Saturday, February 8, 2014

HB 1565 Riparian Buffers and Riparian Buffer Zones House Bill 1565 Testimony Oram Stream Buffers Size based on Science

HB 1565 - House Committee on Environmental Resources and Energy Hearing January 29, 2014 – Testimony by Mr. Brian Oram Geologist, Soil Scientist, Educator, and Citizen of Pennsylvania - Riparian Buffers and Riparian Buffer Zones

My name is Brian Oram and I wanted to thank you for this opportunity. I am a licensed professional geologist, soil scientist, and owner of B.F. Environmental Consultants, Inc.  I am lifelong resident of Northeastern Pennsylvania and currently reside in Dallas, Luzerne County. I am here today as a citizen and licensed professional in Pennsylvania in support of House Bill 1565.
The proposed house bill makes a slight change to the Clean Streams Law which would eliminate the requirement to use or install an arbitrary 100 foot riparian buffer on all streams and 150 foot a riparian buffer zone for EV and HQ streams.  The proposed wording change for HB 1565 is as follows:
“(c)  The use or installation of riparian buffers and riparian forest buffers shall not be required under this section.  Riparian buffers and riparian forest buffers may be used as a choice among best management practices, design standards and alternatives to minimize the potential for accelerated erosion and sedimentation and to protect, maintain, reclaim and restore water quality and for existing and designated uses.”
The reasons that I support this proposed change:
1. This proposed change in the law will not result in the destruction of riparian zones or significant encroachment or disrupt of these zones because existing environmental permitting processes are already in place to protect these areas.  The change in the law will permit the development of a site that permits the design professionals to evaluate all alternatives and select the approach that limits disturbance and manages the potential impacts.
Riparian zones can be divided into three broad zones:
a. Active Zone is the area within the banks of the stream and the channel bottom;
b. Zone 1 is typically associated with the floodway and floodplains; and
c. Zone 2 is typically associated with wetland areas, organic soils, and other transition zones.
Under the current laws in PA, the floodway, floodplains, and delineated wetland areas are protected from direct development and encroachment.  With respect to floodways and wetland areas, there are existing permit processes in place to address issues related to encroachment into these zones. 
2. The proposed legislative change allows for use of riparian buffers as a site-specific BMP as a function of the stream classification.  This approach is consistent with the criteria for HQ and EV streams as already outline in Chapter 93. (Currently, the Chapter 102 regulation is a standard not based on science or a site-specific analysis, but a universally applied arbitrary mandate).
The proposed legislation permits the establishment of riparian buffers zones or maintaining specific riparian buffers that are based on a site-based criteria/analysis.  This analysis includes the nature of the proposed development, proposed management system, current conditions, stream classification, and the water quality criteria/biological criteria provide in the law.  The proposed change will ensure that riparian buffers are sized and utilized in a manner that is consistent with the provisions of the Clean Streams Law.
3. The proposed change will prevent negative impacts to current or future stream quality.
In most cases, the concept around forest riparian zones is based on the principle that the zone is actively used to manage uncontrolled flow or to control nutrients and sediment.  When projects use engineering controls,  such as: bioretention devices, rain gardens, wet detention ponds, water reuse, land-based irrigation systems, groundwater recharge, and peak flow retention, treatment is provided by a combination of engineering controls and non-engineering controls that occur and are managed outside of the stream side “riparian zone” and/or wetland areas.
4. Many of the recommendations related to the size of a riparian buffer assume the buffer is the main active control system for post- construction stormwater management and includes provisions that will protect wildlife habitat.
For engineered projects, riparian buffers should not and are not the main system that is used to control sediment, water flow, volume reduction, or even nutrient control.  These riparian buffer’s primary role is to further polish that water after it already meets design criteria.  However, DEP’s current guidance suggests transporting managed water through the buffer in a pipe or swale directly to the receiving waterbody, which is inconsistent with the true role of the riparian buffer zone.
Criteria for riparian buffers- Buffers and set-backs for a stormwater management system should be based solely on maintaining in stream quality, downgradient use provisions, and biological criteria that are part of Chapter 93. Riparian buffers should not be established in stormwater management regulations to protect the general wildlife habitat for the watershed.  Chapter 93 provides wildlife protection to High Quality Waters if the water is a Class A Wild Trout Stream or where the Rapid Bioassessment Protocols for Use in Streams and Rivers: Benthic Macroinvertebrates and Fish resulted in a score of 83 % compared to a reference site. (Chapter 93)
“Most decisions about buffer widths will be a compromise between ideal widths based on environmental goals (wildlife corridors, bank stabilization, and water quality protection) and sociologic or economic constraints. Science-based criteria, for which research data may be available to support an informed decision, include the functional value of the water resource; watershed, site, and buffer characteristics; adjacent land use; and buffer function. The functional value of the water resource is important for determining buffer width in that a highly valued resource may merit a wider buffer for increased protection.”
5. A project can use a riparian buffer zone as an additional management tool, but the minimum buffer should be based on site-specific analysis.  This analysis should be site and project specific and be done by licensed professionals and not an arbitrary non-scientific approach.
In the long-run, an arbitrary buffer zone will result in inadequate protection in areas with larger streams were a project proposes using little or no engineering control systems.  The minimum size of a riparian buffer zone should be site-specific and a function of the proposed project and proposed engineering and non-engineering controls.  The regulations, with this proposed change, will be more effective if they are less restrictive and permit the licensed professional in the state of Pennsylvania to make decisions based on the site-specific conditions, proposed nature of the development, and long-term management for the site.
“The current proposed buffer standards in North Carolina use a two-tiered riparian buffer: forested areas near the streams and grassed areas away from the stream. The proposed buffer width is 50 feet: 30 feet of forest and 20 feet of grass (NCDEHNR, 1997). Some streams, however, may need greater and some streams need less buffer width, depending not only on site location but also on the pollutant that is being controlled. For optimal performance, riparian forest buffer systems must be designed and maintained to maximize sheet flow and infiltration and impede concentrated flow”.
6. In Pennsylvania, we have enough examples of well-meaning guidance documents not specifically based on science and designed and package primarily in response to lawsuits. These guidance documents have caused the development of policy in PA that are ineffective, make the goals effectively un-achievable, potentially creates future problems, and creates significant other unintended consequences.
Recent examples would be the legislation that developed after the PA Guidance Document on Stormwater Management and the recent attempts to regulate nitrates from individual on-lot septic systems.
We do recommend some proposed wording changes to the proposed House Bill:
With respect to the proposed House Bill, we would suggest a slight wording change to clarify the scope and intent.
We recommend the phrase “and/or” should be included in the proposed language to account for the difference in the level and type of protection afforded to EV streams and HQ streams.  The level of protection afforded by the current law is not the same for EV and HQ streams.
We would recommend that the size of the buffer be based on a site-specific evaluation that takes into consideration the existing conditions, proposed use,  proposed engineering/non-engineering controls, and the proposed long-term management that are proposed by the project.
In conclusion, it is my personal and professional opinion that the change in the regulations would put the sizing and the development of stormwater management systems in the hands of professionals that have been licensed by the State of Pennsylvania and other professionals that provide facts and science-based information to make site-specific and project specific recommendations to meet the goals and objectives of Chapter 102 and to meet the water quality standards in Chapter 93.   We should not have a one-size-fits-all approach to stormwater management in Pennsylvania.
Prepared by:
Mr. Brian Oram, PG
B.F. Environmental Consultants Inc.
15 Hillcrest Drive
Dallas, PA 18612
Proposed Change DOES NOT
1. Eliminate or permit the disturbance of riparian buffers.
2. Does not waive any provisions of the law and makes using a Management Riparian Zone an Option with the size of the riparian zone based on science- therefore, it may be larger or smaller than 150 feet.
3. Provides for flexibility without reducing protection.
4. Does not create new waivers that could be challenge in the courts.

