Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is stormwater?
Stormwater runoff is generated when precipitation from rain and snowmelt events flows over land or impervious surfaces. It also includes water that enters the ground for a short period of time only to reemerge during the event. It does not include stream baseflow.
2. Is all stormwater bad?
Not really, stormwater is generated from all natural landscapes, even without any manmade features or influence. The problem frequently is when people develop areas resulting in changes to the quality and quantity of the runoff. In the State College area, many areas have been developed with little or no stormwater impact. Some of the biggest problems locally are large historical developments with no stormwater management at all and developments within flood plains or drainageways.
3. Why do we need to manage stormwater?
As the saying goes, we all live downstream. It is much more expensive to clean up polluted water for drinking than it is to use clean water. Furthermore, too much sediment and fertilizer cover up fish habitats and can cause algae blooms which use up the oxygen the fish need to survive. Increased quantities of stormwater also pose a major problem in urban areas. Stormwater cannot infiltrate on impervious surfaces such as roads, roofs, parking lots and driveways so it runs quickly into the storm drain or stream. This large volume of fast-moving water picks up more pollutants and washes them directly into our streams.
4. Aren't sewers and storm drain the same thing?
No. They are two separate systems. Wastewater from buildings travels through the sewer system (underground pipes and manholes) and is treated at a wastewater treatment plant. Stormwater runoff can move across land or a storm drain system (underground pipes, inlets, and manholes) and is directed into water bodies without treatment or sometimes through natural passive treatment methods.
5. What is an "illicit discharge"?
Any illicit discharge is any unauthorized discharge that contains anything other than stormwater, unless it is specifically exempt. Illicit discharges include pollutants dumped directly into the storm drain or illegal connections to the storm sewer systems (such as a commercial floor drain, washing machine discharge, or used oil). The most common types of discharges specifically exempt from regulation include landscape irrigation or lawn watering, air condition condensation pumps, non-commercial washing of vehicles including charity car washes, firefighting activities, groundwater sources. An EPA fact sheet on illicit discharges is attached (EPA fact sheet 2-5.pdf).
6. My municipality doesn't have an MS4 Permit, should I encourage them to get one?
No municipality really wants any NPDES permit. Permits require a significant amount of bureaucracy and paperwork for their own sake. A municipality can conduct similar activities to a MS4 municipality on its own, such as public education and participation, without a permit.
7. How is stormwater paid for?
In the Centre Region, the MS4 partners fund stormwater through their general funds the same with roads or other facilities they take over following development. All municipalities know that these facilities have finite lives, and maintenance and replacements need to be smartly budgeted.
8. Why do some municipalities have a stormwater fee?
Some municipalities in Pennsylvania allowed their potable water, wastewater, and/or stormwater systems to become so obsolete, antiquated, or polluted that they needed to generate large amounts of revenue to upgrade the systems or pay regulatory fines. These municipalities have instituted stormwater fees, which are generally based on impervious areas. These fee based systems have not been in existence long enough to know if the fees will actually do any good solving the existing problems. For that reason, the MS4 Partners prefer to protect their resources and use effective scientific based planning and engineering.
9. What's the difference between a fee and a tax?
The courts have decided that a fee can be collected for stormwater similar to any other user’s fee. This results in Federal, State, or other non-taxable entities from needing to pay the fee if instituted in an area. Unfortunately, when people are suddenly charged a fee for something that previously was free, many people simply consider that a tax under a different name.
10. Do homeowners associations own their own stormwater facilities?
Generally yes. Recorded plans indicate what responsibilities the homeowners associations have. Anyone looking to buy property should read and understand all of the property’s requirements. For more information, contact your respective municipality.
11. What is a stormwater facility?
A stormwater facility is any structure constructed to convey or control stormwater such as inlets, manholes, pipes, ponds, channels or swales, rain gardens, porous pavement, etc. It is generally not used in reference to natural streams, wetlands, or flood plain.
12. We have an Act 167 stormwater Ordinance, isn't that the same as a MS4?
No. An Act 167 Plan is a plan developed to protect the watershed from adverse impacts of stormwater from new development. Its most used aspect is the stormwater management ordinance, which is one of the requirements of an MS4 program. The MS4 permit does require specific language in the stormwater ordinance.
13. I saw dirty runoff coming off a construction site, who's responsibility is that?
Active construction sites fall under the jurisdiction of the Centre County Conservation District (CCCD). The MS4 partners play an integral role in assisting the CCCD; however, enforcement and design requirements are dictated by State Law.
14. I thought Spring Creek was a world renounded trout stream, why do we need MS4s?
Compared to many comparable watersheds and communities, Spring Creek is still in great shape. However, natural systems eventually reach a breaking point due to pollutants and increased stormwater runoff. Additionally, some portions of Spring Creek and its tributaries are defined by PaDEP as impaired. The MS4 Partners are attempting to ensure the sustained health of the watershed.
15. Who owns all the stormwater pipes and inlets and manholes?
Generally the landowner on private land and that’s why Penn State owns all of its own stormwater facilities. Municipalities also own some.
