Deal Withtotal Watershed

May 14, 2019 GMT

Nature pays no heed to political boundaries. The air and water flow as the wind and gravity dictate, making it folly to attempt to deal with related environmental issues only on the local level. Most of Northeast Pennsylvania is part of the sprawling Susquehanna River watershed, the largest source of freshwater in the Chesapeake Bay. To further the bay’s restoration and improve water quality from the bay to the Susquehanna’s source in Cooperstown, New York, the Environmental Protection Agency has established pollution standards for stormwater management throughout the watershed. They mandate reductions of sediment by 10%, phosphorous by 5% and nitrogen by 3% by 2023. The only sensible way to deal with those mandates is to form a regional stormwater management authority, for which Democratic state Sen. John Blake of Lackawanna County recently made a strong case. In Luzerne County, 32 municipal governments have agreed to joint stormwater management through the Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority, an existing authority. It is controversial because it entails a fee atop local taxes and sanitary sewer fees But stormwater management is not optional under the new standards and the question is not whether to do it, but how best to do it. There is little doubt that regional management is superior for environmental and financial reasons. According to the engineering consultant Herbert, Rowland & Grubic Inc., the fee for stormwater management through a joint authority is between 50% and 70% less than what Luzerne County residents would pay through individual stormwater agencies. That is not only because the cost is distributed as widely as possible, but because a joint authority can develop the most effective projects across a broad geographic area to meet the EPA goals. The consultant estimates that it will take 65 projects across the Luzerne County authority’s coverage area to meet the standards, whereas individual governments would have to undertake 455 projects to achieve the same results. In Lackawanna County, the issue coincides with Scranton’s need to deal with stormwater management, which was not included in its sale of the sanitary sewer system. The Scranton Sewer Authority used to handle much of stormwater management for the city and Dunmore. A regional authority clearly is the best way for local governments within the common watershed to most economically improve local and bay water quality. As a bonus, it could help to wash away parochialism and help foster regional cooperation in many other areas.