Stormwater Quality – What Can You Do Too?

May Blog Pic

Rain Garden. Image Courtesy of


If you live in Pennsylvania, you are well aware that one of the perks of living here is the beautiful surroundings. Pennsylvania has an abundance of open space, large expansive farm fields, and lovely views of rolling terrain. Of course, Pennsylvania has its share of what is considered urbanized area as well.

When we think of urbanized, we often think of more densely populated inner-city landscapes, but for the purposes of stormwater quality and MS4, urbanized areas are essentially anywhere that has a concentration of impervious (paved) surfaces. As such, residential housing developments are also considered urbanized areas.

When it rains, stormwater from impervious surfaces washes pollutants into storm drains, and ultimately into our streams and rivers. These pollutants are not only harmful to aquatic life, but can also find their way into our sources of drinking water as well. Not only are paved surfaces/driveways a source of pollutant runoff, but another source of impervious surface runoff is rooftops.

As a homeowner, there are several steps you can take to reduce the pollutant runoff from your property and help contribute to the overall better health of our waterways. One such step is to direct the water from your roof to your lawn, or to a raingarden, through your downspouts. A raingarden is essentially a landscaped bed planted with additional enriched soil in the bottom, along with specific plants that help filter pollutants from the rainwater. Raingardens can look just like a regular planting bed, but also provide numerous other benefits such as recharge groundwater through infiltration, and even provide wildlife habitat.

Another step homeowners can take is to capture rain runoff and direct it into a rain barrel. You can capture the rainwater and store it for later use, such as watering plants. The Penn State Extension offers rain barrel programs and workshops to assist homeowners in obtaining the proper size barrel for their particular use, as well as how to properly set it up for optimal use. You can visit their website at:

A few other water quality enhancements include limiting the use of fertilizer/pesticides; plant trees; or use permeable paving/hardscaping vs. concrete/asphalt paving, which allows water to infiltrate into the soil.

Pennsylvania is a beautiful place to call home. Let’s keep it that way!



5th Edition Parking Manual Released

The Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) has released the “Parking Generation Manual, 5th Edition”. Which is has been updated and expanded from the 4th Edition. The updates include differentiation of the level of parking demand for rural, urban/suburban and dense urban sites.

The publication is available in electronic and paper formats with an electronic app.

Peter Terry is honored to have served on the review panel for this new manual.ITE Parking Generation (5th Edition) 1

We have a new RSP Congratulations Peter Terry!

Peter Terry has become one of the first to achieve the Level 1 Road Safety Professional certification!

The RSP certification provides for professionals involved in a wide array of safety-related disciplines to establish their competency in providing for the safety of the traveling public.

Peter looks forward to implementing his roadway safety knowledge on Benchmark’s projects. To learn more click on the link below.



MS4 – What is it?

MuddyStormwaterExtreme example of an Illicit Discharge

MS4 stands for Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System. Essentially, this is the system of pipes, inlets, and other structures owned by a municipality that collects stormwater runoff from buildings, roads, parking lots, etc., and is ‘separate’ from the system that collects and conveys sanitary sewage. In order to adhere to mandates under the federal Clean Water Act, MS4s are required to obtain an NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit to discharge this collected stormwater into various surface waterways, such as streams, rivers, etc. In Pennsylvania, this permit is issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP, or just DEP).

One of the requirements in obtaining the NPDES permit is to control/reduce the amount of pollutants being discharged from the system. This is done by reducing the amount of pollutants from entering the system in the first place. To do so, municipalities must develop a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP.)  The SWPPP must address six (6) required minimum control measures (MCM).  The 6 MCMs include:

  • Public Education and Outreach
  • Public Participation/Involvement
  • Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination
  • Construction Site Runoff Control
  • Post-Construction Runoff Control
  • Pollution Prevention/Good Housekeeping for Municipal Operations

Among the steps municipalities are taking to reduce pollutants and encourage water quality is to implement what are known as Best Management Practices (BMPs). Essentially, BMPs are the installation of, or improvements to, individual structures that collect and convey stormwater runoff. Some examples include Retention/Detention Ponds; Rain Gardens; Vegetated Swales, etc. These structures are designed to treat stormwater by “settling out” much of the pollutants and sediment that would otherwise be discharged to the waterways.

