Municipalities control land use through their land development and zoning powers. With this power, municipalities are crucial partners in protecting Pennsylvania’s streams and landscapes.
PEC brought the Site Development Roundtable process to southeastern Pennsylvania in order to answer two questions:
1. What ordinance changes offer the greatest stream protection benefit in the region?
2. Is the Site Development Roundtable process an effective way to support southeastern
Pennsylvania municipalities in adopting ordinances that protect and restore streams?
First pioneered by the Center for Watershed Protection, this approach invites the input of municipal leaders, engineers, developers, civic associates, safety personnel, homeowner associations, and municipal authorities to meet and address ways to reduce the environmental impact of development. Participants review 22 model development principles such as street width, use of vegetated meadows and gardens, and lot size and layout before reaching a consensus on their recommendations for changing codes and ordinances to meet those principles.
Regional developers use methods like low impact development, better site design, and stormwater management practices to minimize their impact on nearby natural resources like forests and streams. While these practices are often common sense approaches, older ordinances and codes sometimes make doing these things difficult. This project aimed to revise those codes to reduce the barriers to environmentally-friendly development and re-development in the Wissahickon watershed
The Wissahickon Creek watershed was selected for the Roundtable pilot because of the importance of the Wissahickon to the region, its regulatory obligations under the Clean Water Act, the high level of municipal engagement, the engagement of other partners, and its value as a model for other watersheds in southeastern Pennsylvania and the Commonwealth.
The Wissahickon Creek drains an area of 64 square miles, including parts of 14 municipalities and the City of Philadelphia. The watershed is one of the most densely populated in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The Wissahickon Creek is designated as impaired by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, meaning that water in the creek will not support the fish and wildlife that would be expected to live in the creek if it were not so polluted. The primary problem is excessive sediment, which damages stream habitat.
Stormwater management and sediment reduction were established as a municipal responsibility in 2003, marked by two significant regulatory changes. First, the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit program was implemented, and all municipalities in the Wissahickon were required to obtain MS4 permits. That same year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region III established Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) for nutrients and siltation (measured in pounds of sediment) in the Wissahickon Creek watershed.
The TMDL establishes a limit on the amount of a pollutant that can be discharged into waterways and still protect water quality. Each Wissahickon municipality is assigned a sediment reduction amount.