Why Manage Stormwater?
The City is subject to a permit under the Pennsylvania Clean Streams Law and the federal Clean Water Act that regulates Bethlehem’s storm drainage system. This permit, known as a Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit, imposes specific mandates on the City for preventing new pollution and reducing pollution from existing sources.
Stormwater is rain and melted snow that “runs off” the land. In natural, undeveloped areas, soil absorbs and filters most of the stormwater in a process called infiltration. The water that runs off the land in Bethlehem flows to Monocacy Creek, Nancy Run, Saucon Creek, and the Lehigh River.
During development, natural areas are replaced with roofs, driveways, sidewalks, and streets. These hard surfaces, called impervious surfaces, do not allow water to penetrate them and increase the volume and velocity of stormwater runoff. Stormwater runoff carries fertilizers, sediment, oil, grease, heavy metals, trash, and anything else deposited on impervious surfaces directly into the City’s storm drain system and natural stream systems. This can cause:
- Erosion of streams and decreased water quality;
- Contamination of downstream water quality and drinking water supplies; and,
- Flooding, property damage, and damage to public storm drains.
The City of Bethlehem is taking action to clean up our community’s stormwater runoff and to make necessary investments in our aging stormwater infrastructure. Many of the City’s pipes are over 100 years old. This will not only help to improve water quality and our environment for future generations, but also help protect residents and private property from damage due to flooding.
Stormwater Utility Fee
The City of Bethlehem has been working diligently to develop solutions to our water quality and flood control challenges. After considering different options, like many other communities the City chose to implement a stormwater utility fee. A stormwater utility fee is a charge based on the amount of impervious area on a property.
This approach has several advantages. First, it fairly distributes the cost of the City’s stormwater services since the amount of impervious area is related to the amount of stormwater that must be managed and all property owners directly benefit from a well maintained and regulated drainage management system. This concept is similar to measuring usage and calculating fees for drinking water and sanitary sewer services. Second, the amount of the fee must be linked to demonstrated need for publicly provided stormwater management services addressing flood abatement, water quality protection, infrastructure operation and maintenance, and regulatory compliance. All revenue is deposited into a special fund that can only be used for stormwater management.
For common questions about the stormwater fee, please see our FAQ document