I love when I’m asked to explain issues I’m familiar with like DELCORA, Chester Water Authority, Covanta, or anything related to public utilities, infrastructure projects, science and technology. 

Yesterday, in a response to a public comment during a City Council meeting, the Mayor of Chester request I write a piece on a million dollar fee DELCORA was assessed from the EPA. I’m happy to clear up what he said during the meeting.

Background

Chester is an old city. Long ago, when they were laying underground water pipes, in a few sections of the city they combined sewer pipes with stormwater pipes. 

DELCORA treats wastewater. Sewage is wastewater and needs to go to DELCORA to be treated before it’s sent to the Delaware River.  Stormwater is not wastewater and does not need to go to DELCORA and can go straight to the Delaware River.

When the sewage and stormwater pipes are combined, both sewage and stormwater arrives at DELCORA for treating. When the big rains come, all the extra stormwater arriving at DELCORA is too much for the plant to treat. The water has to go somewhere or it will flood the streets and back up in people’s homes and businesses. So, the pipes carrying sewage and stormwater go straight to the river until the DELCORA plant can handle the flow – usually a couple hours after a big storm. 

When you hear of beaches closing in the summer for a day or two, it’s usually after big storms when nearby waste water treatment plants can’t handle big surges of rain water that arrive at their plants, leaving them to release sewage and rain water into the ocean. 

The EPA response

In 2015, the EPA decided to do something about this. Across the United States of America, they made changes to the Clean Water Act. It directly impacted companies like DELCORA who have combined sewers (rain water pipes connected to sewer pipes). There was no way for DELCORA to comply with the new changes overnight, so in a negotiated agreement with the EPA, DELCORA was assessed a $1.37 million fine and agreed to submit a 20-year plan to make the necessary changes that will eliminate the combined sewer piping. 

The cost of this 20-year project is well over $100 million dollars. The government is not paying for any of this work. As Mayor Kirkland implied, there is a separate fee on your DELCORA bill: EPA LTC PLAN (long term control plan). On my last bill it amounted to $2.72. Mayor Kirkland stated this fee is for customers to pay the EPA $1.37 million penalty. Not quite true. 

You can read more on the Consent Decree DELCORA made with the EPA on the DELCORA website. Here’s the first paragraph… 

The Delaware County Regional Water Quality Control Authority (DELCORA) entered into a Consent Decree (CD) with the United States Government to establish a schedule for implementation of Long Term Control Plan Update (LTCPU) to achieve full compliance with the Clean Water Act and the regulations and Clean Streams Law and regulations. The lodging of this Consent Decree was entered by the court on August 17, 2015 in Civil Action Case 2:15-cv-04652-RB Document 4 by the United States District Court for the Delaware County Regional Water Quality Control Authority. The Consent Decree was signed and filed on November 10, 2015 by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

https://www.delcora.org/combined-sewer-systems/delcora-cso-ltcp/

Here’s a PowerPoint that details all the work they’re planing to do.

I look forward to being the voice within Chester City government who can and will explain the complexities with companies like DELCORA, Chester Water Authority, Covanta, etc. We should expect truthful, honest, and easy to understand answers to questions that may seem a little complex without some clarity. 

That’s what I’ve been providing in my community journalism for over 15-years. I thank Mayor Kirkland for recognizing that and requesting I help him explain the DELCORA / EPA Consent Decree. 

If you have further questions, please leave a comment.