Penn State's MS4 Program

View of a street submerged in stormwaterThe University has joined forces with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PaDEP) to improve the quality of stormwater run-off from Penn State property. The DEP is requiring all designated communities and other entities, such as Penn State, which operate separate stormwater systems, to implement stormwater management programs. All members of the Penn State community can help with these stormwater improvement efforts. If faculty, staff, and students can learn to make some small behavioral changes, their individual actions can have a positive effect on the water quality of our watershed.

Polluted stormwater runoff is commonly transported through Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4s), from which it is often discharged untreated into local water bodies. The storm sewer system consists of underground pipes, inlets, manholes, swales, and stormwater management facilities. To prevent harmful pollutants from being washed or dumped into an MS4, operators must obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit and develop a stormwater management program.

Phase I of the MS4 Program, issued in 1990, required medium and large cities or certain counties with populations of 100,000 or more to obtain NPDES permit coverage for their stormwater discharges. Phase II, in 1999, required regulated small MS4s in urbanized areas, as well as small MS4s outside the urbanized areas that are designated by the permitting authority (PaDEP in Pennsylvania), to obtain NPDES permit coverage for their stormwater discharges. The University fell under the Phase II program and received its first MS4 permit from PaDEP in 2003.

NPDES MS4 permits are generally issued for 5 years unless extended by PaDEP. The original permits in 2003 were developed by PaDEP to allow the municipality to discover what stormwater facilities may have existed in their jurisdictions and develop their programs over time during the first permit cycle. The permits required a program that included six minimum control measures (MCMs) consisting of Public Education and Outreach, Public Involvement and Participation, Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination, Construction Site Stormwater Control, Post Construction Stormwater Management, and Pollution Prevention and Good Housekeeping. In 2013 and 2014 the permits increased in the level of complexity and documentation required for each of the six MCMs. Additionally, the new permits included provisions for MS4s with Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) or located within the Chesapeake Bay. A TMDL is the calculated maximum amount of a specific pollutant that a waterbody can receive and still meet its water quality standards.

In 2020 the University was issued a new MS4 permit that became effective on July 1, 2020. In addition to the original six MCMs, the current MS4 permit has requirements for water impaired for metals (Appendix A), waters impaired for pathogens (Appendix B), waters impaired for priority organic compounds (Appendix C), waters located within the Chesapeake Bay (Appendix D), waters impaired for nutrients and/or sediment (Appendix E), and/or waters with a defined TMDL (Appendix F). In the Spring Creek watershed area of the University’s property, only Appendices D and E apply and are within the permits.

The University developed a comprehensive Centre Region MS4 Partners Pollutant Reduction Plan (PRP) that addresses the required Chesapeake Bay (Appendix D) and impaired waters for nutrient and/or sediment requirements (Appendix E) in the Spring Creek and Spruce Creek watersheds jointly with the local MS4 partners. The Spring Creek MS4 Partners that developed the PRP consist of the University, the State College Borough, and College, Harris, Ferguson, and Patton Townships. The MS4 Partners also maintain a stormwater website which can be found here.

A copy of the University’s MS4 permit can be found here

Because of the complexity and nuisances of the MS4 permit and its requirements, anyone proposing to reference or propose coordination with the local MS4 Partners, including the University, is strongly urged to first contact your municipality's MS4 representative. A copy of the MS4 six (6) Partners PRP can be found here.

The University’s Annual MS4 Status Reports, program documents, and records are available for review at the Office of Physical Plant during normal business hours by appointment.