DUBOIS – A panel of four from the Sustainable Water Infrastructure Task Force listened to public input at DuBois’ Clarion Hotel near I-80 exit 97. The panel consisting of Terry Maenza filling in for Kathy Pape, John Hood, Thomas Kuhn and state Rep. Camille “Bud” George, D-74 Houtzdale, serving as chairman for this meeting.
The purpose of this task force was to get input on the aging water infrastructure of Pennsylvania and ideas on how to handle it. In response, Governor Edward Rendell gave an executive order, 2008-02 as amended, to create the task force in order to have a report ready by October 1 on cost effective and a sustained investment in the systems for water and sewage infrastructures. Some other responsibilities include estimated repair, maintenance and upgrade costs. Possible funding sources through different means.
Three speakers approached the panel and one of the panel members presented their reports and analysis of the situation, some views coinciding and some differing.
“We need to change our thinking,” said Dana Aunkst of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection at one point.
Aunkst was referring to how septic systems were often planned to be temporary measures until sewage came through, but that in some situations septic tanks have become permanent.
A few of the other things Aunkst mentioned were the four pillars of better management, system efficiency, infrastructure financing and water shed approaches. With the pillar of better management Aunkst included getting a new generation of workers were more are retiring than entering the field. With efficiency came that a more efficient the system the less it costs to pump and treat. Aunkst used “right sizing” to describe fitting the treatment facilities to the area. Where some areas might need a single large facility with miles of pipes there are also areas that would be more efficient for several smaller scale operations.
“The number of communities with failing and substandard systems are increasing,” said Tim Greenland, President of Pennsylvania Utilities Task Force Association.
The reasons given being poor repairs, old age and populations booms leaving the systems unable to keep up with the population increase. Greenland added that overloaded sewer systems can contaminate streams and other drinking water supplies in affecting both facets of the water infrastructure.
Greenland also put forward the Clean Water Trust Fund Initiative as a method to aid in funding projects, explaining that two sources of funding PennVEST and Army Corps of Engineer funding is diminishing over time.
Other proposed methods of saving money put forward would be to eliminate the infrastructure products from needing to pay sales tax when water infrastructure programs use public money. A second proposal was to allow for contractors to negotiate after the bidding process begins for public projects, something that the private sector allows. Greenland said that under the current system contractors often over pad their bids to counter any possible risk that pops up knowing if something unexpected occurs they would be bound by the prior conditions.
Harry Cambel of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation spoke of the Chesapeake compliance plan and its link to the federal “Clean Water Act.” The impact of which is any potential source of pollution has to obey the laws the waterways down stream have in place. In some cases this extends into Maryland.
Cambel suggested checking into what would be the most cost efficient solution in the future. Building new facilities for treatment or buying emission credits. Projected compliance costs by 2010, said by Cambel, to be between $620million to $1 billion for point sources and $523 million for agriculture.
“We believe that many small and medium communities can manage their own systems,” said Kuhn.
Part of Kuhn’s proposal was that water and waste operators need more respect, and more applicants.
There are three more public input sessions planned. State Senator Ralphael Musto will chair the session in Pittston Township on May 27. State Representative Bob Freeman will chair the Bethlehem session May 28. Both start at 1:30 p.m. State Rep. Stan Saylor will chair the 6:00 p.m. session in Red Lion. The task force is also taking input until June 1 through email at RAfirstname.lastname@example.org or through the postal system to:
Dana K. Aunkst
Bureau of Water Standards and Facility Regulation
Rachel Carson State Office Building
P.O. Box 8467
Harrisburg, PA 17105-8467