Note: If an organization tells you that the proposed change will eliminate or remove riparian buffers, destroy riparian zones, and permit uncontrolled development - they are fear mongers or groups looking for a check or both.   (There are a lot of environmental fear mongers and it is critical that you read the regulations before making your own decisions)

Friday, February 7, 2014

DEP Announces Regional Keystone Energy Education Program Workshop in State College

WILLIAMSPORT -- The Department of Environmental Protection invites middle school teachers, administrators and building managers to a Thursday, March 6 training workshop in State College, Centre County on the Keystone Energy Education Program (KEEP) to teach and track energy efficiency in school buildings and homes.

The workshop is offered free of charge and will be from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at Penn State University’s Sackett Building, Room 309, on West College Ave. Please register in advance.

KEEP is geared to teachers of grades 4 through 8, administrators and building maintenance managers. Workshop participants will learn about and explore energy issues, including fundamentals and impacts, electricity generation, transportation fuels, careers, energy conservation, student teams and school building energy benchmarking through presentations, tours and hands-on activities.

Participants will have the opportunity to integrate high level, standards-based energy education into their formal curriculum. This could include lesson plans, curricular modules and ongoing benchmarking through EPA’s Energy Star Portfolio Manager, resulting in energy efficiency assessments leading to improvements that reduce energy consumption.

The workshops are based on Pennsylvania’s Academic Standards and Assessment Anchors for Environment and Ecology, Science and Technology and Engineering Education. Participating teachers will receive background information, standards-based curricular materials and energy conservation material kits.
Participating teachers will be eligible for seven Act 48 credit hours.
Space is limited, so registrations will be accepted on a first-come, first-serve basis. Register by contacting the KEEP Coordinator Susan Gove at 412-431-1010 or at

Support private well owners and groundwater education in PA - Go to

For More Webinars, Training in Energy Management, LEED, Green Design, and other PDHs go to

Phase I – Environmental Site Assessment Practices Commercial Real Estate Transactions and Phase I Assessments

Learn why the ASTM Environmental Site  Assessment Standard Practices for the Phase  I Site Assessment and the Transaction Screen  Process (E1527-13 and E1528-06) were  developed, how to use the standards, and how  the standards affect the way you do business. This course covers the changes to E1527.  This is a 2 day course that covers Commercial Real Estate: Transaction Screen & Phase I  Site Assessment.
A certificate of completion will be given to participants at the conclusion of the course listing the total hours (PDHs) completed. The baccalaureate programs in Electrical, Mechanical and Environmental Engineering are accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET. Wilkes University is a provider of continuing education in Pennsylvania through the State Registration Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors and Geologists. These hours may count towards the continuing education requirements for license renewal for professional engineers in Pennsylvania. Please refer to Act 25 for more information.
Classes will be held on the campus of Wilkes University. The building and classroom location, along with a campus map, will be provided.
When: May 28 - 29, 2014
Cost: $ 1150.00
Where: Wilkes University, Wilkes - Barre, PA
Deadline for Registration is April 25, 2014
other training opportunities
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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Northeast Pennsylvania Audubon Society 4000 dollars for College

The Northeast Pennsylvania Audubon Society announces a $4000 college scholarship to students who wish to pursue a career in an environmental field such as Forestry, Natural Resources, Environmental Planning, Environmental Engineering, Fish, Game, or Wildlife Management, Ecology and/or Environmental Science. Applicants must be from Pike, Wayne, Lackawanna, or Susquehanna County and must enroll full-time in an accredited two- or four-year college or university program. The winning applicant will receive $1000 per year for up to four years.  The scholarship is funded by the annual Audubon Arts and Craft Festival held each July.  Interested students can find the application form at or they can use the universal scholarship application form available at their high school guidance office.  Forms are due to NEPA Audubon Society by April 30. 


The Northeast Pennsylvania Audubon Society is now accepting scholarship applications for two different summer camp experiences -- a Family Camp Scholarship for an eligible adult and child to spend a week on an island in Maine, and three full environmental camp scholarships for 11-13 and 14-17 year olds. These scholarships are funded by Northeast Pennsylvania Audubon's annual Art and Crafts Festival in Hawley. This year it will be held at the Wallenpaupack Area High School on the weekend of July 19 & 20 from 10 – 5 each day. The family camp scholarship is available for a child aged 8–12 and an accompanying adult family member to attend an environmental camp especially designed for families on Audubon's Hog Island off the coast of Maine. The session, running from August 12 through August 17, 2014, provides a unique opportunity for family members to enjoy nature together. Activities include cruising Muscongus Bay to see seabirds and seals; examining aquatic insects, fish, amphibians, mushrooms, and wildflowers; and exploring the life of tide pools. In the evenings, there are night hikes, campfire programs, and star gazing. Comfortable lodging on the island and delicious food add to the magical experience.

Three full environmental camp scholarships for 11-13 and 14-17 year olds are also available. The camps are run by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), and combine environmental education, sportsman education and outdoor fun. They include hands-on methods to learn outdoor skills, essentials of backpacking, camping, and canoeing. Campers explore diverse habitats, study stream-life, solve challenges, and learn environmental concepts. They come away with an awareness of the importance of nature and a commitment to the stewardship of our natural resources.

Applicants may choose among four camps ranging from the Catskill region to the Adirondacks, and may choose one of seven different weeks from June through August. For more information about the NY DEC camps, visit:  Applications for both scholarships can be downloaded from the Northeast Pennsylvania Audubon website at Applicants must reside in Lackawanna, Susquehanna, Wayne or Northern Pike Counties. Applications must be received by April 1st. For more information,  please call (570) 253-9250.

Two upcoming VUSP / VCASE Stormwater Management in Pennsylvania

Feb 13th, 2014:

Speaker: Ms. Ashley Neptune, VUSP Graduate Student
Title: Evaluation of Hydrodynamics and Treatment Efficiency in a Constructed Stormwater Wetland
Date, Location and Time: Feb 13th, CEER 314, 1:30pm.
The talk will be recorded and you can also watch it live.
Visit and go to presentations to watch previous talks.

Villanova University's Constructed Stormwater Wetland was recently reconstructed in 2010 to improve treatment efficiency by adding meanders to hold runoff in the treatment system longer. Water quality and quantity is measured throughout the year to monitor treatment performance. Further, dye tracer tests are being done to estimate the hydraulic residence time on a seasonal basis and for different flow conditions. Having a better understanding of system hydraulics will enable an improved stormwater sampling protocol and understanding of overall system performance.

Feb 14th, 2014:
Speaker: Mr. Jon M. Capacasa, P.E., Director Water Protection Division at USEPA Region III
Title: Water Sustains Us: Promoting Sustainability in Water Resources Management
Date, Location and Time: Feb 14th, CEER 205, 1pm.
The talk will be recorded and you can also watch it live.
Visit and go to Lecture Series to watch previous talks.

Sustainability has been a goal for many organizations – including the U.S. EPA – for years.  However new challenges, such as droughts, water and energy shortages, severe weather events, the rise in sea level  due to climate change and more, bring a new sense of urgency to our efforts.   This presentation will review EPA’s goals for sustainable water resources management, specific examples of the newer tools and approaches which are shaping our work with communities and other partners (including green infrastructure), and how the Agency is taking a more holistic approach to integrating sustainability principles into its programs and activities.

More Online Training at