While local towns fare well in Clean Water Action study, all could do better, authors say
By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
PENNSBURY — Local municipalities scored above average in a report card issued Thursday by Clean Water Action (CWA), evaluating how zoning ordinances impacted storm water runoff and sediment collection in the Brandywine Creek.
As local municipalities are being called on to reduce sediment runoff into local creeks — highlighted again as the Brandwine overran its banks again Thursday, flooding parts of Route 926 — CWA officials said their criteria we no-cost options for municipalities to reduce runoff and potentially help with compliance with tougher new state Department of Environmental Protection standards.
Pocopson ranked top along with East Bradford among 25 communities near the Brandywine, according to the report, issued at a press conference at the Brandywine River Museum, scoring 71 out of a possible 100 points in 22 categories of zoning and building requirements. Neighboring Newlin was nearly as well, scoring 69 points. None, though, earned CWA’s “Good” rating which would have required 80 points.
“Every town has room for improvement,” Joe Nye, CWA’s East Pennsylvania Program Organizer, noting that even the best of the local communities fell 29 points short of a perfect score and that, by CWA standards, 23 of the communities fell into the “inadequate” category.
Among other municipalities in the area, Birmingham scored 64, while Pennsbury earned a 61 and while CWA rated both scores as “inadequate” both still scored above the average in the region.
The worst two communities in the Brandywine Creek region were scored by CWA as Valley Township, and the borough of South Coatesville, which garnered a meager 42 points each.
According to Nye many of the issues involve paved areas — small changes to the amount and size of parking spaces required for various types of construction, he said, could have a big impact on whether rainwater soaks into the ground or runs into the Brandywine or one of its local feeder streams.
As virtually all communities in southern and central Chester County are facing new requirements in terms of municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4), a few revisions to local zoning could go a long way.
“With MS4, municipalities need to update their ordinances to be more runoff-friendly,” Nye said, noting the requirement in the MS4 permit application process that asks municipalities to demonstrate zoning changes to improve stormwater runoff management.
But, he added, not every suggestion from CWA will work in every community, the goal, he said, is to suggestion no or little cost options to reduce runoff and help municipalities comply with MS4 requirements.
“It’s going to be a little different for each community,” Nye said.
One of the keys, Nye said, for what he termed “low-impact development” was to look for ways to reduce the total amount of non-permeable pavement. Of the 22 criteria CWA used for the report, many center on parking, sidewalks and road withs.
Many of the changes Nye and CWA suggest are fairly small, such as allowing for some smaller parking spaces for compact cars, canting sidewalks to drain into yards rather than onto roadways.
Nye also cautioned that the recommendations are for development moving forward, not to seek revision of existing streets, sidewalks and other developments.
“We’re not asking municipalities to tear up part of a road for this,” he said.
But as Wesley Horner, Senior Adviser for Water Resources for the Brandywine Conservancy noted, Thursday’s flooding — which came after a night of strong, but not unusual rainstorms — highlighted the fact that not taking action has a toll on the region.
“I think we’re all being haunted by all of this non-point source runoff,” Horner said. “It means we’re going to have to be constantly scrutinizing our ordinances.”
He added that the Brandywine Conservancy stands ready to work with municipalities to assist them in reworking ordinances and meeting their MS4 requirements.