Public Participation is Vital to MS4 Pollutant Reduction Plans

**Note: The deadline to post Pollutant Reduction Plans was August 3rd, so make sure to check if your municipality submitted a new proposal or updated version!**

Public Participation is Vital to MS4 Pollutant Reduction Plans

Given the state of water quality in Pennsylvania, it is not surprising that each year more municipalities across the state are seeking to improve their relationship with local streams and rivers. Of the roughly 86,000 miles of streams and rivers in Pennsylvania, 16,000 (19%) are defined as “impaired” by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP). The PA DEP defines a stream as “impaired” if it cannot support designated uses like aquatic life or recreation, or if it cannot supply potable water or consumable fish. In Southeastern Pennsylvania, nearly half of all stream miles are impaired. This is largely due to poor stormwater management resulting in too much sediment, pH imbalances, and unhealthy levels of oxygen in our waterbodies. One way that Pennsylvania municipalities are required to improve water quality in their streams and rivers is through Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permits.

Stream Pollution

A river in Southeastern Pennsylvania polluted by an overabundance of sediment. (SOURCE: Pennsylvania Environmental Council)

 

MS4 permits are a means through which states attempt to meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act. An MS4 permit allows municipalities to discharge stormwater runoff into nearby streams, but only if certain conditions are met. Additionally, before a state can issue an MS4 permit to a municipality along an “impaired” river or stream, there is a new requirement that the  municipality must  also submit a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Plan and/or a Pollutant Reduction Plan (PRP) as part of their application.  These plans tell the state environmental regulation entity (in Pennsylvania, this is the PA DEP) which pollutants the municipality will reduce, what quantities it will reduce them by, and what types of projects and practices they will implement to reduce them.

Impaired Streams

Comparison of impaired (red) versus non-impaired (green) streams in a portion of Southeastern Pennsylvania. (SOURCE: PA DEP 2012 PA Integrated Water Quality Monitoring & Assessment Report)

 

How does public participation relate to any of this? First of all, public participation is a requirement in the MS4 permitting process. Public input also ensures that the best possible PRP or TMDL plan is crafted for the municipality by ensuring that it is tailored to local conditions. The average citizen is oftentimes better-acquainted with natural resources in their municipality than their elected officials. Combining this local knowledge with technical expertise can be invaluable when creating PRPs or TMDL plans.

By law, public notice of where the PRP may be reviewed and commented upon by the public must be published at least 45 days prior to the deadline of its submission to the PA DEP. Part of this review process includes a 30-day period during which the municipality must accept public comments. This means that for any municipality applying for or updating an MS4 permit for 2018, public notice of the application must be posted by August 3, 2017 at the latest! Some common venues for posting public notices are newspapers, public posters and signs, distributed pamphlets, and local radio/TV advertising slots. Additionally, check your municipality’s website—and specifically the page on stormwater if there is one—for any information about an MS4 permit, or changes to it. Keep your eyes peeled, as this is your primary opportunity as a member of the public to influence this important piece of local legislation. If you do, you can be proud to say you helped advocate for and shape the issue of water quality in your municipality and watershed!

There are several important questions you’ll want to keep in mind while reviewing the PRP or TMDL plan, First, you will want to ask yourself if the plan makes sense and appears to be scientifically sound. You will also want to try to think of any stormwater management and pollution reduction projects that are ongoing or built in your municipality that are not included in the application such as adding vegetation to existing stormwater basins, expansion of stream side tree planting projects, and/or restoration of wetlands and floodplains. Look to see if the municipality has provided information on estimated projects costs, funding sources, and a project implementation timeline. Check to make sure that operation and maintenance practices are included and funded. Ask yourself if you or your organization could assist in implementing pollution reduction projects and practices or help provide ongoing maintenance, and never shy away from retaining an expert or finding an organization to conduct a review of the application.

Rain Garden

A rain garden in Ambler, Pennsylvania. An example of green stormwater infrastructure that can help reduce stormwater runoff. (SOURCE: Ambler Environmental Advisory Council)

 

After you’ve made your comments, request follow-ups to any especially pertinent questions you asked, and remember that comments become a part of the public record (which means accountability for you and your municipality). Don’t forget to make sure to thank your municipality or elected officials for opportunity to provide comments and, finally, give yourself a big pat on the back!

Article by Zhenya Nalywayko

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