Source Water Protection Program
The Berks County Source Water Protection (SWP) program is a subcommittee of the Berks County Water & Sewer Association (BCW&SA), sponsored by Albright College’s Center for Excellence in Local Government (CELG). The program is a collaboration of community water systems, conservation partners and local government. The mission of the Berks County SWP program is to support and maintain the high quality of drinking water in the county today and into the future. The Berks County SWP program was the recipient of a 2018 Governors Award for Environmental Excellence. To date, the Berks County SWP program includes 30 community water systems that provide service to over 266,000 Berks County residents.
For more information on the Berks County SWP program please visit www.co.berks.pa.us/dept/planning.com or contact the Berks County SWP program coordinator Kent Himelright at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Berks County SWP program committee host quarterly meetings on the third Thursday of every month.
The following is a Q&A with community leaders integral in the development of the Berks County Source Water Protection program.
Q: When did the idea of countywide SWP develop?
Dale Kratzer (Spotts, Stevens and McCoy, Retired): SWP in Berks County goes back to 1992 when the EPA contracted Kutztown and in turn SSM to complete assessments for Kutztown, Topton and Lyon Boroughs. The genesis for countywide SWP was the development of the County’s Sewer and Water Regionalization Study for Small Systems in 1998. Recommendations from the updated 1998 County Sewer and Water Regionalization Study influenced the Berks County Planning Commission to support the formation of the Berks County Water and Sewer Association (BCW&SA). The topic of the first BCW&SA conference in 2013 was “Source Water Protection.”
Ashley Showers (Berks County Planning Commission, Assistant Director): The update to the county’s Sewer and Water Regionalization Study was pushed by local water providers like Reading Area Water Authority and Western Berks Water Authority. At the same time, the EPA, PA DEP and the Philadelphia Water Department were organizing the Schuylkill Action Network (SAN). The formation of SAN put drinking water suppliers and conservation organizations in the same room. The “One Water” approach linked SWP, stormwater and wastewater together, and within the past five years the connection between Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4) [stormwater] and SWP has been emphasized.
Joe Hebelka (PADEP, Bureau of Safe Drinking Water): PA DEP administers the Source Water Protection Technical Assistance Program (SWPTAP) which funds the development of SWP plans for community public water suppliers. Many of the large to medium drinking water supplies in Berks County took advantage of the SWPTAP funding. PADEP supports and encourages collaboration between drinking water suppliers, conservation partners and the public. If it wasn’t for the partnerships, the Berks County SWP program would not have happened.
Q: Who were the key players in developing the Berks County SWP program?
Lyn O’Hare (Spotts, Stevens and McCoy, Project Manager): Dale Kratzer really moved the concept of a countywide SWP plan forward, along with the Planning Commission, Berks Nature and BCW&SA. The CELG sponsored the BCW&SA and provided the SWP committee with a home.
Joe Hebelka (PADEP, Bureau of Safe Drinking Water): The Philadelphia Water Department really pushed the development of the SAN, and that generated the network of partners that would later become the base of the BCW&SA which included the Berks County Planning Commission and water suppliers like RAWA and WBWA.
Q: What was the goal of developing a county SWP program?
Chip Bilger (Western Berks Water Authority, Executive Director & BCWSA Chair): From a water provider’s perspective, the goal was to eliminate the duplication of effort and fill in the gaps where there wasn’t SWP coverage. Clean source water has a huge impact on the treatment process. The better the raw water is coming in, the easier it is to treat.
Ashley Showers (Berks County Planning Commission, Assistant Director): Combining the impacts of old infrastructure, land use and stronger permit requirements for drinking water, stormwater and wastewater. It is necessary to have a united, collaborative stance to provide more weight in dealing with these impacts.
Lyn O’Hare (Spotts, Stevens and McCoy, Project Manager): The county SWP program was a way to encourage community water systems to update their SWP areas through SWPTAP funding. It was also a way to connect the different uses of water including wastewater, MS4 [stormwater] and SWP.
Q: What issues did the County SWP program encounter during development?
Chip Bilger (Western Berks Water Authority, Executive Director & BCWSA Chair): SWP is voluntary for a drinking water supplier and it is difficult to spend extra time on planning when most of your time is committed to daily operations and maintaining compliance. It was difficult for some systems to see the value in the SWPTAP and SWP programs.
Dale Kratzer (Spotts, Stevens and McCoy, Retired): Inertia. Systems were just slow to react. Some businesses were initially opposed or skeptical but they have participated in the planning process and it has worked out well.
Q: What is the greatest achievement of the County SWP program?
Lyn O’Hare (Spotts, Stevens and McCoy, Project Manager): This program is the first of its kind. It is innovative to have participation in drinking water systems. The program has brought awareness to issues that can cause harmful drinking water sources and enables county and regional partners to share information and resources to address those issue.
Chip Bilger (Western Berks Water Authority, Executive Director & BCWSA Chair): The program has been very successful in developing partnerships with groups like the PADEP, EPA, Schuylkill Action Network and the Philadelphia Water Department, within the county and outside of the county.
Dale Kratzer (SSM Group, Inc., Retired): The significant cooperation from partners to implement the countywide SWP program. Berks County is still looked at by the state, if not the entire region, as a model for countywide SWP.
Q: What are the challenges and opportunities for SWP in Berks County.
