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By year's end, York County will have three water quality monitoring stations collecting real-time data 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The county commissioners unanimously approved an agreement Wednesday with the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Geological Survey to update three existing monitoring stations for continuous data collection.

The county will pay $117,130, and the USGS will provide a funding match, for a total cost of $234,260.

"It will allow us to establish trends over time, so we'll be able to compare our local data that's backed by USGS with any of the other data that's at more sporadic locations in the commonwealth," said Felicia Dell, director of the York County Planning Commission.

The monitoring stations are part of the county's plan to manage state and federal stormwater requirements.

For more than a year, the county planning commission debated establishing a countywide stormwater authority, but the proposal was widely unpopular and ultimately didn't have the support of the board of commissioners.

The proposal included a new countywide fee to fund the authority, which raised the ire of numerous property owners, especially farmers. 

Mistrust of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Protection was a common theme during public hearings.

Both agencies give York County poor ratings for nitrogen deposits in streams and waterways.

More: Water quality monitoring stations eyed as alternative to York County authority

More: County property owners would fund proposed stormwater authority

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

York County's 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 DEP data.

Dell said the additional monitoring and data collection will hopefully allow the county to prove its water is not as polluted as the DEP and EPA claim.

And if the data shows York County is doing as poorly as the agencies say it is, then having information targeting specific areas will allow the planning commission to be more strategic about its projects and focus on where mitigation is most needed, Dell said.

"We're hoping that this would be a model that other counties could replicate and maybe find a different way of tackling this issue instead of burying everybody in paperwork and permits," she said.

The county plans to install three more water quality monitoring stations in new locations in 2020, which will bring the total to six monitoring stations.

Members of the public will be able to view the data online — as it's collected — at the USGS website, and Dell said the planning commission will likely put together an annual report to share the data with the public.

Commissioner Susan Byrnes thanked Dell and the planning commission for all of their work on the stormwater issue.

"This is a very positive first step," Byrnes said.

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