Bucks sets new rules for water protection

The county is mandating new rules to control storm-water runoff in much of the Pennridge area, which one official said could be "hugely important" for the region's environment.

by Brian Callaway, The Intelligencer

PHILADELPHIA, Pa., May 6, 2004 -- The county is mandating new rules to control storm-water runoff in much of the Pennridge area, which one official said could be "hugely important" for the region's environment.

The rules, approved by Bucks' commissioners Wednesday as they met in Perkasie's borough hall, will apply to new developments and aim to, among other things, allow less runoff by giving water more of a chance to seep into the ground.

Terri Bentley of the Bucks County Planning Commission, which drew up the new standards, said that means the earth itself would filter out many pollutants - say, oil spots coming from parking lots - before they get to streams.

Letting more storm water soak into the ground, called "infiltration," will also help replenish the area's aquifers, she said, and cut down on erosion since less water will actually be flowing across the surface.

"It's hugely important to the environment and to water quality," she said.

Reducing the rate of runoff is accomplished basically with types of basins - usually plant-filled - that allow water to seep in, rather than other types of basins that are designed to slow water down, but not trap it.

Lynn Bush, the planning commission's executive director, said while the rules only applied to new construction - they can't retroactively apply to existing developments - they could help prevent problems in the future.

"We've seen the consequences of flooding and poor storm water management in the past," she said.

There was virtually no public comment on the new rules by municipal officials at Wednesday's commissioners meeting. And while the new rules would change how many developers plan projects, an official with the Home Builders Association of Bucks and Montgomery Counties said the group needed to know more about the new rules before commenting on them.

The state years ago gave counties the responsibility for setting up storm water regulations. Counties are supposed to set up different rules for each watershed within its borders.

These particular rules apply to the watershed for the East Branch of the Perkiomen Creek, which includes all or parts of Bedminster, Dublin, East Rockhill, Hilltown, Perkasie, Sellersville, Silverdale, Telford and West Rockhill.

The watershed also stretches into Montgomery County. Bentley said that county is now finishing its own storm water rules for the area.

With Bucks signing off on them, the new regulations now go to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for review. After that, municipalities have six months to write the new rules into their codes, Bentley said, or face possible sanctions, like fines.

While Bucks' planning commission handled much of the work for the new rules, the county did spend about $50,000 to hire the Wilkes-Barre-based firm Borton-Lawson Engineering as technical advisors. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection paid another $150,000 to the firm for the Bucks work.

And Wednesday, the commissioners approved a new $150,000 contract with Borton-Lawson - Bentley said Bucks will only pay a quarter of that, with the state paying the balance - to help review storm water guidelines for the Neshaminy and Little Neshaminy watersheds.

Both those areas have long been prone to sometimes serious flooding.


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