Many municipalities have begun to undertake some of these projects to meet their respective NPDES permit requirements. Some of these projects can be quite large and expensive, with costs running into the millions of dollars, leaving municipalities with the dilemma of how to fund such projects. Some, such as the City of Allentown, have enacted a separate stormwater fee, which charges land owners a fee based on the area of impervious surface on their property. Impervious surface is that which rainwater is unable to infiltrate through into the ground, such as building roofs, asphalt parking lots, roadways, etc. Others have collaborated with other municipalities to form regional stormwater management districts to manage such projects and funding issues.

Unfortunately, no municipality can escape the mandate of the MS4 program, which means no resident is immune to the ultimate cost of implementing these upgrades that ultimately serve to improve and enhance our quality of life. In other words; somehow, someway, sometime, we will all have to contribute to the solution.

When is a PennDOT Highway Occupancy Permit Required

ImagePennDOT regulates activities within their road right-of-way through the issuance of Highway Occupancy Permits. By regulation, a permit is required whenever a access point or utility are installed or whenever other modifications are made to or above the the PennDOT right-of-way.

Most commonly for Benchmark, these permits involve the construction of a new driveway or other improvements associated with a new development or a municipal improvement project. Many existing driveways and utilities were constructed prior to 1982 when PennDOT began their current permitting requirements. These facilities are generally not “grandfathered” however some municipalities do not require that permits be obtained as part of land development projects for these older facilities unless they are being modified.

Often permits are also obtained when utilities are installed. Most major utility companies (water, gas, electric,sewer) have a contact with PennDOT which assists them in obtaining permits because they are generally routine in nature. Stormwater pipes which cross the PennDOT right-of-way are permitted to the local municipality who is then responsible for the maintenance of those pipes, inlets, and associated structures. Frequently, when a permit is issued for a stormwater pipe related to a development the local municipality will assign the responsibility and cost for maintaining the stormwater pipes to the developer. The Highway Occupancy Permit is still issued to the municipality but the developer enters into an agreement with the municipality.

Benchmark has extensive experience with designing facilities and obtaining permits from PennDOT for new and existing driveways as well as utilities. We have also completed projects involving overhead conveyor facilities crossing PennDOT right-of-ways. Please contact us to discuss your permitting needs. We have successfully prepared Highway Occupancy Permits for numerous private clients, municipalities, and school districts.

TRIP Releases Dismal Statistics for PA Roads and Bridges

TRIP, a National transportation research group released their report on the condition of Pennsylvania’s roads and Bridges. Paste the link below into your browser to see the report.

It seems that the statistics have not changed over the last few years: 25% of bridges are structurally deficient, motorists spend hours in traffic delays wasting fuel, our economic viability continues to be challenged as it our mobility becomes more limited. We don’t seem to see any employment gains or increased economic activity due to our lack of investment in transportation infrastructure.

It seems the only way out of this predicament is to push our elected officials to have the “political will” to fund infrastructure. It seems difficult at a time when economic hardship has captured our focus to go out and commit our resources to infrastructure but at some point we have to realize that the funding isn’t just going to appear. We are going to have to “bite the bullet” and pay a little more in fuel taxes and user fees if we expect there to be any changes. I hope that we see some momentum in Pennsylvania’s Senate and House to deliver a transportation bill during this session. I hope everyone contacts their state senators and representatives and tells them how they feel about the statistics in the TRIP report.

Congressman Shuster Acknowledges Transportation Infrastructure at the Tipping Point

U.S. Representative Bill Shuster spoke yesterday at the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Transportation Breakfast which was held at the Mack Truck Customer Center in Allentown, PA.  . Congressman Shuster is the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He acknowledged that the condition of our transportation infrastructure has fallen to the point where it is having a serious effect on our economic growth and global competitiveness. Our current funding legislation known as MAP 21 has not generated sufficient funds to maintain our current programs and will expire in September 2014. The Congressman indicated that they are looking at all potential funding sources. Congressman Charlie Dent also spoke briefly at the meeting discussing the need for a long term approach to solving this funding problem. He also indicated that the Northeast Rail Corridor should be upgraded to help ease congestion on our highways.

Congressman Shuster also discussed the Water Resources Development Act which is moving throught he Senate and will need to move through the House. This bill provides funding for ports, harbors, and inland waterways which are also in desperate need of a stable funding source.

The Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce outlines is support for a long term and flexible funding plan for transportation infrastructure. Copy this link into your browser to see the Policy.