Policy hearing identifies problems and solutions of stormwater management

Funding, better policies needed to prevent flooding

UPPER PROVIDENCE, Oct. 3 — The House Democratic Policy Committee convened a hearing Monday in Montgomery County to discuss stormwater management and the impact it has on community infrastructure. The hearing was hosted by Rep. Joe Webster (D-Montgomery) at the Upper Providence Township Building.

Committee members heard from watershed experts, environmental advocates and community members to identify problems with current stormwater management plans in Montgomery County and what lawmakers in Harrisburg can do to fix these issues.

“It’s no secret that flooding caused by stormwater runoff during extreme storms has wreaked havoc on households in our communities over the years. Tangible items lost to flood damage can be replaced, but what can’t be replaced is a sense of safety and security,” said Webster. “That’s why I hosted this Policy Committee hearing today — to find out how we can better protect our residents in flood-prone areas.”

Betsy Daley, an Upper Providence resident of more than 42 years, has had her home flooded twice. She said the overburdening of streams and creeks impacts water quality, affects reservoirs, and private wells. It can also impact the local economy, Daley testified, because the approximately 100,000 people who visit the area every year to enjoy the local water recreation opportunities will disappear if the issues aren’t fixed.

“Flooding and stormwater runoff all have a devastating impact on this valuable historic, cultural and recreational resource,” said Daley. “Ultimately, this costs Montgomery County taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair and has a direct affect upon the local economy when these extreme events occur. Something must be done.”

Crystal Gilchrist, a former Executive Director of the Perkiomin Watershed Conservancy, testified that stormwater can be both good and bad to municipalities. It can be helpful, Gilchrist said, when it has time to soak into the ground, because it recharges wells and the water supplies. But when too much stormwater doesn’t soak into the ground, it leads to flooding that is devastating to communities. Gilchrist made three recommendations to the committee to to better protect communities from incoming storms.

“Watersheds should be contained within a single DEP river basin commission, rather than the current activity of handling water sources in different departments of the PA DEP. We also need to update FEMA maps and the regulations that give municipalities the ability to require more stormwater controls,” said Gilchrist. “Finally, we need to fund comprehensive stormwater studies on a watershed basis under an adapted Act 167 format that allows a more focused approach than the traditional Act 167 plans would allow.”

One environmentalist expert testified about the impact climate change has on Southeastern Pennsylvania, resulting in dramatic stormwater and infrastructure damage in the region. Erin McCool, Principal of Environmental Literacy Connections, said increasing environmental literacy can help communities make more informed decisions and thrive in the face of complex environmental challenges.

“The toll that natural disasters have on individuals and families in our region can be mitigated by building capacity for high quality environmental education that builds environmental literacy and prepares our communities to become more resilient in the face of continued pressure in the coming years. Individuals and communities who are environmentally literate understand how natural systems work and intersect with human systems,” said McCool.

Testifiers said Montgomery County is home to at least 17 named watersheds, which ultimately fall into the Delaware River Basin. Every person in the region lives, works or attends school within a few miles of a creek or stream.

“I want to thank the experts, residents and advocates that took time to share their stories and opinions with us. This is a vital issue that impacts thousands of people and deserves proper attention in Harrisburg. I look forward to taking this information and working with my colleagues in the Capitol to implement necessary changes,” said Webster.

Full testimony from Monday’s hearing can be found here. Photos will be available here.

Information about this hearing and other House Democratic Policy Committee hearings can be found at pahouse.com/policy.