DEP Holds 2nd Webinar, Extends Comment Period On On-lot Septic System Review Policy

The Department of Environmental Protection announced Thursday it will accept comments for an additional 30 days on draft technical guidance describing how onlot sewage disposal systems can be sited in watersheds that are designated high-quality and exceptional value. The comment period, which was originally slated to close May 1, will be open through June 3.

The agency also announced it will host a webinar on April 23, from 2 to 3 p.m., to present the guidance and answer questions. DEP will also expand its outreach and discussion efforts with local government organizations.

“Good government, sound policy and public involvement are core tenets of this administration,” DEP Acting Secretary Chris Abruzzo said. “We want to make sure that everyone has a chance to be heard; we want reasonable development to be able to occur; and we want to make sure this state’s water quality is protected. If there are different approaches than the one we have proposed, we want to hear them.”

DEP was ordered by the Environmental Hearing Board to develop this guidance requiring anti-degration review of onlot sewage module review.

During the one-hour webinar, DEP staff will describe BMPs for individual and community onlot sewage systems that can achieve nonpoint source control in High Quality and Exceptional Value waters, and review the process for selecting appropriate BMPs to achieve such control.

DEP is required by federal law to ensure the water quality of such watersheds is protected and maintained.

The technical guidance, as drafted, is prospective and would only apply to onlot septic systems for projects that have not yet secured sewage planning approval from DEP and local government organizations. The technical guidance will not affect projects that have already been approved.

This technical guidance is needed because the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board ruled that the modeling DEP relied on to approve the use of septic systems near high-quality and exceptional value watersheds did not adequately demonstrate the waterways are protected. The ruling set a high legal and scientific standard for review of sewage facilities planning in special protection watersheds.

This draft guidance lays out one approach to address developers’ uncertainty. If it is finalized, DEP will favorably view planning modules submitted in accordance with the guidance and will also consider alternative approaches as sewage planners seek approval from the agency.

Written comments on the guidance should be sent in writing by June 3 to Thomas Starosta at DEP’s Bureau of Point and Non-Point Source Management, Division of Planning and Permits, P. O. Box 8774, Harrisburg, PA 17105-8774, or via email to:

DEP Presentation

Lee McDonnell, Director of the Bureau of Point and Non-Point Source Management, provided the DEP Citizens Advisory Council with an overview of new procedures DEP is developing for reviewing sewage modules in High Quality and Exceptional Value watersheds at its meeting in March.  Click Here for a copy of his presentation.

McDonnell noted the new procedures were prompted by two Environmental Hearing Board decisions-- Pine Creek Watershed Association v. DEP-- directing DEP to consider the impacts of onlot septic systems on HQ and EV streams during its review process.

McDonnell said the proposed review process gives onlot sewage module applicants options they can mix and match to achieve the right water quality protection factors.  Those options include: one acre or more lot size, setback distances from streams or wetlands, riparian buffers and in-ground barriers between the systems and streams.

He noted the proposed process is undergoing public review and the department is open to considering ways to improve the process.

Bill To Eliminate Review Introduced

Rep. David Maloney (R-Berks) this week introduced House Bill 1212 would eliminate anti-degradation requirements from the review of on-lot septic system modules for High Quality and Exceptional Value streams-- summary.

The Draft Technical Guidance is available online.   Public comments regarding the Draft Technical Guidance are due to DEP May 1.

The webinar is free but registration is required.  Online registration is available.


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