Chip Bilger (Western Berks Water Authority, Executive Director & BCWSA Chair): Buy in from systems that do not isee the value of the program and are not fully involved. Agricultural runoff that feeds Harmful Algae Blooms (HAB) and reacting to the emergence of contaminants like PFOA and PFOS compounds. The biggest opportunity the county SWP program can provide for a water supplier is the communication with upstream landowners and communities about how to protect water resources.
Joe Hebelka (PADEP, Bureau of Safe Drinking Water): It is challenging to maintain interest and engagement as time moves forward and you have turnover. The Berks County SWP program was this confluence of ideas between county initiatives like BCW&SA, the great partnerships of SAN, and SWPTAP funding. The program initially got the low hanging fruit, and there are more water suppliers to get.
Ashley Showers (Berks County Planning Commission, Assistant Director): The future challenge is getting the public involved and participating in SWP. The future opportunities are economic development in clean water sources. Communities and businesses want and need clean water.
Dale Kratzer (SSM Group, Inc., Retired): It is a challenge to keep the public informed and interested in the positive changes that come from SWP. SWP is not mandatory and community water system can opt out of it. If we prevent something from happening, we’ll know how to treat it. If something happens, we have been forewarned and can react to it.
How Source Water Protection Plans Are Developed
Of the 420,000 residents of Berks County, almost 280,000 receive their drinking water from public drinking water suppliers. Many take for granted the ease of turning on a kitchen faucet and finding water safe enough to wash produce or hands, or even to drink. If not from private wells, water is distributed to our taps from a water supplier that may be a private water company or Water Authority, but also can be as small as a single well managed by a mobile home community. In light of COVID-19 — clean, healthy and accessible drinking water for all is even more important.
Part 1 of our Source Water Protection (SWP) series delved into the history and formation of the SWP program in Berks County. In this article, we will discuss how protecting drinking water starts at the source, and explore the development of source water protection plans.
SWP means taking proactive measures to prevent the pollution of lakes, reservoirs, rivers, streams and groundwater that serve as sources of drinking water. Within the last five years, we have seen the unfortunate events of lead in Flint Michigan drinking water, chemical spills in West Virginia, fire suppression runoff from a chemical plant in Adams County, Pa., — all of which instantly cut off drinking water to communities and hundreds of thousands of people. But each of these examples may have been prevented. It’s important to learn from these events and to initiate forward-thinking planning to protect our own local water supplies.
A priority of the Berks County SWP program is to engage public drinking water suppliers and connect them to the Pennsylvania Source Water Protection Technical Assistance Program (SWPTAP.) SWPTAP offers funding through the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) to develop source water protection plans. In Berks County there are an astounding 70 different public drinking water providers, supplying water to community populations as large as 87,000 people (City of Reading), and as small as only 25 people (Union Greene community). Since 2007, over 30 of these water providers, representing an unprecedented 266,000 or over 95% of Berks County drinking water customers, have taken advantage of SWPTAP to develop SWP plans.
- Steering committees are formed from local partners including county conservation districts, planning commissions, conservation groups, municipal staff, consultants and even local businesses. Steering committees are advisory groups for water systems, and provide different points of view from the community. They also provide local knowledge and recommendations to the water systems on best management practices to protect local water supplies. In turn, steering committee members can partner with water systems to educate and convey information to customers and the community.
- SWP areas are developed using previous studies, collected data, system records, Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and computer modeling. Buffer zones are established around surface water intake or groundwater wellheads. These areas are established based on potential travel time and impact on a raw water source as it enters treatment. SWP areas may vary depending on whether an area’s drinking water comes from surface water (spring, stream, river, lake or reservoir) or groundwater (wellhead or springs).
- Potential Sources of Contamination (PSOCs) within the SWP area are evaluated by identifying non-point and point sources of pollution. Non-point source pollution can include intensive agricultural and urban land uses and infrastructure like roads, highways, railroads and pipelines that can contribute pollution to source water from accidents, spills and de-icing agents. Potential sources of point pollution include wastewater discharges, mining, industrial and cleanup sites, landfills, storage tanks and fueling stations. These sites can be identified by utilizing the local knowledge of a steering committee and/or by evaluating information and data provided by regional and state regulatory authorities.
- Management and protection strategies for SWP areas and PSOCs are developed by local steering committees. Strategies can be adapted to focus on specific land uses, PSOCs, regulated industries and non-regulated industries. Depending on the amount of resources available to drinking water providers, these strategies and initiatives can be implemented at little cost or on a large scale with multiple funding sources to improve and protect the quality of the source water. Two ways that drinking water providers initiate these strategies is through education and public engagement. This can be as simple as informational bill stuffers, water quality workshops and demonstrations, or identifying SWP areas with signage to promote quick spill response and prevent illicit dumping. Drinking water providers can also partner with watershed wide municipalities, conservation groups and regional partners to implement best management practices to address urban, agricultural and industrial pollutant runoff.
- Contingency plans are developed so that in the situation that a source of drinking water becomes contaminated or otherwise unusable, there are steps that can be taken to continue to provide service to the community. This includes identifying alternative sources and water supplies that can supplement a community in time of need. Contingency planning also involves providing emergency responders with information on identified SWP areas, so that they can take quick actions and communicate with suppliers to protect drinking water.