Thursday, March 30, 2017

U.S. Army Corps, SRBC Partner To Provide Data To FEMA To Revise Flood Maps In PA

By Sarah Gross

Matthew Elsasser picked up a piece of equipment that looks like a futuristic yellow sled and dipped it up and down in a slow rhythmic dance while making two full rotations.
“I’m mimicking the pitch and roll of the water to calibrate our equipment,” said Elsasser, environmental technician with the Susquehanna River Basin Commission. “My movement is based on the current conditions of the water. The choppier the water is, the more I move.”
This tool is actually a small boat that carries an Acoustic Doppler Profiler (ADP), which uses a sonar beam to measure the depth to the ground under the water surface.
This is the Commission’s first day on Swatara Creek, a tributary of the Susquehanna River in east central Pennsylvania [Lebanon, Dauphin counties], for a project in collaboration with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District, to provide information to the Federal Emergency Management Agency Region III that will help FEMA update their flood risk maps.
These maps will help the communities they serve to better understand their flood risks in order to take the appropriate actions to help lower that risk.
While the Baltimore District will coordinate surveying other waterways within the Mid-Atlantic region as part of a larger project for FEMA, the Swatara Creek study accounts for about 40 percent of this total project.
“Swatara Creek is a high priority for FEMA,” said Craig Thomas, North Atlantic Division regional technical specialist for floodplain management and Baltimore District environmental protection specialist. “An almost 500-year flood completely annihilated Hershey, Pennsylvania, and the surrounding area during Tropical Storm Lee in 2011.”
To complete the Swatara Creek portion of the study, the Corps is conducting on-land surveys, and the Commission is taking on the in-channel survey work.
“The river is so big, and we needed a boat and this specialized equipment to augment our capabilities,” said Thomas. “Luckily, the Commission was able to help, and we were able to figure out a way to provide funding to them, which will only open the door for future collaboration.”
The Corps is documenting surface elevations and bridge dimensions for about 60 bridges within the study area in order to determine potential flow restrictions and conduct modeling to simulate the extent and depth of potential flooding along Swatara Creek. Bridges are a crucial part of survey work the Corps performs because bridges constrict water movement and create potential bottlenecks for water to flow freely during flooding.
The Corps was on hand for the Commission’s first day in the field to provide operational support and to nail down shared project expectations. Luckily for the team, March 9, was an unseasonably warm day, as field work is preferable in the winter, so foliage doesn’t inhibit signals from the equipment.
The Corps team provided the Commission with ideal locations to collect data points from within the creek. These locations are between bridges, so as to not duplicate data the Corps is collecting.
The Commission will collect depth data from the ADP per river mile in the Swatara Creek, as well as one corresponding elevation reading along the bank per river mile using supplemental Real Time Kinematic (RTK) equipment.
The Corps will compile the on-land and in-channel survey data to determine potential flood extents and depths and delineate the floodplain and regulatory floodway boundaries in the watershed under various flood events.
To perform the first channel survey, Elsasser tied a rope anchored atop the survey boat to the calibrated tool, dropped it in the water and guided it back and forth six times across the width of the channel. The depth data was then logged within the ADP collection software and averaged to obtain a more accurate number.
“Multiple crosses allow interpolation between the bottom elevations collected,” said Kimberly Dagen, Commission environmental scientist. “This process helps smooth the data out to ensure a representative cross section of the channel is obtained.”
At the end of this first run, the team had completed data collection for one river mile along the Swatara Creek by lunchtime — leaving 51 more to go.
The Swatara Creek study is anticipated to wrap up in summer 2017, at which time data from the Corps and the Commission will be turned over to FEMA.
“We should get great modeling results from all of our data,” said Thomas. “We have a lot of historical data and high water marks, including data from Lee, to compare our current modeling to.”
This isn’t the first time the Corps has partnered with the Commission.
“This effort represents an extension of a long-standing partnership the Commission has with the Baltimore District to provide flood-hazard reduction strategies to communities in the Susquehanna River Basin, including flood inundation mapping, enhanced flood warning tools, and flood-damage reduction studies," said Benjamin Pratt, P.E., CFM, Commission water resources engineer.
The Commission is currently funding work for the Corps to conduct a Floodplain Management Services study for the Chiques Creek, also a tributary of the Susquehanna River in Lancaster County, as part of an effort funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to evaluate “green” flood-hazard reduction strategies.
“We have a great collaboration with the Commission,” said Thomas. “They recognized our expertise in hydrologic and hydraulic modeling and mapping, and we performed all of the in-channel survey work for the Chiques study.”
Though not a flood risk management study, the Corps has also worked with the Commission to study stream flow at Bald Eagle Creek, which is a part of Foster Joseph Sayers Reservoir [at Bald Eagle State Park, Centre County] to evaluate the modification of reservoir operations to provide environmental enhancements.
“We have this specialized equipment for channel surveys, and we are always looking for more ways to use it,” said Pratt. “This particular collaboration on the Swatara Creek study started with a conversation between Craig and me while working on the Chiques Creek study. The opportunity just presented itself.”
(Photo: Kimberly Dagen, SRBC Environmental Scientist and Matthew Elsasser SRBC Environmental Technician.)
Related Story:
(Reprinted from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Baltimore District) website.)

