Tuesday, January 25, 2022

PA State Government Has Refused To Pay Stormwater Management Fees To Local Authorities Designed To Meet Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Obligations

On January 25, the
Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee heard from several witnesses from Central Pennsylvania reporting that State Government has refused to pay stormwater management fees designed to help the Commonwealth meet Chesapeake Bay cleanup obligations and for other areas of the state.

“Harrisburg faces unique challenges as the Commonwealth’s Capital. The problem isn’t so much that most of the land in the city is privately owned; the biggest problem is who owns the land,” said J. Marc Kurowski, PE, Chair of the Capital Region Water Authority Board service Dauphin County communities.  “The Commonwealth and its agencies hold deeds on 41 percent of the city’s tax-exempt land, and many of these government properties are the source of a significant volume of stormwater runoff. 

“Failure of state government to pay its fair share of the stormwater user fee only increases the financial burden on the city and its residents. That’s exactly what’s happening.

“Almost immediately after we rolled out our stormwater plan, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania issued notices to us that it would not pay the user fee on any of its properties within Harrisburg. 

“That means, based on impervious surfaces and monthly billings, the Commonwealth’s failure to pay its fair share ultimately is costing city ratepayers $32,246 per month, or $386,956 per year,” explained Kurowski.

“Ironically, the Commonwealth did not take issue with paying for stormwater-related expenses in the past when these costs were included in sewer rates --- so it clearly recognizes the importance of our work. 

“It is only now that we have implemented a fair and equitable way of paying for these services that the Commonwealth is refusing to pay for the work being done in the city where its primary operations are situated,” said Kurowski.

“Think about it this way: The Commonwealth issues a mandate to address stormwater runoff. Capital Region Water puts in place a plan to address stormwater runoff. The  state then refuses to pay for the mandate it imposed and the problems to which it contributes,” said Kurowski.

He added later in the hearing we have tax exempt property, churches, the school district and the City of Harrisburg, all making this payment, it's just the Commonwealth that isn't paying.

Jeremy Miller, PE, Public Works Director of the Hampden Township Sewer Authority in Cumberland County, had similar testimony saying the Authority issued its first stormwater bill in 2015 to comply with the state’s MS4 Stormwater Management requirement.

“And since then, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has failed to pay more than $1,200,000 in what we believe are legally assessed fees,” said Miller.  “As others may state today, it is hard to explain to business owners, churches, residents and others why the State that passed the laws requiring treatment of stormwater; and the State that owns property from which stormwater runoff forces the construction of larger pipes and oversized BMPs; and the State that passed the laws that clearly establishes the ability for Authorities to implement a stormwater fees; is also the State that refuses to pay the fee and worse yet claims that the fee is a tax knowing full well that Authorities do not have taxing powers. 

“We do not feel there is any ambiguity in the laws that authorize the assessment of a stormwater fee. However, given the State’s current position regarding payment of the fee, some clarification may be warranted.”

Witnesses also raised the specific issue of PennDOT also not paying stormwater fees for property it owns.

“The optics on this for the Commonwealth is horrible,” said Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), Majority Chair of the Committee. “We pass these laws that say you have to have MS4 [stormwater management controls], you have to have separate stormwater - sewer system and you have to do all these other things-- but oh by the way, we’re not doing it.  I don’t get that.  Especially when the federal government pays [stormwater fees]. It seems to me there is something wrong here.”


PennFuture Campaign Manager for Watershed Advocacy Renee Reber said it was clear listening to the experts at the hearing that stormwater management is a service in which everyone benefits and everyone has a responsibility. 

“We are seeing an increase in stormwater fees implemented across the Commonwealth as a fair and equitable way for municipal governments and authorities to generate a local dedicated source of funding for stormwater management programs and practices. 

“Improperly managed stormwater increases flooding, impacts property values, and harms our rivers and streams.  Runoff and pollution from impervious surfaces is a leading cause of pollution in Pennsylvania and across the country. 

“PennFuture advocates for state and local stormwater management programs, especially those utilizing green stormwater infrastructure, to ensure our communities can thrive and benefit from access to healthy creeks and rivers.

“Unfortunately, as highlighted in today’s hearing, where stormwater fees are in place, the Commonwealth refuses to pay their share, which places a higher burden on all other ratepayers.   

“We applaud Pennsylvania’s communities for recognizing the importance of stormwater management and those who implement dedicated local sources of funding to ensure local programs protect our communities and waterways. 

“We thank Senator Yaw for holding this hearing and pledging to see what can be done to hold the Commonwealth accountable to its obligation to pay its share."


Click Here for a video of the hearing [when available] and the written testimony submitted to the Committee.

Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming) serves as Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-787-3280 or sending email to: gyaw@pasen.gov.   Sen. Carolyn Comitta (D-Chester) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-787-5709 or sending email to: senatorcomitta@pasenate.com.

PA Chesapeake Bay Plans

For more information on Pennsylvania’s Plan, visit DEP’s Chesapeake Bay Watershed webpage.

Check Streams Near You

The draft DEP 2022 Water Quality Report has an interactive report viewer that allows you to zoom in to your own address to see if the streams near you are impaired and why.

Click Here to check out your streams.

[Note: This post will be updated with additional information when it becomes available.]

Related Articles:

-- DEP Announces How Pennsylvania Will Meet Its 2025 Pollution Reduction Goals in Chesapeake Bay Watershed; All Counties On Board

-- EPA Points To Lack Of Dedicated Farm Cost Share Program As Major Gap In PA's Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan

-- Chesapeake Bay Foundation: Pennsylvania Far Behind Where It Needs To Be In Meeting 2025 Chesapeake Bay Milestones

-- Chesapeake Bay Foundation Calls For Greater Investments To Reduce Pollution As Number Of Impaired Streams Increases In PA 

-- Two Bipartisan Bills Just Sitting In Senate Waiting To Address Record Number Of Water Quality Impaired Streams Reported In 2022  [PaEN]

-- DEP 2022 Water Quality Report Shows 27,886 Miles Of Streams With Impaired Water Quality In PA (33%) - An Increase From 25,468 In 2020  

[Posted: January 25, 2022]  PA Environment Digest

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