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.
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.
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: