In dealing with the Municipal Separate Strom Sewer System (MS4), which are state-level stormwater requirements to meet federal Clean Water Act standards, and its permitting requirements, local communities understand better than most how important sediment control is to water quality and how strictly these permitting requirements are regulated by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Local governments, however, are not the only sector beholden to state-level stormwater permitting and regulation. Recently, EQT was fined just over $330,000 for a series of DEP permit violations including failure to control sedimentation runoff, as well as failure to report the runoff. The violations were discovered in February of 2018 in Forward Township, Allegheny County. EQT, based in Pittsburgh, is the country’s largest producer of natural gas.
Erosion and sedimentation go hand in hand with one another. Erosion is the process by which soil and rock material is weathered and brokered down into small particles. Sediment is the loose sand, clay, silt and other soil particles that settle at the bottom of a body of water. Sediment can come from soil erosion or from the decomposition of plants and animals. Construction activities increase erosion because the activities often involve moving earth, removing vegetation, and leaving sediment exposed to the elements. Eroded soil quickly becomes a sedimentation problem when wind and rain carry the soil off the construction site and sediment is deposited in surface waters. Water-generated erosion is the most severe type of erosion as the vertical force of raindrops hitting the surface of the ground loosens soil and the horizontal flow of water quickly migrates these particles from one place to another.
Sediment entering our waterways through stormwater degrades the quality of water for drinking and wildlife, as well as the land surrounding streams. Water polluted with excess sedimentation becomes cloudy and murky, which prevents natural vegetation from growing in our streams, as well as preventing animals from seeing their food. Beyond disrupting the natural food chain, it makes rivers and streams shallower, ruins natural habitats for smaller invertebrates that live on stream beds, and makes water treatment for drinking water a more involved process.
In its announcement publicizing the $330,000 fine against EQT, the DEP states that its inspectors revisited the Forward Township well sites after finding the initial violation only to discover additional violations including the continuing unreported failure of erosion controls as well as unpermitted construction activities. Ultimately, the sedimentation issues were resolved in November 2018.