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Lancaster takes aim at township over stormwater 

In a lawsuit filed this month, Lancaster city is accusing a neighboring township of not doing enough to prevent stormwater from flowing into the city’s sewer system, a problem that has been brewing for years.

  • Among other alleged failures, officials in Manheim Township have not required developers to install adequate stormwater controls or paid for the infrastructure necessary to curb runoff, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in Lancaster County court.
  • “Township Defendants have acted in a manner that threatens and creates adverse impacts on the environment in order to obtain increased fees from land developers and significantly increase Township’s tax base,” the county claims. “In essence, Township Defendants have made an affirmative choice to enhance Township’s finances at the cost of degrading and threatening the environment, a choice which directly violates their duties as trustees under the ERA.”
  • The ERA refers to the Environmental Rights Amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution.
  • A lawyer for the township and a city spokesperson declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

What’s the problem: Stormwater runoff that finds its way from Manheim Township into the Lancaster city sewer system, an issue that has been documented in the past.

  • A 2019 study commissioned by the city and the township found that runoff from the township was a significant contributor to sewer overflows, a problem the city must address under a 2017 consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to a LancasterOnline story from the time.
  • Like many older sewer systems, Lancaster’s system is a combined system, one that takes both wastewater and stormwater from the city and surrounding areas. Modern systems generally separate sewer and stormwater.
  • A heavy storm can overload a combined system, leading to the release of untreated wastewater.
  • Harrisburg has a similar system and has also faced legal issues stemming from sewer overflows, which result in untreated water winding up in the Susquehanna River.
  • The overflows from Lancaster enter the Conestoga River, which flows into the Susquehanna.
  • Both waterways lead ultimately to the Chesapeake Bay, a high-profile target for environmental cleanup. Regulators have focused on upstream pollution flowing into the bay, including from sources in Pennsylvania

What’s the solution: The 2019 study, prepared by engineering firm C.S. Davidson, recommended creation of a separate stormwater system at a cost of about $25 million, according to LancasterOnline.

  • In its lawsuit, the city claims it has approached the township over the years to help fix the issue — and comply with the consent decree — but to no avail.
  • Indeed, the consent decree requires Lancaster to use its “best efforts” to reduce the flow from Manheim.
  • Instead, the suit claims, the township has continued to greenlight developments that send more stormwater into the combined system.
  • The city said legal action against the township is necessary to meet its obligations under the consent decree.
  • The city is asking the court to force the township to adopt a plan to fix the issue, bar new connections to the combined sewer system and restrict development that would create more stormwater runoff.

The background: Lancaster officials have taken numerous steps to control runoff in recent years.

  • They include imposition of a stormwater management fee and adoption of a green infrastructure plan, which calls for things like tree plantings and more water-permeable surfaces.
  • But if the city wants to corral the problem, it needs to invest in grey infrastructure — new pipes, tunnels and storage tanks — said Ted Evgenaides, the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper and an environmental advocate.
  • In the face of stronger storms, more trees alone won’t cut it, he said. “We’re seeing three, four, five inches of rain getting dumped within two, three, four hours. That’s a lot of water.”

In a lawsuit filed this month, Lancaster city is accusing a neighboring township of not doing enough to prevent stormwater from flowing into the city’s sewer system, a problem that has been brewing for years.

  • Among other alleged failures, officials in Manheim Township have not required developers to install adequate stormwater controls or paid for the infrastructure necessary to curb runoff, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in Lancaster County court.
  • “Township Defendants have acted in a manner that threatens and creates adverse impacts on the environment in order to obtain increased fees from land developers and significantly increase Township’s tax base,” the county claims. “In essence, Township Defendants have made an affirmative choice to enhance Township’s finances at the cost of degrading and threatening the environment, a choice which directly violates their duties as trustees under the ERA.”
  • The ERA refers to the Environmental Rights Amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution.
  • A lawyer for the township and a city spokesperson declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

What’s the problem: Stormwater runoff that finds its way from Manheim Township into the Lancaster city sewer system, an issue that has been documented in the past.

  • A 2019 study commissioned by the city and the township found that runoff from the township was a significant contributor to sewer overflows, a problem the city must address under a 2017 consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to a LancasterOnline story from the time.
  • Like many older sewer systems, Lancaster’s system is a combined system, one that takes both wastewater and stormwater from the city and surrounding areas. Modern systems generally separate sewer and stormwater.
  • A heavy storm can overload a combined system, leading to the release of untreated wastewater.
  • Harrisburg has a similar system and has also faced legal issues stemming from sewer overflows, which result in untreated water winding up in the Susquehanna River.
  • The overflows from Lancaster enter the Conestoga River, which flows into the Susquehanna.
  • Both waterways lead ultimately to the Chesapeake Bay, a high-profile target for environmental cleanup. Regulators have focused on upstream pollution flowing into the bay, including from sources in Pennsylvania

What’s the solution: The 2019 study, prepared by engineering firm C.S. Davidson, recommended creation of a separate stormwater system at a cost of about $25 million, according to LancasterOnline.

  • In its lawsuit, the city claims it has approached the township over the years to help fix the issue — and comply with the consent decree — but to no avail.
  • Indeed, the consent decree requires Lancaster to use its “best efforts” to reduce the flow from Manheim.
  • Instead, the suit claims, the township has continued to greenlight developments that send more stormwater into the combined system.
  • The city said legal action against the township is necessary to meet its obligations under the consent decree.
  • The city is asking the court to force the township to adopt a plan to fix the issue, bar new connections to the combined sewer system and restrict development that would create more stormwater runoff.

The background: Lancaster officials have taken numerous steps to control runoff in recent years.

  • They include imposition of a stormwater management fee and adoption of a green infrastructure plan, which calls for things like tree plantings and more water-permeable surfaces.
  • But if the city wants to corral the problem, it needs to invest in grey infrastructure — new pipes, tunnels and storage tanks — said Ted Evgenaides, the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper and an environmental advocate.
  • In the face of stronger storms, more trees alone won’t cut it, he said. “We’re seeing three, four, five inches of rain getting dumped within two, three, four hours. That’s a lot of water.”

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