The challenge: Each year, pollutant levels from illicit discharges — problematic non-stormwater discharges into storm sewer systems — are frequent enough to significantly degrade local water quality in receiving waters and threaten aquatic, wildlife and human health.
While illicit discharges originate from many sources, the most common are from cracks and leaks in old sewer pipes. Chemical sampling in six mid-Atlantic watersheds identified 40 percent of areas sampled had a high level of ammonia – a strong indicator for the presence of sewage. In addition, sources of illicit discharges that are preventable include pollutants such as laundry waste water, radiator flush disposal, auto and household toxins.
Under Pennsylvania’s Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Program, one of the six elements that permittees are required to address in their stormwater management programs is Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination (IDDE).
Because of the various sources of illicit discharges, and the challenge of tracking sources through an often extensive network of the stormwater and sewage pipes, detection and elimination requires a bit of detective work. However, the most cost-effective method is through educating municipalities on IDDE best practices. Understanding illicit discharges is essential to finding, fixing and preventing further damage to watersheds.
The action: To provide appropriate education, the Center for Watershed Protection trains local governments on IDDE strategies to help them achieve water quality goals.
“The Center wrote the IDDE manual in 2004, which is used as the ‘go-to’ guide for this topic across the country,” said Julie Schneider, Watershed Planner at the Center. “The ultimate goal is that municipal staff will be more informed and, more importantly, have the tools to find and fix illicit discharge problems. By teaching a series of techniques, we can prevent pollutants from entering our watersheds and help municipalities meet MS4 requirements.”
The Center conducted seven trainings spanning five counties – Berks, Delaware, Lancaster, Lehigh and Montgomery – to introduce the components of an effective IDDE program and teach how to identify and eliminate problems in the field.
In Lehigh County, the Center worked with the Lehigh County Conservation District, a coalition of 26 municipalities, to introduce illicit discharge regulations and begin creating IDDE programs. Out of Lehigh County’s 26 municipalities, only two had IDDE programs already implemented. At the training, 49 people were in attendance, including municipal employees and engineers that work with the municipalities.
“Going into the training, my goal was to alleviate municipalities’ concerns and anxieties surrounding MS4 requirements on IDDE programing,” said Kevin Frederick, Assistant District Manager at the Lehigh County Conservation District. “The trouble with IDDE is that there is no specific prescription for preventing it. It was overwhelming to municipality employees, who may not know the basics of IDDE, to start implementing a program. The training presented tools for them to gain an understanding of IDDE and set up a program, no matter how basic.”
In Eastern Delaware County, the Center also conducted a training for the Eastern Delaware County Stormwater Coalition, a coalition made up of eight municipal members, to introduce illicit discharge detection and elimination and related MS4 requirements.
“We are committed to improving the water quality in these municipalities,” said Jamie Anderson, Coordinator at Eastern Delaware County Stormwater Collaborative. “With the Center’s IDDE training, we saw an opportunity to be proactive about illicit discharges. Illicit discharge training was a way to educate these municipalities on proper procedures when they discover unknown discharges in local waterways and to prevent pollutants from entering streams in the first place.”
The Result: The Center has already trained almost 300 people on IDDE in PA. Upon completion of IDDE training, participants were able to identify weaknesses and improve their municipality’s IDDE programs, recognize visual indicators of various types of illicit discharges, understand which water quality parameters can help detect illicit discharges, and discover field and lab technologies available for finding illicit discharges and tracking down their sources.
Through increased education and available resources, these communities have developed a systematic understanding of their streams, conveyance and storm sewer infrastructure systems, bringing them one step closer to meeting water quality standards.