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EPA Still Concerned About DEP Drinking Water Program, Urges Temporary Funding To Hire Staff Sooner

In a letter dated April 12, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency responded to DEP’s plan to correct deficiencies in the state’s Safe Drinking Program by saying it is “encouraged” by the plan, but said they remain concerned about the ability of DEP to hire staff quickly enough to meet minimum federal inspection and other standards.

DEP told EPA in February part of its plan is to put a $7.5 million increase in drinking water fees in place to support the hiring of up to 33 additional staff.  To do that, however, requires adoption of the fees by regulation that can take up to 2 years.

The Environmental Quality Board is scheduled to take the first step in adopting the Safe Drinking Water Program fee increases on May 17 when it considers putting a proposed regulation out for public comment.

However, EPA’s letter goes on to say-- “EPA remains concerned about Pennsylvania’s program performance in the interim until staff are hired in 2018 and trained and productive in the year afterward.”

EPA recommended DEP “seek a temporary funding source to begin the hiring process earlier.”

Until new staff is hired, EPA agreed DEP should “continue to prioritize drinking water sanitary survey inspections and target its limited resources to ensure the highest level of public health protection.”

DEP will also submit quarterly updates on its progress to correct the deficiencies in the program EPA outlined in December and is required to “alert EPA to any new challenges or changes in the proposed timeline.”

A copy of EPA’s April 12 letter is available online.


EPA notified DEP’s Safe Drinking Water Program in December that its lack of resources to enforce minimum federal requirements could be grounds for taking primacy away from Pennsylvania. 

Primacy means DEP administers the federal Safe Drinking Water Program in Pennsylvania for the federal government under state law.

EPA’s review said Pennsylvania failed to conduct the minimum number of sanitary surveys of water systems-- once every 3 years for community water supplies and once every 5 years for non-community systems-- schools, camps, bulk water suppliers.

Because of the lack of staff, DEP completed only 1,847 sanitary surveys in FY 2015-16 compared to 3,177 in FY 2009-10.

EPA also pointed out, the lack of staff meant the number of unaddressed Safe Drinking Water Act violations doubled over the last 5 years from 4,298 to 7,922.

“This increased risk to public health is of concern to EPA,” the letter said.

Another concern EPA outlined was “a large amount of pertinent information was missing from the files” involving DEP’s enforcement of Pennsylvania’s lead and copper rule, the regulation of lead in drinking water supplies.

DEP has been discussing a proposed $7.5 million fee increase package to make up for state General Fund budget cuts with the agency’s Technical Assistance Center For Small Water Systems Board since November. 

The proposal would not only increase permit review fees, but also impose an annual permit administration fee for the first time.

The Environmental Quality Board is scheduled to take the first step in adopting the Safe Drinking Water Program fee increases on May 17 when it considers putting a proposed regulation out for public comment.

The deficiencies EPA cited in DEP’s Safe Drinking Water Program caused by the lack of resources was a prime topic in Senate and House budget hearings in March.

$100 Million At Risk

If Pennsylvania loses primacy in enforcing federal Safe Drinking Water Act requirements, it loses $5.5 million in annual funding to support its regulatory program, $100 million on federal Drinking Water Revolving Fund monies to fund water system improvements through PennVEST and subjects state water systems to double permitting if EPA takes over that responsibility and DEP enforces Pennsylvania’s Safe Drinking Water Act.


McKelvey: PA Should Act Now On Drinking Water Program Problems EPA Says

Cusick: EPA Urges PA To Move Faster On Drinking Water Safety Issues

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Related Stories:

EQB To Consider Safe Drinking Water Fee Increases At May 17 Meeting

EPA: DEP Lacks Resources To Enforce Minimum Federal Safe Drinking Water Regs

DEP Sends Plan To EPA, Clearing Safe Drinking Water Deficiencies Could Take Until 2020

Senate Budget Hearing: Historic Cuts To DEP Budget, Safe Drinking Water, Chesapeake Bay

House DEP Budget Hearing: Safe Drinking Water, Permitting, Pipelines, Chesapeake Bay

Bill On Senate Calendar Would Prevent Funding Crisis In Recycling Program

Senate Bill Would Fill Funding Gap In DEP’s Underground Storage Tank Program

Growing Greener Coalition Holds Capitol Rally May 9 To Support Green Infrastructure Funding

CBF Thanks Congress For Bipartisan Action To Protect 2017 Chesapeake Bay Funding

Proposed Trump Cuts To State Grants Will Cripple DEP, Cause Drastic Fee Increases

[Posted: May 3, 2017]


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