Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection is working to speed up the training of several new water inspectors, in an effort to bring water-safety measures across the state up to snuff.
The move comes after the federal Environmental Protection Agency notified the state that it is failing to enforce water safety standards and urged DEP officials to seek emergency funding to fix the situation.
The DEP recently hired two staff members, and officials said they’re expediting training on four more.
But the department needs far more than six new inspectors to meet federal water safety standards.That number is closer to 30. And in order to cover salaries and training, the cash-strapped DEP is trying to introduce a fee on public water systems based on the numbers of people they serve as well as higher costs for permits.
That’s projected to raise about $7.5 million, which would be enough to bring water inspections up to code. But the review process for new fees could take up to two years.
David Hess — who was DEP secretary under Gov. Tom Ridge, and now works for lobbying firm Crisci and Associates — said that, for now, expedited training is about the best the department can do.
“DEP just wasn’t getting to facilities — sometimes not even once in three to five years,” he said. “And that’s really unacceptable, so the sooner they can get these folks capable of doing inspections, the better.”
The DEP’s funding has been nearly cut in half since 2002. Federal officials say Safe Drinking Water Act violations in the commonwealth have almost doubled over the last five years.