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PA DEP wants to impose fee on water authorities to shore up drinking water inspection program By Kyle Bagenstose, staff writer The Intelligencer

PA DEP wants to impose fee on water authorities to shore up drinking water inspection program

By Kyle Bagenstose, staff writer

The Intelligencer

22 hrs ago

Tuesday, August 29, 2017 10:27 AM

http://www.theintell.com/news/local/pa-dep-wants-to-impose-fee-on-water-authorities-to/article_3ac32140-037b-5c31-9a2c-156d45de181c.html

 

In an effort to shore up its beleaguered drinking water system inspection program, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is advancing plans to hire more inspectors and fund the positions through new statewide fees on water authorities. The agency is taking comment through Sept. 25 on the proposed fees, which are expected to pull in about $7.5 million annually.

The DEP’s inspection program is in hot water, as the federal Environmental Protection Agency warned the department in a letter last year that it was falling dangerously behind on its duties. The state had just one inspector for every 149 water systems, while the national average is 67, the EPA wrote. The number of annual water system inspections fell from 3,177 in 2010 to just 1,847 in 2016, the agency added.

Such inspections monitor public water systems that send tapwater to homes, as well as businesses, schools or other institutions that maintain their own systems.

“Not completing survey inspections in a timely manner can have serious public health implications as major violations could be going unidentified,” the letter said.

The DEP did not deny the problems; in a February response, Lisa Daniels, director of the state’s Bureau of Safe Drinking Water, wrote that the agency was working “diligently to address them.” She pinned the problem on state funding. In 2008, the DEP received about $229 million from the state, but that number fell to just $148 million in 2016. The dramatic decrease in funding resulted in a drop in the number of drinking water inspectors, from 84 in 2009, to 61 currently, according to the DEP.

DEP announced last week that it’s staffing up. In a release, the department said it has hired two new inspectors and is currently working to hire four more. When all are on board, that would return the agency to its full complement of about 60 inspectors.

“Ensuring that Pennsylvania’s drinking water is clean and safe to drink is one of the most important roles that DEP has,” said Patrick McDonnell, DEP secretary, in a released statement. “DEP is using the resources we have at hand as well as the agency’s regulatory authority to address the shortfall in inspectors.”

However, the DEP says it needs about 33 more employees to get the program running efficiently, the majority of them inspectors. To pay for them, the DEP hopes to implement a fee schedule on public water systems, ranging from an annual $250 fee for small water systems serving 100 people or less, up to $40,000 for those serving 100,000 or more. The per-person cost would decrease for larger systems, from as much as $10 per person for the smallest systems, to less than 40 cents per person for the largest.

For typical water authorities, such as those common in Bucks and Montgomery counties, the per-person rate would add about $1 or $2 to a water bill annually.

The fees would affect about 8,500 water systems across the state, serving about 10.8 million Pennsylvanians. In addition, there would be an increase in one-time permit fees for new water systems or modifications to existing systems, the DEP said. Those fees range from $100 to $10,000, depending on the type and size of the system.

The $7.5 million in new revenue would about match the $7.7 million the program gets from the state general fund each year. The program also receives about $12 million annually from the EPA.

Comments on the new proposal can be made online at www.ahs.dep.pa.gov/ecomment. Written comments also can be emailed to ecomment@pa.gov or mailed to the Department of Environmental Protection, Policy Office, Rachel Carson State Office Building, P.O. Box 2063, Harrisburg, PA 17105.

 

 

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