DEP proposes new fees to protect water quality, federal funding

Written by Rachel McDevitt | May 23, 2017 3:37 AM

(Harrisburg) -- Over the past few months, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has been warning Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection to step up its enforcement of water quality programs. Now DEP is now proposing new fees to keep up with its workload.

The proposal includes a new annual fee, plus amendments to existing permit fees. It would be the first increase since the 1980s. The fees on Pennsylvania's more than 8,500 public water systems translate to an increase for rate-payers between 35 cents and ten dollars per person per year. The money will go to hire and train new staff.

Right now, DEP has one inspector for every 149 public water systems, more than double the national average.

Director of the Bureau of Safe Drinking Water Lisa Daniels calls that workload "unsustainable," and capable of causing delays in inspections. Delays could mean problems aren't identified as soon as possible.

She says in the last five years, inspectors have identified 428 very serious violations.

"Those violations were only uncovered because of inspections," Daniels said. "It wasn't something we became aware of through their monitoring data that they report to us every month."

If these fees aren't approved, the worst-case scenario is the EPA will take over Pennsylvania's water quality program. That would take local control from the state, but also take away federal funds currently used for infrastructure projects through PENNVEST.

"Not only would we not have primacy for drinking water, but all of those SRF [State Revolving Loan Fund] funds would be pulled back to EPA," Daniels said. "They would use those funds to run the program, but that would mean we no longer have any federal funds coming in to our PENVEST funding program."

A public comment period on the fees will be announced once a draft of the proposal is finalized. 

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