Friday, May 17, 2019

Auditor General DePasquale Calls For PA To Act On Climate Change To Save Lives, Prepare For Higher Costs, Particularly For Water Infrastructure

On May 13, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale urged Pennsylvania to do more to prepare for the impacts of climate change due to a lack of meaningful action at the federal level.
"The climate crisis will impact public health and safety, disrupt our economy and create new burdens on taxpayers," DePasquale said at his third public hearing on the topic. "In light of how little serious work is being done about the crisis at the national level, states must make certain they're prepared for these potentially devastating impacts."
DePasquale is developing a special report on state government's response to climate change and steps that can better prepare the state for the future, noting that the problem will impact health, transportation and other infrastructure, agriculture, forestry, and tourism – among other issues.
The hearing was held at Widener University's Commonwealth Law School and these witnesses provided comments:
-- John Dernbach, Widener University Professor of Environmental Law and Sustainability
-- Randy Padfield, Acting Director, PA Emergency Management Agency
-- David Buono, Jr., Consumer Liaison, PA Insurance Department
-- John Brosious, Deputy Director, PA Municipal Authorities Association
-- Dr. Rachel Levine, Secretary, Department of Health
-- Allison Acevedo, Office of Environmental Justice Director, DEP
-- Patricia Zapata, Organizing Program Assistant, CASA
John Brosious from the PA Municipal Authorities Association provided an overview of how changes in weather impact water and wastewater infrastructure.
“Hurricanes Katrina and Rita rocked the Gulf Coast in the fall of 2005. Damage estimates to water and sewer infrastructure was severe, with costly price tags to return to compliance.  The American Water Works Association estimated that $2.25 billion would be necessary to repair or replace damaged drinking water systems.
“Hurricane Florence hits North Carolina (Sept., 2018).  Damage from the storm includes water levels in the Cape Fear River 40-50 feet above normal (ironically the 2nd 1,000 year flood event in a 3 year period, Hurricane Matthew being the other in 2016).  Damage estimates were $17 billion.
“The overflowing water impacted water and sewer facilities, already compromised by Hurricane Matthew’s damages 2 years earlier.  Tens of millions of gallons of wastewater overflowed from the plants and blown-out conveyance systems. Weeks went by before many plants were operating normally.”
Brosious noted the City of Pittsburgh, with aging infrastructure has a history of problems with combined sewer overflows and sewage overflows during rain events.
“The severity of the overflow problem is highlighted in the impacts to the local rivers and waterways, with contaminated water containing viruses, bacteria, and garbage.  
“The Allegheny County Health Department in a routine summer issues river advisories for at least 70 days, 50 percent of the recreational season on the river.  The proliferation in recent years of more severe storms dumping record rainfall has exacerbated efforts to address the situation.
“Related to this, the CSO impact swells exponentially during these storms.  From a daily average of 250 million gallons per day, runoff into the CSO system on a rainy day may jump threefold, to 750 million gallons.”
“Derry Township Municipal Authority (DTMA), Hershey Tropical Storm Lee hit central PA in September of 2011 with enormous consequences.  One such debilitating punch was to the DTMA wastewater facility along the Swatara Creek outside Hershey.
“Floodwaters reached an all-time high in the basin where the plant was located inundating the entire treatment plant, all the electrical equipment, and overflowing the holding tanks.
“The plant did some primary treatment as waters receded, then secondary, both with the help of gas generators, and additional chemical treatment additions for disinfection, turbidity, and solids.  Although the receiving stream was still inundated with contaminants, DTMA made a great effort to continue treatment and get the plant back to full treatment in a few weeks.
“The cost to fully restore the plant to production, restore all electric and mechanical systems, and renovate parts of the office building (also impacted) was $12 million, with $9.5 million covered from FEMA and PEMA.
Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee provided a double dose to the Chesapeake Bay in September of 2011 which inundated the Susquehanna River and its tributaries with huge sediment runoff loads, record high water, garbage and contaminants.
“The best image of these 2 storms was the aerial plume of the runoff from Pennsylvania.  A markedly visible 100 mile long brown plume extending into the otherwise greenish-blue water of the Chesapeake Bay.
“Storms such as these wipe out fish, bury clams and oyster beds, scour underwater grasses, deplete oxygen, and introduce numerous contaminants to the already fragile aquatic environment of the Bay.”
Brosious concluded by recalling an incident when he was a new Lehigh County Commissioner in 1984 when stormwater infiltrated a sewer line causing enough pressure that a manhole cover floated on a 3 foot tall geyser of water.
"I want our state to be ready for what the federal government's own experts say is already happening and what is yet to come," DePasquale added, referencing a federal report issued last fall.
That report said that in the Northeast region, climate change poses threats to public health and safety from extreme heat and flooding; raises concerns about damage to aging power, water, sewer and transportation systems; and will impact rural communities, farming, forestry and tourism by altering ecosystems.
[Note: A study done for the Center for Rural Pennsylvania found there has been a 71 percent increase in very heavy precipitation events in the last 54 years in the Northeast United States.]
DePasquale's special report is expected to be complete this summer.
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