16. I don't fish or live near the creek, should I care?
Spring Creek is a headwater stream with a finite supply of clean potable water. Potable water, wastewater, and stormwater are simple different parts of the total water systems that need to be protected.
17. Do we really affect the Chesapeake Bay?
In some way yes; however, most studies including those by the EPA show the loads of pollutants from the Centre Region are relatively small. As an educated community we need to be keenly aware of the difference between “activism and science” and make smart decisions.
18. What's the best way for me to help?
Control runoff where you can on your own. Build a rain garden or simply run your roof leaders across lawn areas. Don’t wait for the municipality to build something for you, there’s only so much funding available.
19. What is a sinkhole?
A sinkhole is an opening at the surface of the land where soils have been washed down and away into natural cavities within the landscape. If you see a new sinkhole, contact your municipality immediately.
20. My neighbor said the MS4's aren't doing anything here about Marcellus Shale, why not?
There is no Marcellous Shale in the MS4 permit boundary area. Refer to the link for additional information, PSU-MEC.
21. I want to get a rain barrel. Will it really help Spring Creek?
Maybe, but more from a potable water perspective than from a stormwater perspective unless the rain barrel is very large and the water is used almost constantly.
22. I heard rain gardens are great and solve everything, why don't we build more?
Like any stormwater best management practice (BMP), rain gardens have a place and function; and therefore, are part of the design tool box. However, like any BMP they can create problems or generate more pollutants than they receive if not done properly. Unfortunately, there is no miracle fix all. Still , there are numerous rain gardens in the community.
23. I saw someone pour oil down and inlet in the road, what should I do?
If you feel safe, tell them to stop and try to get a vehicle license number. Then call your municipality immediately.
24. Where's a good place to get information for my kids or students?
Clearwater Conservancy and Millbrook Marsh are great resources, both of which the MS4 partners work cooperatively with.
25. I thought the SCBWA was a MS4 Partner?
In the past to meet its own permit requirements, the State College Borough Water Authority partnered on some projects. However, they do not have a MS4 permit and are not one of the current MS4 Partners.
26. Why doesn't Benner Township have a MS4 permit?
Benner Township currently has a MS4 permit waiver because the only area currently within the EPA defined 2000 urban area is the State Correctional Facility at Rockview, which has its own MS4 permit.
27. Why don't the MS4s fix the flooding in my neighborhood?
MS4s are not required to retroactively correct existing flooding. Unfortunately, once a stormwater system is broken its very difficult and costly to fix. In the future that may change to some degree; however, it would be enormously expensive and likely require the institution of additional taxes or fees.
28. I heard some of the MS4 Partners were audited by the EPA, did they do something wrong?
No. The EPA in 2014 conducted random audits of the Penn State and State College Borough’s MS4 programs. The EPA has recently started these audits of Phase II permitees. The other MS4 partners were audited by the PaDEP that also has started a new auditing initiative across the State.
29. I heard green development will fix all problems, why don't we mandate that here?
Green development (GD) is simply a term used to imply sustainable development and includes many different types of practices. It’s sometimes interchanged with Low Impact Development (LID). Unfortunately new buzz words are constantly being coined that really mean many of the same things we’ve already been doing. Green development stormwater type practices are methods that control the adverse impacts of development and attempt to mimic the pre-development hydrology. GD practices such as green roofs, rain gardens, etc. are simply tools in the toolbox. Additionally, because of the karst geology, many traditional types of stormwater best management practices such as ponds can function like other green development practices. The Spring Creek Act 167 stormwater ordinance, originally adopted by the MS4 partners in 2003, included green development methods.
30. Why can't I develop a flood plain?
Regardless of what anyone says or does, flows in flood plain will realistically always get worse and the areas need to be protected. Additionally, the real impacts of runoff are very much related to location and flood plains can rapidly put pollutants into the streams.
31. Its raining so much harder nowadays. Why don't the design standards get increased?
They do, but changing statistical databases takes time. Unfortunately, a storm drain system that was designed to accommodate a 25-year runoff event decades ago may only be able to accommodate a 10-year or less runoff event now. Replacing or upgrading these systems is very expensive and is one reason infiltration or volume control methods are now evaluated.
32. Why don't we use more infiltration systems here?
The entire MS4 area is underlain by carbonate geology, which is prone to sinkhole development. Additionally, water forced unnaturally into the ground can go many unexpected places in a developed area. Therefore, using infiltration systems here in the region comes with certain risks that need to be studied and understood. However, the State College area has more infiltration systems than most other areas. In fact, Penn State has some of the largest and most successful infiltration systems in the Country (see their stormwater website for additional information).
33. I've heard all kinds of good stuff about other places, what are we doing here?
Unfortunately, some areas are better at promoting the little things they do than really protecting the environment. Many of the areas highly promoted are significantly impaired and have major problems from a water resources perspective. Spring Creek is still in relatively great shape. A short presentation of the great things this community already does can be seen at the following link.(Revolving presentation).
34. Where can I purchase a MS4 Partners tee shirt?
While we know it would be a big seller, unfortunately they haven’t been made yet. Therefore, we recommend that you simply buy a ClearWater Conservancy tee shirt or hat instead.