The state Department of Environmental Protection has proposed a new fee for public water systems, which would likely be passed on to customers, to hire more state water inspectors to address staffing shortages.
The commonwealth has one inspector for every 149 public water systems, more than double the national average of one per every 67 systems. They inspect more than 8,500 water systems, which serve more than 10 million people in Pennsylvania.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said low staffing levels caused the number of unaddressed Safe Drinking Water Act violations in Pennsylvania to nearly double over the last five years.
To pay for 33 new positions, DEP has proposed a new annual fee that could generate $7.5 million annually. The agency said the fee could be based on population served by the community water system and range from $250 for a very small system with less than 100 users to $40,000 for the largest areas with more than 100,000 users.
The per-person costs translates to between 35 cents and $10 per year based on that water system size.
DEP also has been looking at other options, including a flat fee based on the number of service connections and a sliding scale rate per connection, as well as increases in some existing fees.
“It’s clear that the ever-expanding workload of inspections cannot be managed forever by the current staff levels,” said DEP Acting Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “These inspections cover the entirety of the water system, from the water source, through the treatment and storage, and finally the distribution to homes. We’re seeking these increases to make sure that we can continue DEP’s high-quality work and fulfill our responsibility to ensure clean drinking water sources to the people of Pennsylvania.”
The proposed fee package will be presented to the Environmental Quality Board on Wednesday. The board has the authority to establish fees for permit applications, laboratory certification and other services.
A public comment period will be announced once a draft of the package is finalized, according to DEP. This would be the first increase to permitting fees since they were implemented in 1984.