PUC Urges Preservation Of Federal LIHEAP Heating Assistance, Weatherization Programs

The Public Utility Commission Thursday sent a letter to members of Pennsylvania’s Congressional delegation to continue federal funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP).
Recommendations to eliminate funding for both of these programs are included in the President Trump’s preliminary budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2018.
The Commissioners’ letter notes that LIHEAP assists approximately 345,000 low-income Pennsylvania residents, helping to reduce high winter heating bills. Additionally, WAP funding provides energy efficient improvements for high-risk and high-use consumers; helping approximately 1,500 households per year reduce their energy costs and improve their quality of life.
The Commissioners emphasized that the LIHEAP and WAP programs are critical parts of the “safety net” for vulnerable consumers – helping older residents, struggling families, and individuals living with disabilities stay warm and safe during the winter months.
Their letter encourages Congress to continue funding at least at the current level.
The Commissioners joined with Gov. Wolf and others in supporting retention of these important programs.
A copy of the letter is available online.
Related Stories:
Wolf Administration Extends LIHEAP Home Heating Assistance Deadline To April 7

Get Outdoors Poconos Chestnut Mountain Hike April 15 In Monroe County

The Brodhead Watershed Association is holding a Get Outdoors Poconos hike on April 15 at the Chestnut Mountain Nature Preserve in Barrett Township, Monroe County from 10:00 to 11:30 a.m.
From thousand-year glaciers to short-lived loggers, Chestnut Mountain’s natural history is evident at the 479-acre Nature Preserve that hike leader Carol Hillestad and local educator Karen Tetor will lead taking participants on a 2.8-mile tour of the wooded wonderland.
After a developer’s plans to build townhouses here failed, the new owner chose to timber the land. It took the Buck Hill Conservation Foundation almost 20 years of persistent negotiation and fundraising to save the property, in turn protecting the water that runs through it.
Hikers will see a confluence of creeks, glacier-dropped nuggets of pink and white quartz, and a sweet circular view that includes a privately conserved tree farm, along Pocono Plateau to Spruce Mountain, Mount Wismer and Skytop’s West Mountain beyond.
Click Here to watch a short video of the view from Chestnut Mountain.
Meet at the trailhead on the east side of Route 191, marked by a sign and kiosk. From Mountainhome, where Routes 191/390 split near Mountainhome Diner, take 191 north for 4.3 miles. Turn right into the parking area. Trailhead GPS coordinates: 41.211407, -75.307811
The hike series is administered by Brodhead Watershed Association and supported by a grant from the William Penn Foundation.
The hike is free, but registration is required. Call 570-839-1120 or 570-629-2727; or send an email to: to register.
For information about this and other hikes in the series, visit the Get Outdoors Poconos webpage.

