasonable and uniform fee in order to assist in funding any necessary improvements to a municipalities stormwater infrastructure. 53 P.C.S.A. 5607(d)(9).

In order to adequately prepare for the future, local government should strongly consider initiating the process of creating a Municipal Stormwater Authority. If you have any questions about your possible options when it comes to the regulation and implementation of these authorities please contact Amelia Brett of SMGG’s Pittsburgh office at (412) 281-5423, abrett@smgglaw.com, Ted Knafelc at (724) 846-1372, tknafelc@smgglaw.com or Diane Zack Buchanan at (724) 846-1372, dbuchanan@smgglaw.com, both of SMGG’s Beaver County office.