OPED: Input sought on stormwater authority
Flooding from intense storms, such as that experienced by much of York County this past summer, is becoming more frequent. Along with flooding from these extreme weather events comes stormwater runoff that pollutes streams with sediment from our stream banks, as well as chemicals and nutrients from our fields, yards and roadways.
York is the second-highest water-polluting county, behind only Lancaster. Each year, we dump nearly 12 million pounds of nitrogen from farms and stormwater runoff into our streams that make their way to the Chesapeake Bay.
York County is mandated by federal and state agencies — the U.S. EPA and Pennsylvania DEP — to meet requirements that will help clean up locally impaired waters and the Chesapeake Bay.
If we don’t improve water quality, penalties could be imposed. These could include reducing the number of animals required for obtaining certain farming permits and requiring municipalities to complete total maximum daily load plans to limit the amount of pollution discharged into our streams and the bay.
The York County Planning Commission has been tasked to explore proactive alternatives to help York County, its municipalities and agricultural community meet pollutant-reduction requirements and avoid more costly regulations.
A countywide stormwater authority offers one option to fund projects and programs as well as improve the reporting of our accomplishments. An authority can address the issues on a regional scale, because water does not respect municipal boundaries. The efforts of one municipality or one farmer will not save all of York County.
A countywide authority, which is still only a proposal, would be funded through a fee assessed on each parcel in the county. The fee would be based on the parcel’s use: residential, commercial, or agricultural.
The fee could only fund programs and projects to meet water quality requirements through flooding mitigation projects and water quality improvements. This is different than funding a flooding/water quality program through property taxes, which would not include tax-exempt properties. Additionally, property taxes are deposited into the county’s general fund revenue, which can be used for an array of services.
Credits to reduce the fee are proposed for commercial and agricultural parcels that implement best management practices on their properties. Credits for the county’s 161,000 residential parcels are not being considered at the onset, but could be considered at a later time.
The majority of the fees generated through the authority are proposed to implement projects and programs that will reduce flooding, improve water quality and develop local data to measure our progress toward achieving healthier waters. Roughly 80 percent of the budget is proposed for capital needs, including the construction of suburban and agricultural best management practice projects, an emergency response fund and installation of 25 water quality monitoring stations throughout York County. Monitoring will determine pollution sources to ensure implementation of effective solutions.
Further, the intent is to leverage the funds generated through the fees to obtain matching grants that will further extend financial resources.
The remaining budget is for technical staffing and administration. Three of the technical staff are proposed to be dedicated to the York County Conservation District to assist with the backlog of farmers on the waiting list to receive technical assistance for conservation plan development.
The proposed stormwater authority approach provides for developing and administering a program at the county and local level to address water quality and flooding issues. The goal is to avoid having the state or federal governments impose more stringent regulatory requirements on local governments and farmers.
The details of how this would work continue to be explored. Your ideas and constructive input are welcome. Feasible alternatives for funding a water quality program to meet federal and state requirements are appreciated. To learn more, please visit our website: yorkstormwater.com.
Mark your calendar for the third public meeting on Nov. 8 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the York Learning Center, 300 E. 7th Ave, York PA 17404.
— Felicia Dell is director of the York County Planning Commission.