Keith Welks Receives PA Bar Environmental & Energy Law Section Achievement Award

Keith Welks, Deputy State Treasurer for fiscal operations and Senior Advisor for Policy at the state Treasury Department, will be honored with the 2017 Pennsylvania Bar Association Environmental and Energy Law Section Award during the section’s Environmental Law Forum, April 5-6 at the Hilton Harrisburg.
Welks is to receive the award for being a “forceful advocate for environmental protection,” and finding “creative ways to fight the good fight of protecting the environment and conserving energy,” both in and out of state service.     
In his current role, Welks identifies investment opportunities for the Pennsylvania Treasury in a number of areas, including investments that involve green or clean technologies.
He worked with numerous partners to establish the KeystoneHELP Program, which has provided more than 14,000 low interest loans to homeowners who install energy conservation measures. Welks has also led a successful sale of a large portion of the HELP loan portfolio to secondary investors.
He was integral in the Pennsylvania Treasury’s creation of Wharehouse for Energy Efficiency Loans (WHEEL), the first national financing facility which aims to provide homeowners across the U.S. with low-cost financing for home improvements by creating a secondary market for residential clean energy loans via securitization.
Prior to working at the Pennsylvania Treasury, Welks helped create and lead the environmental crimes section of the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General from 1980 until 1987. He then served as chief counsel of the former Department of Environmental Resources for several years.
In the mid-1990s, Welks created, secured funding for and served as president of the Phoenix Land Recycling Company, a nonprofit organization that facilitated the remediation and reuse of brownfield sites in the Commonwealth.
Mr. Welks graduated summa cum laude from Lafayette College and received a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
The Environmental Law Forum will feature opening remarks by Patrick McDonnell, Acting Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, on April 5.
For more information on the awards program and the Forum, visit the PBA’s Environmental Law Forum webpage.

AG Shapiro: $30.4 Million Damage Settlement With Volkswagen Over Vehicle Emissions

Attorney General Josh Shapiro Thursday announced a $30.4 million settlement with Volkswagen for environmental damages caused by a device the automaker placed on its cars which allowed excessive carbon monoxide emissions to escape into the air in violation of federal and state laws.
The settlement with Volkswagen is part of a $157 million overall settlement agreement between the automaker and the Attorneys General of 10 states, including Pennsylvania.
In an earlier settlement with Volkswagen for consumer protection law violations, the automaker agreed to pay an additional $23.1 million in civil penalties and costs to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Office of Attorney General, and two related state funds.
All told, Volkswagen will be paying $53.5 million to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and its agencies under these two settlements for consumer protection and environmental violations.  
Consumers who purchased or leased diesel vehicles manufactured by VW, Audi, or Porsche can submit claims to have their vehicles bought back or fixed by visiting the VWCourtSettlement website. This program is being overseen by the Department of Justice, Federal Trade Commission and a Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee.
Under the agreement, Pennsylvania will receive $30.4 million from Volkswagen as its portion of the settlement for environmental damages and vehicle claims, which Pennsylvania can use broadly for “any environmentally beneficial purpose.”
It will be up to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to determine how best to use the settlement funds to benefit the state’s environment.  
“I’m fighting to ensure a healthy environment for Pennsylvanians and protect their right to clean air and pure water,” Attorney General Shapiro said in announcing the settlement. “In this settlement, our prosecutors have addressed the serious harms caused by Volkswagen’s emissions device and its conscious cheating that resulted in excessive, illegal amounts of carbon monoxide fouling the air across our Commonwealth.”  
The 10 states whose Attorneys General signed on to the settlement are Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and  Washington.  
The key provisions of the settlement include:  
-- $30.4 million payment to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to address environmental damages caused by Volkswagen’s misconduct;
-- Volkswagen commits to comply with restitution and buyback provisions already in place under the earlier settlement agreement for violations of consumer protection law;
-- Volkswagen will increase the availability of Zero Emissions Vehicles in Pennsylvania and the other states, including battery electric cars; and
-- Volkswagen will increase its contribution to a mitigation trust fund – states can apply for monies from this fund for various environmental programs.  
Under the earlier settlement with Volkswagen reached last year, the automaker agreed to pay $13.1 million in civil penalties to the Pennsylvania Treasury, $5 million in costs to the  Office of Attorney General, and $2.5 million deposits each into the Commonwealth’s Clean Air and Motor License funds.
In addition, there was direct consumer restitution for the faulty emissions devices, administered by federal authorities.   
Earlier in the week, the Office of Attorney General filed a Complaint and Consent Petition in Commonwealth Court which memorialized the earlier settlement in principle, resolving the consumer issues. Judicial review of the complaint is pending.  
The Office of Attorney General is representing the departments of Environmental Protection and Transportation in the Volkswagen settlement agreements, and Attorney General Shapiro commended these state agencies and Governor Tom Wolf for their ongoing collaboration on the complex litigation.  
“Every step we’re taking is to protect Pennsylvanians’ rights to a clean environment and consumers’ rights to fair deals when they buy cars in our Commonwealth,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “Pennsylvanians purchased or leased nearly 23,000 Volkswagen vehicles on the promise they were good for the environment and the opposite was true. This settlement will help deliver justice by making Volkswagen pay up for the real harms caused by its deceptions and illegal pollution and builds on our efforts to deliver a cleaner environment for Pennsylvanians.”
VW To Pay Over $157M To Settle Emissions Claims By 10 States

