Andy Weaver

As I wrote previously, the term “BMP”, or Best Management Practice, originally came from the operators of sewage treatment plants where it referred to the training, personnel management, maintenance, etc. necessary in the operation of sewage treatment plants. It later morphed into a catchall term used to describe measures to clean runoff of the type of non-point source (dispersed) pollution that washes off of lawns, streets, roofs and fields. With the passage of the National Pollution Elimination Discharge System (NPDES) Phase I in 1990 and Phase II in 1999, dispersed pollution became regulated by the U.S. EPA and in Pennsylvania by the PaDEP.

The next question was how to go about turning the regulations into practice. In December, 1995, when I started working for Lancaster County, water quality was barely mentioned by PaDEP or anyone involved in the land development business. Most everyone agreed in principle with the idea that runoff needed to be cleaned up, but the logistics and the financials were a big problem. From the developer’s point of view, they had to stay competitive on the price of their building lots; so they were hesitant to have BMPs added to their plans. Most of the more common BMPs require a certain area of land, so developers were also concerned about losing developable real estate. The engineers and landscape architects were generally in agreement that water quality was a good thing, but BMPs took extra time to include in the development plans and added to the developer’s design bill and construction cost. Most importantly, there was simply no agreed upon way to account for the benefits of the BMPs, so there was no financial incentive to use them.

That began to change in 2003 for several reasons. First was U.S. EPA pressure on PaDEP to clean up the water flowing into the Chesapeake Bay. Second there were two statewide droughts in 2001-2002 that highlighted the benefits of getting runoff back into the local groundwater table instead of letting it run off into the nearest creek and then who knows where (the Chesapeake Bay for us). A third reason was that there were two lawsuits brought against PaDEP in 2002 by the Valley Creek Watershed Association of Chester County which PaDEP lost. The result of these converging forces was the formation in October, 2003 of the Pennsylvania “Department of Environmental Protection Stormwater Manual Oversight Committee”. This committee included people from across the State and from all aspects of the land development industry, academia, non-profits, etc. Long story short, through the committee’s efforts, the “Pennsylvania Stormwater Best Management Practices Manual” was launched on December 30, 2006*.

What the BMP manual did was offer a standardized way to include BMPs in a land development project. Most importantly for the developer, it finally allowed them to take credit for the benefits of including BMPs on their site. For example, by including some BMPs distributed throughout the site, or squeezed into otherwise unusable parts of a site, it was often possible to end up with a few extra building lots. Some of the BMPs became focal points that actually made all the lots more valuable. For the engineers and landscape architects, the benefit was that by following the standards in the BMP manual, they were assured they would be meeting PaDEP’s new standards which, by the way, became mandatory at about the same time. This was a win-win situation for everyone, not least of which was the PaDEP folks who got the U.S. EPA folks off their backs, at least for a time.

The BMP Manual also includes lots of good general information about stormwater management and water quality, mainly in the first three chapters. Rather than summarizing what’s in the manual, I suggest going through the fairly detailed table of contents to see if there is anything you’re interested in like brownfield development. Many of us in the field believe there are things in the BMP manual that should be revised as it hasn’t been updated since it came out late in 2006. Another shortcoming is that it was originally intended to be more of a “guide” than a regulation, but over time it has become less of the former and more of the later. In the balance, it seems to be a good faith effort by the founding committee, especially considering the scope of what they were attempting, and the difficulty of quantifying the effects of some of the BMPs.

*Not to belittle the Pennsylvania efforts, but Maryland released their “Stormwater Design Manual Volumes I & II” in October, 2000.

~ Andrew C. Weaver, PE, CFM; Envalue Engineering

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Lancaster County Association of Realtors®

Lancaster County Association of Realtors®