The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) has announced plans to address long-standing staffing and funding issues with its drinking water program. In addition to already hiring additional staff, DEP will open a 30-day comment period on August 26, 2017 to solicit feedback on a new fee package for public water systems. If implemented, the fee package would institute a new annual fee for public water systems based on the number of people they serve. In addition, one-time permit fees would be increased. The new fee package, when implemented, is expected to generate approximately $7.5 million annually. The additional funds will be used to hire new staff.
The U.S. EPA has warned DEP that existing staffing shortages could have serious public health implications and, if continued, could result in an EPA takeover of the Commonwealth’s safe drinking water program. In a February 24, 2017 letter to EPA, DEP noted that it currently had 54 sanitarians/field inspectors, down from 84 in 2009. Today, each sanitarian in Pennsylvania is responsible for approximately 158 public water systems, more than double the national average of 67.
The comment period on the proposed fee package ends on September 25, 2017. Written comments may be submitted by email or mailed to the Department of Environmental Protection, Policy Office, Rachel Carson State Office Building, P.O. Box 2063, Harrisburg, PA 17105-2063.
Stock and Leader’s Environment, Energy, and Environmental Mediation Group will continue to monitor developments in this area.