WHAT IS STORMWATER?
Stormwater is water runoff created by precipitation events, such as rainfall or snowmelt, which flows over land or impervious surfaces and does not infiltrate into the ground. Impervious surfaces include roads, parking lots, driveways, rooftops, or compacted soils such as lawns or construction sites. These surfaces do not allow stormwater to percolate through the soils below them. As the stormwater flows across these surfaces it accumulates pollutants, debris, and sediment which are then deposited into streams, rivers and lakes. These contaminates have many negative effects on our watersheds.
A watershed is an area of land where any water that falls in it or drains off of it flows to a common outlet. Erie County straddles the Lake Erie Watershed and the French Creek Watershed. Watersheds can be nested inside larger watersheds. The French Creek Watershed is part of a much larger system which includes the Allegheny, Ohio, and Mississippi watersheds. The Lake Erie Watershed flows into Lake Ontario and out of the St. Lawrence River to the Atlantic Ocean. Protecting our watersheds can have a significant impact not only in our backyard but further downstream.
NON-POINT SOURCE POLLUTION
Nonpoint source (NPS) pollution, unlike pollution from industrial and sewage treatment plants, comes from many diffuse sources. NPS pollution is caused by rainfall or snowmelt moving over and through the ground. As the runoff moves, it picks up and carries away natural and human-made pollutants, finally depositing them into lakes, rivers, wetlands, coastal waters and ground waters.
Nonpoint source pollution can include:
- Excess fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides from agricultural lands and residential areas
- Oil, grease and toxic chemicals from urban runoff and energy production
- Sediment from improperly managed construction sites, crop and forest lands, and eroding streambanks
- Salt from irrigation practices and acid drainage from abandoned mines
- Bacteria and nutrients from livestock, pet wastes, and faulty septic systems
- Atmospheric deposition
- Land use changes and hydromodification or channelization of streams
- Rivers and lakes are an important resource for drinking water. When they are polluted public health risks can increase.
- Sediment can clog pore space and damage important habitat for macroinvertebrates and other aquatic life.
- Fertilizers can cause excessive algae growth which depletes the oxygen in the water. Fish and other aquatic life need oxygen in the water to survive.
- Bacteria and other pathogens can create health risks when washed into beaches and other swimming areas.
- Debris—such as plastic bags, six-pack rings, and cigarette butts—washed into rivers can choke, suffocate, or disable ducks, fish, turtles, and birds.
- Household hazardous wastes like insecticides, pesticides, paint, solvents, and motor oil can poison aquatic life.
- Polluted water or diseased fish is a public health hazard and can spread illness to people and pets.
- A lack of infiltration and recharge causes the groundwater level to drop and will lead to wells and springs going dry.
MUNICIPAL SEPARATE STORM SEWER SYSTEM (MS4)
The federal government’s recognition of the enormous value of clean water was marked by amendments to the Clean Water Act in 1972. Likewise, Pennsylvania passes on responsibilities to municipalities via Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permits, so we can consider local specifics while keeping our communities’ and our nation’s water clean.
The general requirement for each municipality is to develop and implement a Storm Water Management Program (SWMP) of Best Management Practices (BMPs) to reduce the discharge of pollutants from the regulated Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) to the Maximum Extent Practicable (MEP). An MS4 is a conveyance or system of conveyances that is:
- Owned by a state, city, town, village, or other public entity that discharges to waters of the U.S.
- Designed or used to collect or convey storm water (including storm drains, pipes, ditches, etc.).
- Not a combined sewer.
- Not part of a publicly owned treatment works (sewage treatment plant).
Each municipality’s Storm Water Management Program consists of six Minimum Control Measures (MCMs):
- Public education and outreach
- Public participation/involvement
- Illicit discharge detection and elimination
- Construction site runoff control
- Post-construction runoff control
- Pollution prevention/good housekeeping
MUNICIPAL STORMWATER ASSISTANCE PROGRAM
Erie County Municipal Stormwater Assistance Program (MSAP) was created to help municipalities meet stormwater permit requirements, educate residents and decision makers on stormwater issues, and promote effective planning across the region. This project is being funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funds as well as DEP funds through the Northwest Commission Greenways Block Grant. This funding supports efforts in the Erie County Department of Planning (ECDP) to assist our municipalities in effectively developing and implementing stormwater management programs. Through these efforts, we can encourage collaboration and realize cost savings for our municipalities.
Erie County Department of Planning offers the following services to our municipalities:
- Education and Outreach Provide a consistent education message throughout Erie County, so municipalities do not have to duplicate efforts.
- Data Collection, Information Systems, and Mapping Assist municipalities in mapping their infrastructure utilizing GIS (Geographic Information Systems). This will allow municipalities to view an interactive map of their stormwater infrastructure and analyze water flow to inform decision making for infrastructure investments.
- Planning and Administrative Support Assist municipalities in organizing information related to their stormwater management programs, which allows for quicker inspections and facilitates information sharing. Work with municipalities to evaluate land development processes and provide recommendations to streamline stormwater management reviews that are required by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
WHAT RESIDENTS CAN DO TO HELP:
- Properly dispose of household and yard waste. When people put grass clipping in a ditch, or dump wastewater or grease into a catch-basin, this clogs the pipes, causing backups that can flood your neighborhood. Furthermore, organic waste in our waterways deposits Phosphorous, hurting wildlife and leading to harmful algal blooms and closures of our local beaches.
- Limit the amount of fertilizer added to your lawn. There are limits to how much nutrition your lawn can absorb. Follow the directions on the package, such as timing with the weather and not using too much. Excess fertilizer gets washed off of lawns and carried to streams and lakes, causing harmful algal blooms and other issues.
- Pick up and dispose of your pets waste. Domestic animals live at much higher concentrations than similar animals would in the wild, and microbes in the feces of carnivores like dogs and cats can be very harmful to aquatic health.
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