Looking for a flood of benefits
Pennsylvania has more than 85,000 miles of streams and rivers, none of which observe political subdivisions. Yet stormwater management, like many other aspects of ineffective local governance across the commonwealth, is broken up among 2,500 units of local government.
A flood of benefits can flow, then, from a new law signed recently by Gov. Tom Corbett, after it passed the Legislature with substantial bipartisan support.
The law allows local governments to create authorities to manage stormwater, much as sewer authorities have been created to manage wastewater. And just as many municipal governments have seen the wisdom of spreading the cost of wastewater treatment by joining multi-community sewer authorities, they should take the same approach to stormwater.
Flooding, is by far, the most frequent natural disaster to afflict Pennsylvania. Under the new law, regional stormwater authorities can work to mitigate flooding along long stretches of rivers, rather than forcing municipal governments to deal with flooding within their own boundaries.
In many cases, flooding in a particular spot is caused by conditions upstream, but in a different municipality. A regional authority would be able to consider changes upstream to prevent the flood and the costs that go with it, such as projects that allow stormwater to dissipate into the ground. An authority also could provide incentives for better private management of stormwater, such as porous parking lots and retention ponds tied to new development.
Much of Pennsylvania lies within the massive Susquehanna River watershed, and many communities are under federal orders to vastly improve sewage treatment and reduce other pollution that flows into the Susquehanna and, ultimately, into the Chesapeake Bay. A regional authority would be able to devise the best, least costliest ways to reduce overall pollution, rather than leaving each community to its own devices.
Local governments should begin working on a stormwater authority, at least at the county level but, preferably, across the entire watershed. Doing so would protect the environment, property and water utility and sewer ratepayers.