The Susquehanna River Basin Commission (“SRBC”) approved a final rulemaking at its business meeting on June 16, 2017, that will regulate “grandfathered” water withdrawals and consumptive uses as we explained in our analysis of the proposal last Fall.  This new regulation will be effective January 2018.  While the SRBC revised the proposed rule in response to public comments, the thrust of the rule will remain the same:  grandfathered withdrawals and uses will be required to register with the SRBC and to be metered.  The registration requirements for grandfathered withdrawals and uses will result in closer agency scrutiny.  They could cause loss of grandfathered status, triggering full SRBC review and approval for failure to timely register or increases in quantities withdrawn or used.

Entities with grandfathered sources and uses should carefully analyze this final rulemaking and contact McNees for additional information.

The new regulation is important for currently regulated and future projects.  There are changes to general application provisions and procedures that will be effective sooner than the grandfathering provisions (upon the rulemaking’s publication in the Federal Register) and could more broadly impact projects.

Other aspects of the proposed rulemaking last Fall, which would have imposed mitigation requirements for consumptive uses beyond the typical payment of a consumptive use mitigation fee, were abandoned in the final rule.  The SRBC removed proposed provisions relating to mitigation plans from the final regulation, including provisions on “water critical areas.”  The SRBC also put its draft Consumptive Use Mitigation Policy on hold, indicating that it will further consider the public comments on these issues and go back to the drawing board in the future.

We will know more about the final rulemaking when the SRBC posts the text and a comment/response document on its website in the coming weeks.  Until the grandfathering rule becomes effective in January 2018, the SRBC will be working on the forms and additional guidance for registration.  Once the grandfathering rule is effective, registrations can be made for six months without any application fee.

McNees contacts who can provide assistance include:

 

On May 17, 2017, the Pennsylvania Environmental Quality Board (“EQB”) greenlighted a proposal that would substantially increase fees for public water suppliers regulated by the Department of Environmental Protection (“PADEP”).  In addition to seeking the fee hike, the proposal would amend other regulations under the Pennsylvania Safe Drinking Water Act (“SDWA”), with some changes being even more stringent than federal standards.  The proposal now will be published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin followed by a public comment period of at least 30 days.

Stakeholders should carefully review the proposal and consider submitting comments, including all community water systems, noncommunity water systems, and bottled, vended, retail, and bulk water suppliers.  Those affected may include municipalities with water supply systems and businesses that supply water to the public or their own employees.

Fee Increase

The SDWA allows the EQB to establish fees for permit applications and certain services, as long as those fees bear a reasonable relationship to the actual cost of providing a service.  The proposal would amend the SDWA regulations by removing the current fee provisions and adding a new subchapter relating specifically to fees for each public water system.  PADEP has explained that the purpose of the fees is to increase the agency workforce tasked with inspecting public water systems, which would occur over the next few years.  When coupled with other costs of maintaining a reliable supply of water through permitting and technical requirements, such as those imposed by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (“SRBC”), the financial impact on suppliers may be significant.

The proposed annual fees are generally broken down by type of water system and population served.  For community water systems, the proposed fees range from $250 to $40,000 depending on the population served.  The high end for noncommunity systems and vended, retail, and bulk water suppliers is $1,000, while the fee for bottled water systems is $2,500.  Public water suppliers will also be subject to additional fees for permit and technical reviews.  For example, application fees for construction or modifications would increase from the general $750 charge currently, to upwards of $10,000 under the proposal, again depending on system type and population served.

Other Amendments

Several other amendments have been proposed to keep pace with federal standards and, in some instances, go beyond federal standards.  Some of the regulatory proposals that are more stringent than federal requirements include:

  • Amended turbidity and filtration requirements to prevent turbidity spikes and pathogens.
  • System resiliency requirements for back-up power to ensure a continuous supply of water is delivered.
  • Clarifications to monitoring requirements for back-up sources and comprehensive monitoring plan requirements to ensure that all permitted sources are subject to routine compliance monitoring.
  • Requirements for responding to significant deficiencies through a protocol for notification and corrective action.