PUC Offers Tips On Door-To-Door Sales By Energy Suppliers, Consumer Rights

The Public Utility Commission Thursday offered consumer tips on door-to-door sales and marketing activities by agents of competitive electric and natural gas suppliers, reminding consumers of their rights as well as their options when it comes to shopping for and selecting a competitive supplier for gas or electric service.            
“With spring upon us, warmer weather and more daylight, we traditionally see an uptick in door-to-door sales and marketing activity by competitive suppliers,” said PUC Chairman Gladys M. Brown.  “PUC regulations provide consumers with layers of protection to help them recognize deceptive sales practices and avoid falling victim to unscrupulous sales agents.”
In Pennsylvania, from April 1 through Sept. 30, hours for door-to-door sales and marketing expand one hour, from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. When a local ordinance has stricter limitations, a supplier must comply with the local ordinance.
Chairman Brown advised consumers to immediately seek proper identification before engaging a salesperson.  Brown noted that regulations require agents who conduct door-to-door activities, or appear at public events, to wear an identification badge.  
The badge must:
-- Accurately identify the supplier, its trade name and logo;
-- Display the agent’s photograph;
-- Display the agent’s full name;
-- Be prominently displayed; and
-- Display a customer-service phone number for the supplier.
Upon first contact with a customer, an agent must identify himself by name, the energy supplier he represents, and the reason for the visit.  Additionally, the agent must make clear that he is not working for - and is independent of - the customer’s local utility or any other supplier.  
The agent may not wear apparel or accessories – or even carry equipment containing branding elements – that suggests a relationship with a utility, government agency, or other supplier.
Chairman Brown urged consumers to avoid intimidating sales pitches pressuring them to act now, reminding them that they are not required to choose a competitive supplier for their electricity or natural gas supply.  
However, should they elect to enter into a contract with a competitive supplier, residents should expect the following once the supplier’s sales agent completes a transaction:
-- Before the agent leaves the residence, the customer should receive a copy of each signed or initialed document relating to the transaction;
-- The agent must explain the supplier’s verification process that is used to confirm the customer’s intent to switch suppliers;
-- After customer verification, the agent must provide a copy of the full disclosure statement with all contractual terms and conditions; and Agents must remind customers that they may rescind the transaction within three business days after receiving the disclosure statement.
-- Agents must immediately leave a residence when requested to do so, and furthermore must honor a customer’s request to be exempted from future door-to-door sales and marketing activities.  Upon receipt of such a request, the agent notifies the supplier, which removes the customer from their databases within two business days.
Chairman Brown further urged customers facing an aggressive sales agent or suspecting a potential scam to contact the PUC’s Bureau of Consumer Services at 1-800-692-7380, as well as alert their local utility.  
Consumers who feel threatened or are concerned about their safety should contact local authorities to report the incident.  The complete list of regulations governing marketing and sales practices for Pennsylvania’s retail residential energy market is found at 52 Pa. Code, Chapter 111.
In addition to door-to-door sales, Chairman Brown reminded consumers that they have other avenues to shop for their electric generation or natural gas supply.  
She noted that for both industries, the PUC operates neutral, independent websites in (electric) and (natural gas) where 24 hours a day, seven days a week consumers can access current supplier offerings, consumer education fact sheets, and information on energy efficiency and conservation.
The PUC’s consumer tips are available online.

PJM Study: Electric System Reliable Even With Much More Gas, Renewables

The PJM Interconnection system can remain reliable with the addition of more natural gas and renewable resources, an analysis released Thursday by PJM concludes. However, the report notes that an increased reliance on any one generation type brings resilience risks not accounted for under traditional reliability standards.
The report, "PJM's Evolving Resource Mix and System Reliability," responded to questions about the effects of fuel diversity on reliability. PJM stakeholders had questioned whether the system is losing too many traditional resources as coal plants retire and nuclear owners consider their future.
"This analysis underscores our responsibility to continue to operate the system reliably, and explore the role of resilience, the ability to tolerate unforeseen shocks and continue to deliver electricity," said PJM CEO Andy Ott. "Different resources provide different reliability attributes, though new technology or regulations have the ability to improve those capabilities.  "PJM needs to work with stakeholders and the industry to determine whether markets and operation structures need to shift to make sure that necessary levels of generator reliability characteristics are maintained in future resource mixes."
The report analyzed the availability of generator reliability attributes essential to the grid under potential resource portfolios. Those qualities include frequency response, voltage control, ramp, fuel assurance, flexibility, black start, environmental restrictions and equivalent availability.
"We found that the risk to the system wasn't that resources couldn't necessarily provide reliability attributes but that the potential concentration of a single fuel source or low-probability, high-impact events could cause significant impacts to the system," said Michael Bryson, vice president – Operations, who led the study.
PJM created a "composite reliability index" to assess the operational reliability of various resources across four states: normal peak conditions, light load, extremely hot weather and extremely cold weather.
"The study concluded that our current portfolio is both reliable and diverse," Bryson said.
The study found that a more diverse fuel portfolio isn't necessarily more reliable. Certain resource blends that fall between the least and most diverse offer the greatest number of key generator reliability attributes.
An adequate level of diversity fosters flexibility and adaptability in mitigating risks associated with equipment failure, fuel price volatility, supply disruptions, extreme weather and other unforeseen system shocks.
PJM's current resource profile includes natural gas, coal, nuclear, renewables, demand response and other generation types.
The resource mix within PJM has become more evenly balanced over time.
In 2005, coal and nuclear resources generated 91 percent of the electricity on the PJM system.
Over time, policy initiatives, technology improvements, and economics spurred a shift from coal to natural gas and renewable generation.
From 2010 to 2016 in PJM, coal-fired units made up 79 percent of the megawatts retired, and natural gas and renewables made up 87 percent of new megawatts placed in service.
PJM’s installed capacity in 2016 consisted of 33 percent coal, 33 percent natural gas, 18 percent nuclear, and 6 percent renewables (including hydro).
The analysis identified no limit to the amount of natural gas-fired generation that could be added to the system before it affected reliability; however, highlighted the potential increased dependency on fuel infrastructure and the need for PJM to further explore grid resilience.
The report did not address the economics of resource types, factors that might impact a fuel's deliverability or public policy issues such as environmental impact, including the use of subsidies.
A copy of the report is available online.
The topic will be the focus of the upcoming Grid 20/20: Focus on Resilience (Fuel Mix Diversity & Security), to be held April 19 in Philadelphia.
PJM manages the electric power system serving 65 million people in all or parts of Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.
Related Story:
PJM Marks 20 Years Of The Competitive Electricity Market

Subscribe To Receive Updates:

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner