Water Stories

There’s a number of water stories going on right now in Delaware County. It’s been a dry summer, and Delaware County is on the edge of a region of Pennsylvania included in a drought watch,

The state Department of Environmental Protection has declared a drought watch for 36 counties — including Berks, Delaware, Lehigh, Montgomery and Schuylkill — as officials ask for voluntary water conservation in those counties.

“A few counties have experienced very dry conditions over the summer, and a number of others have inched into increasingly dry conditions in recent weeks,” DEP Acting Secretary Ramez Ziadeh said in a release Wednesday. “We’re asking Pennsylvanians in all of these counties to use water wisely and follow simple water conservation tips to ease the demand for water.”

The situation isn’t yet severe, but the PA DEP is asking residents to conserve water wherever possible until more rain comes.

There’s a major project likely coming to Delcora – the organization that processes Delaware County’s wastewater. The Chester Matters blog had a good explainer on the project. This new infrastructure project is likely to raise sewer rates across the county (although probably the rise would be less than if the county did nothing).

When the county created DELCORA in 1971, they built up the old wastewater plant that used to just serve Chester City and converted it to handle wastewater from the western section of Delaware County. Wastewater from the eastern section of Delaware County started going to Philadelphia in 1974.

It’s the wastewater that’s currently going to Philly that’s causing all the fuss because the EPA is requiring Philadelphia to make some very expensive improvements to their wastewater treatment infrastructure and DELCORA must help pay for it if they want to keep sending wastewater to Philly.

DELCORA considered three alternatives to paying an extra $880 million to Philly. Alternative 1 is to build a new wastewater treatment plant in eastern Delco at a cost of about $613 million. Alternative 2 is dig up the streets and build a new pipeline to bring the wastewater currently going to Philly to Chester at a cost of about $560 million. Instead of using pipe, Alternative 3 is digging a tunnel to bring eastern wastewater to Chester for about $472 million.

Alternative 3, the cheapest, is the one that Delaware County seems most likely to use. There might be some environmental benefits to building a new wastewater plant rather than diverting everything to the old one in Chester that currently incinerates the waste, but at 50% more for the project, that seems unlikely to happen.

Delcora is also currently locked in a web of legal battles as well. On their way out of county council, Republicans attempted to sell Delcora to Aqua. After the transition, Democrats have fought to regain control. In March the courts ruled that Delaware County does control Delcora, but that it was still bound to the sale agreement. It continues to be litigated. In the latest salvo, the Chester receiver has filed suit seeking to regain control of Delcora unless the city is compensated for its assets.

Doweary, meanwhile, claims DELCORA is still bound by the terms of a 1973 agreement of sale to DELCORA for “all of the city’s property constituting the city’s sewer system and related property,” according to the complaint.

The agreement was updated in 1986 and remains in force until Nov. 17, 2022, “and thereafter for a term as long as the existence of DELCORA ‘unless terminated by either party on one year’s notice prior to the end of the then-current term,’ ” the complaint says.

Because no notice was provided by Nov. 17, 2021, Doweary contends the agreement is still in effect and provides that: “If, at any time in the future … (DELCORA) ceases to operate the system … then the fixed assets and the real property, other than the Treatment Plant and (certain other facilities), revert to the (city’s) ownership rather than to the County of Delaware or any other agency.”

It looks like lawyers continue to be the primary beneficiary of this. In similar news regarding the proposed sale of the Chester Water Authority to Aqua, in April CWA lawyer Francis Catania was “Excited to have the opportunity to present arguments before the state Supreme Court.” He’s probably about the only one excited by the ongoing battle between DelCo, the CWA, Aqua and Chester City over the proposed sale of Garden City’s water system to Aqua. Last year the Commonwealth Court ruled that the city was the sole owner, but now the supreme court will have a say. Many of the region’s legislators have also taken an interest, and legislation has been circulating from Reps. Krueger and Lawrence to keep CWA in public hands (or at least make the sale harder), but – like most important legislation – it appears the bills are still languishing in committee.

Categories: Government