Water is pretty amazing. It is in everything we do from basic cooking and cleaning to generating hydroelectric power. However, this natural resource can be destructive. Excessive amounts of water at one time can cause significant problems to the surrounding areas if not properly managed in the form of erosion. Erosion is a naturally occurring event where water gradually removes soil and rock from one area and carries it downstream to another where it settles. This is the same process which carved out the Grand Canyon millions of years ago.
This process has been accelerated by the development of the land to accommodate new roads, bridges, buildings, and farmland for our ever expanding population. This increased rate of erosion causes problems both at the area where the erosion is taking place and the areas downstream where the soil is being deposited. To help mitigate this problem, sites are developed to control the amount of water is running off of the property. Typically, the idea is to reduce the amount of runoff generated by the new building or parking lot, to what it was before it was developed or some fraction of the predeveloped rate. This is done in an effort to reduce the impact of the new development. Typically the installation of a subsurface infiltration bed or an above ground basin accomplishes this. To prevent soil from leaving the site during construction activities, a combination of silt fencing, socks, sediment traps and other control devices are implemented around the site to control the sediment leaving the site before the ground can be destabilized. These control measures help to prevent sediment from ending up in streets, the neighboring properties, and existing stormwater management systems.
The Oroville Dam and its spillways are examples of the effect that water can have on the surrounding land in large quantities. During January and February, Northern California experienced a record amount of rainfall, the most in 100 years which resulted in a massive amount of water to flow into the Feather River and required the spillway to be opened to release some of the water to bring the dam down to safe levels. Quickly after the initial storm, a second heavy storm event occurred causing, even more, water to be released through the spillway and eventually the emergency spillway. This massive increase in flow eventually started to cause damage with the water quickly eroding the soil underneath and causing chunks of the spillway to be taken downstream and damage Fish Hatcheries, and eventually, lead to the low lying areas downstream of the dam to be evacuated due to concern of the possible failure and collapse of the emergency spillway. Eventually, the water levels were able to be lowered enough that the spillways were able to be closed, with construction workers immediately working around the clock to remove and replace the spillways, filling in the areas eroded away by the high flows, before the arrival of the next winter.
For as long as I can remember, there have always been those in favor of development and those against it. My opinion, although a little biased, is that building is not only necessary but benefits the economy for millions of families. For those who oppose it, it seems like the common argument is that they don’t want anyone “moving into their back yard” or “taking away their great views”. My response to this is, “Unless you live in a teepee, you also moved into someone’s back yard and/or stole their beautiful views when your house was built.” Another less opinionated view to this debate is to consider the economic benefits that building has on our society.
Construction and infrastructure have always been considered the backbone of the US economy. In 2016, the top five US builders closed on more than 117,000 dwelling units and had combined revenues of over 40 billion. The top 200 US builders closed on a combined total of almost 310,000 dwelling units for a whopping 112 billion in revenues. That equates to approximately 100,000 more homes than are in all of Chester County. Keep in mind that this is just the construction of new homes; not commercial or institutional projects or infrastructures like roads or bridges nor does it include all of the remodeling projects that happen annually in this country. This is only the top 200 builders, all of which had revenues exceeding 50 million dollars annually. There are probably hundreds or even thousands of smaller builders that didn’t make it on the list but still, collectively, construct thousands of new homes each year.
When looking at this in terms of how many people this puts to work or how many families it feeds, it’s an even easier argument to sell. The 2015 US census for per capita income was just shy of $30,000/year, and the median family income was just over $68,000/year. This means that the top 200 builders, last year alone, generated enough revenue to employ 3.7 million people and/or 1.65 million families. Building homes also generate billions of dollars each year in property taxes to pay for our teachers, police officers, firefighters and municipal workers, and funds the maintenance of millions of miles of local roads. So, before you think of opposing the next planned community, you may want to stop for a minute and think about how you or your family might benefit from all the jobs, taxes and income it will create for your local community.
Sunoco Logistics has begun work to expand the existing Mariner East pipeline system through the construction of the Mariner East 2 (PA Pipeline Project) project. When constructed, this project will transport natural gas liquids from Ohio and the Pittsburgh area to the Marcus Hook facility for both domestic distribution and export. The Mariner East 2 pipeline, proposes approximately 350 miles of pipe, spanning Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio. Mariner East 2 will have an initial capacity of about 275,000 barrels a day of natural gas liquids using a 20″ diameter pipeline. The length of the project through Chester County is approximately 23.6 miles and in Delaware County, 11.4 miles. Approximately 80% of the Mariner East 2/PA Pipeline Project is to be located within existing right-of-ways.
Recently, Sunoco’s operations punctured an aquifer within Chester County which is utilized by residents as a supply for drinking water. As a result, Sunoco has agreed to halt drilling operations related to the Mariner East 2 pipeline construction in Chester County where 15 households have been without water for the past couple weeks due to the aquifer intrusion by horizontal directional drilling.
Sunoco did report that its drilling caused water to drain from the private aquifer and lower the water table, causing the contamination. But the company continued drilling and didn’t notify residents because, at that point, there was no indication of water contamination. Initially, the clouding of the water in Exton was suspected to be from non-toxic bentonite clay, commonly used in drilling as a lubricant. But tests on the wells of 30 homes show only ground water and sediment in their water, not bentonite clay. Post-drilling water tests compared to the baseline results showed differences in turbidity, or cloudiness, and some elevated iron measures – changes that would affect the taste and smell of the water – but no changes in key health-affecting content.
Residents in the region, advocates, and local politicians are concerned that more problems are imminent if Sunoco resumes drilling. Late last month, a coalition of local environmental groups from suburban Pennsylvania said it had gathered about 1,200 signatures of residents who want the Mariner East 2 project halted because of water contamination fears. Although Sunoco is required by the Department of Environmental Protection to inform water users along the route about construction at least 72 hours before it began, most said they were not informed.
Sunoco has been supplying bottled water and offered to pay for hotel rooms so impacted residents can shower and bathe since the July 4th holiday weekend, when it was first notified by home owners that their wells had either run dry or had tainted water. Additionally, Sunoco agreed to pay for a new water line to connect residents to a public drinking water source supplied by Aqua. Aqua had agreed to have a new water main installed within three weeks.
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced it will enforce a Consent Order and Agreement (COA) with Sunoco Pipeline L.P. (Sunoco) for violations associated with its Mariner East 2 project in West Whiteland and Uwchlan Townships, Chester County.
“The corrective actions outlined in the COA are steps DEP is taking to hold Sunoco accountable and protect local residents,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “DEP is conducting its own independent investigation of this pollution event and reserves the right to assess further enforcement, as appropriate.”
Most recently, Horizontal directional drilling has been allowed to resume at two Chester County locations of the Sunoco Mariner East 2 Pipeline. Horizontal directional drilling was allowed to resume at Ship Road in West Whiteland and at Eagleview Boulevard in Uwchlan Township.