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Water quality monitoring stations eyed as alternative to York County authority

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch
York County Planning Commission Director Felicia Dell presents information during a public meeting at the York Learning Center regarding the proposed York County Stormwater Authority on Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018. The purpose of the meeting was to allow the general public to discuss the implementation plan for the authority. Bill Kalina photo

In its effort to meet state and federal stormwater requirements, York County is considering installing nine water quality monitoring stations across the county, a potential alternative to the controversial countywide stormwater authority proposed by the York County Planning Commission.

The monitoring stations would collect real-time data 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with data reports transmitted every 15 minutes to the U.S. Geological Survey and the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, said Gary Peacock, watershed specialist for the conservation district.

"We can see immediate peaks, and we can see trends over days or months or seasons or years so that we can know where our hot spots are and also document where water quality is good," he said.

The investment would cost about $510,000 in the first year, Peacock said, and an estimated $200,000 per year for the next two years.

Ultimately, Peacock hopes to collect 10 years of data.

"We need three to five years of monitoring data to establish a good water quality baseline, and then we need an additional five years of data collection in order to quantify loads of pollutants to our waterways for sediment and nutrients," Peacock said.

President Commissioner Susan Byrnes said the county would pursue grants from a number of sources to recoup the initial $510,000 investment and to cover maintenance and operation costs for the following two years.

The water quality monitoring stations are one of several options the planning commission will present in its upcoming report to the county commissioners on the feasibility of establishing an authority.

The planning commission will have a workshop session with the county commissioners this month and will likely present the final stormwater feasibility report to them in early May, said Felicia Dell, planning commission director, at an April 16 meeting.

More:York County commissioners will have 'array of options' to address stormwater issues

More:More than 500 York County residents sign petition opposing stormwater authority

More:County property owners would fund proposed stormwater authority

In addition to the countywide authority, other options being considered in the draft report are:

  1. Maintain the status quo, which entails the current stormwater consortium, conservation efforts by farmers and municipal efforts through the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permits.
  2. Add nine water quality monitoring stations in different areas across the county.
  3. Add the nine water quality monitoring stations and hire additional staff at the conservation district to write conservation plans and agricultural erosion and sedimentation plans for farmers.
  4. Create a new, separate water quality department within York County government. This would require an estimated tax increase of 0.58 mill, which is equivalent to an extra $87 on a tax bill for a home valued at $150,000.
  5. Create an optional joint municipal stormwater authority. Municipalities would not be required to join.

These additional options were the result of extensive public comment and input from stakeholders throughout the process, Dell said.

From the planning commissioner's perspective, a countywide authority is the most holistic and cost-effective way to address the county's stormwater challenges, Dell said, but the planning commission realized there are other considerations and concerns at play among stakeholders and residents.

As for current progress, she mentioned the water quality monitoring the county is considering and said the county recently approved additional staff at the conservation district.

"There’s already been some good things that have come out of this, and where it goes beyond us delivering the report is really a decision for the county commissioners to make," Dell said.

Background: The water quality mandates are part of Pennsylvania's participation in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, a cooperative plan signed by six states and the District of Columbia in 2014 with the stated goal of restoring the health of the bay.

Participating entities in the Chesapeake Bay agreement have established goals to reduce phosphorous, nitrogen and sediment deposits in the Chesapeake Bay by 2025, and in Pennsylvania those goals are broken down by county.

York County has already met its goal for phosphorous, and environmental regulators determined sediment deposits are no longer a concern in the bay.

This leaves nitrogen as the target for cleanup efforts.

York County's current nitrogen deposits total about 11.9 million pounds a year, and that needs to decrease to 7.9 million pounds by 2025 in order to meet the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement goal, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.