Public water suppliers should determine whether these and other provisions may apply to their systems and, if so, consider the potential impact.  McNees contacts that can provide assistance include:

On September 21, 2016, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (“SRBC”) published a proposed rule that would expand the scope of its current authority over projects that withdraw and use water in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New York.  The proposal would amend application requirements and SRBC’s review standards for projects, as well as add an entire subpart to its regulations for registration and reporting of “grandfathered” projects (which previously were not regulated).   Water users should expect additional regulation and scrutiny of all projects that involve withdrawals of surface water or groundwater and/or consumptive uses exceeding SRBC thresholds, whether they are new, existing, or (now) grandfathered projects.

Grandfathered Projects.  The most significant proposal is regulation of “grandfathered” projects, which involve water withdrawals or consumptive uses that began before specified dates in the regulations and did not previously require SRBC approval.  SRBC has estimated that there are some-760 grandfathered projects, many of which are not tracked by SRBC or member states, that account for the same amount of water use as all existing regulated consumptive uses in the Basin.  Therefore, SRBC has proposed a mandatory registration-and-reporting program for grandfathered withdrawals and uses, which includes a one-time registration and periodic reporting of withdrawals and uses, along with associated fees.  As support for this rule, SRBC cited to its responsibility to wisely manage water resources in the Basin and the corresponding need to close this “knowledge gap” by comprehensively tracking water usage.

In attempting to close this gap, SRBC has claimed that the registration requirements will not open the door to review-and-approval requirements for grandfathered projects.  In some respects, the registration requirements may be similar to those imposed by the states.  However, this may be only the first step for additional regulation of grandfathered projects, particularly once SRBC gathers and analyzes the registration data.  Indeed, the proposal potentially opens a floodgate of additional regulation. Failure to register within two years of the effective date would render a grandfathered project subject to SRBC’s review-and-approval authority.  Some key informational requirements for this critical registration include:

  • Identification of metering and monitoring for withdrawals and consumptive uses;
  • Reporting five years of quantity data, or other information that may be used to determine quantities withdrawn or consumptively used;
  • Identification of groundwater levels and elevation monitoring methods for groundwater sources;
  • A description of the processes that involve consumptive uses;
  • A request for specific grandfathered quantities; and
  • Any other information SRBC determines necessary.

Accordingly, it is clear that SRBC intends to scrutinize whether and to what extent currently unregulated withdrawals and uses actually qualify for “grandfathering.”  Under the proposal, the SRBC Executive Director must determine the appropriate grandfathered quantity and, in doing so, can examine the accuracy of metering and monitoring.  Increases of any amount over the determined grandfathered quantity would trigger SRBC’s review-and-approval authority.  Although SRBC’s approach is not yet in final form, those potentially affected should already ensure they are accurately metering and documenting withdrawals and usage.  It will also be important for potentially affected water users to understand their processes and monitor consumptive uses from those processes.  For example, as part of the registration, one provision requires SRBC to evaluate current metering and monitoring and authorizes SRBC to require a metering and monitoring plan.  The proposal would also trigger consumptive-use mitigation, such as fees, for certain grandfathered projects.

Other Projects.  New projects may also be affected by the registration requirements described above because SRBC will use the data on grandfathered projects to analyze the impact on waters of the Basin when deciding to approve or deny a new project.  The proposal also would impose several additional requirements to alter SRBC procedures.  It would amend the required contents of applications for new projects and renewals, requiring specific information depending on the type of project, such as an “alternatives analysis.”  The proposal would amend standards for SRBC’s review and approval and authorize SRBC to require monitoring for impacts to water quality and aquatic biological communities.  SRBC has also proposed to revise the provisions for public hearings and enforcement actions.  For example, the proposal expands the Executive Director’s enforcement authority, allowing the Director to issue compliance orders and determine civil penalty amounts, and acknowledges the SRBC’s use of consent orders and agreements and settlements to resolve enforcement actions.  These are just a few of the various amendments proposed by SRBC that may impact water users.

Next Steps. SRBC intends to hold informational webinars on October 11 and October 17 and then conduct four public hearings throughout November and December, with the first meeting scheduled for November 3 in Harrisburg.  Interested stakeholders should understand how the rules may affect them and weigh in through the public-comment process, which is open until January 30, 2017.  Stakeholders seeking more information or advice should contact attorneys and technical specialists who are experienced in these matters.  McNees contacts include: