NARROWSBURG, NY — The Upper Delaware Council (UDC) shares the sentiments of its Pennsylvania representatives about the PA Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) proposed policy for on-lot sewage systems in high quality and exceptional value watersheds. The UDC and its members in Wayne and Pike counties say the implementation of the policy would likely decrease land values because the most valuable land—adjacent to lakes and streams—would become unbuildable, undevelopable and unusable for most purposes.
The proposed policy states septic systems cannot be closer than 150 feet from a body of water, or 30 feet from a stream in areas with exceptional value and high-quality waters. There also would be a requirement for underground septic systems to be surrounded by a barrier to prevent the effluent from traveling underground. This would be done to prevent nitrates from getting into the water.
The DEP’s proposed policy states that septic systems have been implicated as a cause or contributor of nitrate contamination, especially when installed in high density residential development areas. The UDC says there is no nitrate problem in the area.
“Approximately 95% of Wayne and Pike counties are in a high quality or exceptional value watershed,” Jeffrey R. Dexter, chairman of the UDC and Damascus Township supervisors, wrote in a letter to the DEP, noting that a significant number of watersheds are tributaries to the Upper Delaware River. “In general, water quality on the Upper Delaware River is uniformly good to excellent. Its clean waters support outstanding cold-water and warm-water fisheries.”
Dexter noted that water-quality monitoring is conducted by several agencies, including the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Delaware River Basin Commission and the National Park Service. “Their data shows an incremental increase in water quality on the Upper Delaware River,” the letter says. “This data proves that the current measures to protect the water quality in the river basin are successful.”
Nitrate-N is the pollutant of concern in the proposed policy. Dexter wrote that a water-quality study conducted by the USGS in the Delaware River Basin concluded that in streams the concentration of total nitrate had a median of 0.87 milligrams per liter (mg/L). The water quality standard for nitrate in Pennsylvania is 10mg/L, according to the letter. The letter also said the federal standard for nitrate-N levels in drinking water is 10mg/L.
Dexter also wrote that, according to the proposed policy, in Pennsylvania nitrate in groundwater is trending downward overall and this may be related to improved practices in land use and reductions in atmospheric deposition. Dexter wrote, “The fact that the policy acknowledges that ‘septic systems generally are not capable of affecting surface waters to the degree where the 10mg/L limit may be threatened…’ suggests that there is no justification for the proposed policy.”
According to Dexter’s letter, “There is a fine line between protection and overregulation. High quality water is the basis for many of the healthy, viable, rural communities in Wayne and Pike counties. The Upper Delaware Council is committed to protecting the water quality in this region, and scientific evidence verifies that current land use practices in Pennsylvania are successfully accomplishing that task.”
Dexter further wrote that the UDC sees no benefit in preempting local zoning and land use regulations given the “good to excellent water qualities” in the Upper Delaware watershed.
The DEP has extended the public comment period on the policy and will continue to accept comments through June 3.