Environment

DEP Proposes Plan to Improve Safe Drinking Water Oversight

Harrisburg, PA – In order to provide mandated protections to public drinking water, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) proposes to increase the number of inspectors who ensure safe drinking water is delivered from the state’s more than 8,500 public water systems to more than 10 million Pennsylvania residents. To fund the positions, DEP proposes a new annual fee and amendments to existing permit fees for public water systems. The proposed fee package will allow DEP to expand the existing drinking water staff complement by more than 50 percent and improve inspection rates of public water systems.

“Years of under-investment in our safe drinking water oversight has put Pennsylvania in a precarious position,” said DEP Acting Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “DEP staff have done tremendous work to ensure that the water that we drink is safe and clean. But, we cannot continue with the staffing shortages we currently face.”

Over the past few months, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has noted that DEP has one inspector for every 149 public water systems, more than double the national average of one inspector for every 67 systems. EPA has also warned that if inspection requirements are not met, Pennsylvania may lose primacy over Safe Drinking Water programs. Correspondence can be found on the DEP website http://www.dep.pa.gov/About/Testimony_and_Letters/Pages/Testimony.aspx.

The proposed package would increase fees for new or amended permits and impose annual fees for community water systems, non-community water systems, and bottled, vended, retail and bulk water suppliers. The fees are anticipated to raise $7.5 million in additional annual funding for the program. More information can be found at http://files.dep.state.pa.us/PublicParticipation/Advisory%20Committees/AdvCommPortalFiles/TAC/DRAFT%20Proposed%20Annual%20Fees_TAC%20handout_Jan%2005%202017.pdf.

The proposed fee package would add 33 new positions to the existing drinking water complement. The fee package would be the first increase to permitting fees since the fees were first implemented in 1984.

“It’s clear that the ever-expanding workload of inspections cannot be managed forever by the current staff levels,” said McDonnell. “These inspections cover the entirety of the water system, from the water source, through the treatment and storage, and finally the distribution to homes. We’re seeking these increases to make sure that we can continue DEP’s high-quality work and fulfill our responsibility to ensure clean drinking water sources to the people of Pennsylvania.”

The proposed fee package will be presented to the Environmental Quality Board at their May 17, 2017 meeting. Details of that meeting are available at http://www.dep.pa.gov/PublicParticipation/EnvironmentalQuality/2017%20Meetings/Pages/default.aspx/. A public comment period will be announced once a draft of the package is finalized; details of the comment period will be announced at that time.

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