Penn Future & PEC Plus TTF: Your Involvement in MS4 Permit Programs

Jon Musselman
Mar 6, 2015

Local residents concerned about the health of creeks in their communities turned out for a meeting hosted by two statewide environmental organizations last month. PennFuture and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC) offered assistance in clarifying and simplifying the stormwater permit process for watershed and conservation groups and citizens, and making public participation in local planning processes easier.

 MS4? What’s that?

All municipalities in suburban Philadelphia are regulated by the State and Federal government as to how they handle stormwater runoff. These communities have Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4s): networks of pipes that take runoff from streets, parking lots, roofs, and often lawn areas and which lead directly into creeks.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) issues permits for municipalities which regulate their discharge of stormwater. This runoff, called Nonpoint Source Pollution (NPS; there are lots of acronyms in this regulatory world), is the leading cause of erosion, environmental degradation, and flash flooding in our creeks. Towns, cities and boroughs with these systems are required to develop programs that: educate their communities about keeping pollutants out of stormwater, restrict the impact of new construction on stormwater pollution, and identify leaks of other pollutants that illegally flow into the stormwater system.

What is a TMDL?

Many communities have additional requirements to reduce the actual levels of certain pollutants going into their creeks, such as sediment, certain chemicals, and bacteria from wastewater treatment plants. These communities are assigned Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency(US EPA) and as part of their MS4 permit requirements, they are required to develop a strategy and actual plan to reduce those pollutant levels over time.

Both the MS4 program and TMDLs are measures designed to help clean up our water to meet the Clean Water Act water quality “swimmable and fishable” goal.

Upstream communities in the TTF watershed are currently not assigned TMDLs, because the EPA has not yet established TMDL requirements for the Tookany Creek (the upstream portion of our watershed in Montgomery County, which includes Abingtonm, Cheltenham, Jenkintown and Rockledge.

What’s the background for this meeting?

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The background is a legal settlement that PennFuture recently reached with DEP in an Environmental Hearing Board appeal: PennFuture v. DEP and Upper Gwynedd Township, Docket No. 2013-105-L. The settlement will change the way that MS4s receive permits.

PennFuture and many local citizens had become concerned that DEP was allowing too much leeway in how municipalities were approaching their TMDL plans, and that the public was not being given enough information about these plans and their success or failure. PennFuture has entered into an agreement with DEP to ensure a more open process of public involvement in TMDL plan development and implementation. DEP has also agreed to develop rules for new permits that will require that municipalities without TMDL requirements develop “Pollution Reduction Plans” including public input, to start making significant progress in reducing the destructive impact of stormwater runoff on our creeks.

This meeting provided citizens and organizations with information on how to work with their municipalities to ensure that they are developing strategies that will have real, positive impacts on cleaning up streams.

We believe that there needs to be a clear, open and long-term commitment at all levels to improve our creeks and streams through these requirements. We salute the commitment of PennFuture and PEC to pursuing these regulatory and policy strategies, and for bringing this information to local citizens.

We encourage residents in our watershed communities to communicate with us and their municipal leaders about progress toward improving stormwater management as these new regulations are developed and implemented over the next 12 to 18 months.

More Information and Resources:

PA DEP Municipal Stormwater Resources

Penn Future Lawsuit Information

US EPA Stormwater Information

Stormwater PA: the go-to-resource for current stormwater management information and techniques.

Do you live in the TTF watershed? Contact us with questions about how you can help improve the creeks in your community.

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