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Cambria Somerset Authority warns of rate hikes under EPA mandate

December 7, 2018

An Environmental Protection Agency mandate designed to protect fish may end up affecting hundreds of jobs and water customers in Somerset and Cambria counties.

Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act aims to limit deaths of aquatic life by cooling intake towers. The EPA says this mandate protects 200 million pounds of aquatic organisms each year, and the state Department of Environmental Protection enforces it.

Until this year, DEP told officials at the Cambria Somerset Authority that this mandate doesn’t apply to the CSA because it doesn’t directly provide potable water to customers.

The CSA provides water to the Somerset County General Authority, which sells water to Conemaugh, Lincoln, Somerset, Jenner and Jefferson townships and Somerset Borough. Its other customers include local power plants and manufacturers in Johnstown such as Johnstown Wire Technologies.

CSA board President Jim Greco said these customers would end up paying for the CSA’s compliance with the EPA mandate.

“We’ll have to raise our rates to pay for that, or the counties will have to pay more money,” he said, estimating that testing for the impact on fish would cost hundreds of thousands, and correcting any impact would cost much more.

Testing would need to be done at the authority’s Quemahoning and Wilmore reservoirs by 2021.

“This is a major issue for us,” Greco said. “Not only us, but our customers.”

CSA board member and Somerset County Commissioner John Vatavuk said he thinks it would be a shame if taxpayers ended up with the bill.

Cambria and Somerset counties each contribute about $300,000 annually to the CSA to pay its debts.

“It will be a shame especially since, at one point, it didn’t apply to us,” Vatavuk said.

Greco said that 316(b) shouldn’t apply to the CSA because it says in the Clean Water Act that it doesn’t apply to public water services.

The issue arose after the CSA submitted a permit renewal earlier this year. The public comment period for the permit application ends Tuesday, after which Greco said he expects to get more input from DEP on the issue.

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