Stormwater FAQs

  1. What is stormwater? 
    Stormwater is the surface hydrologic response from an area due to a precipitation event, or meteorological event such as a snowmelt event, and does not include baseflow.
  2. Why do we need to manage stormwater? 
    As the saying goes, we all live downstream. It is much more expensive to clean up polluted water for drinking than it is to use clean water. Furthermore, too much sediment and fertilizers cover up fish habitats and can cause algae blooms which use up the oxygen the fish need to survive. Increased quantities of stormwater also pose a major problem in urban areas. Stormwater cannot infiltrate impervious surfaces such as roads, roofs, parking lots, and driveways so it runs quickly into the storm drain or stream. This large volume of fast-moving water picks up more pollutants and washes them directly into our streams.
  3. Aren’t sewers and storm drains the same thing?
    No. They are two separate systems. Wastewater from University buildings travels through the sewer system (underground pipes and manholes) and is treated at the University’s wastewater treatment plant before spray irrigated at the University’s living filter system where no surface runoff occurs. Stormwater runoff that enters the storm drain system can flow directly into Thompson Run or Spring Creek; however, a large part is recharged and or treated in the University’s stormwater control facilities.
  4. What is an “illicit discharge”? 
    An "illicit discharge" means any discharge to a municipal separate storm sewer that is not composed entirely of stormwater, except non-stormwater discharges defined in the Permit. Examples of illicit discharges include dumping of motor vehicle fluids, household hazardous wastes, grass clippings, leaf litter, animal wastes, or unauthorized discharges of sewage, industrial waste, restaurant wastes, or any other non-stormwater waste into a municipal separate storm sewer system. Illicit discharges can be accidental or intentional.
    EPA Fact Sheet (pdf)
  5. What is the Phase II stormwater program?
    The federal Clean Water Act requires cities and towns across the US to take steps to reduce polluted stormwater runoff. “Phase II”, requires medium and small cities within urban areas to reduce stormwater. The University’s MS4 permit is under the Phase II program.
  6. What types of stormwater facilities does the University own?
    As an educational, research, and service university, Penn State attempts to test or use all scientifically-based stormwater management facilities. The University Park campus conveyance system consists of over 73 miles of storm pipes ranging in size from 6” to 72” in diameter, swales, and thousands of inlets and manholes. The University also owns approximately 200 stormwater management facilities that control runoff peak rates, water quality, and/or volume. These facilities consist of dams, surface ponds, subsurface detention facilities, rain gardens, green roofs, bioswales, infiltration systems, hydrodynamic structures, and rain harvesting and use systems.
  7. Who pays for stormwater at the University? 
    All new stormwater facilities are generally paid for using general funds, in other words, students. Projects such as new buildings that require stormwater management facilities are paid for by the project. Once constructed, operational costs are covered by major maintenance funds for Educational and General Buildings, or by the building owner in the case of Athletic Facilities or Housing and Foods Facilities. The storm drain system (inlets, manholes, and major conveyance pipes) become the responsibility of the University’s Utility Services Group.
  8. Where does the University get its potable water? 
    Penn State University owns and operates its own potable water system, which is supplied by two separate well fields. The University does not get its water from College Township or the State College Borough but does have interconnections with these systems for emergencies.
  9. Why does the University have a Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit? 
    While the University is not a municipality and in fact cannot legally adopt any ordinances, the NPDES Phase II program required universities to apply for their own permits if they were included in an EPA-designed urban area.
  10. How much is the University’s stormwater system worth? 
    While there isn’t an exact value, the entire system is generally considered to be worth well in excess of $100,000,000.00.
  11. Why doesn’t the University use porous pavement parking lots? 
    The University has had several porous “asphalt” pavements as well as porous concretes. At the University Park Campus, porous asphalt pavement is no longer used for parking lots due to two failures and the risks associated with their use. Porous asphalt pavement is still used at some of the Commonwealth Campuses. The University still maintains one porous asphalt pavement surface at its North Residence Hall’s basketball court, which is used for teaching purposes.
  12. Does the University have any green roofs? 
    Yes, the University currently has 15 green roofs (12 at the University Park campus) with a total coverage of over 3.5 acres.
  13. Does the University have any reuse cisterns? 
    The University currently has four reuse cisterns. Two of these systems are used to flush building toilets and two supply irrigation needs to landscaped areas. Typically, reuse systems are very expensive and have high operational costs, which is difficult to justify in a water-rich environment.
  14. Why doesn’t the University promote infiltration practices? 
    While some groups may promote the use of small infiltration systems in dense urban areas, the University simply feels that engineered infiltration should not be done everywhere, but rather should be located using sound science and based on the region's soils and geology. Penn State likely infiltrates more stormwater runoff than any equivalent-sized area in the country. The University aggressively protects and uses natural recharge areas, which are protected by the University. Approximately one-half of all runoff from the University Park campus is recharged and never reaches any stream as surface runoff. In addition, several hundred million gallons annually of off-site surface runoff from private property, municipal, and PennDOT sources also drain onto the University’s property where it's managed and or recharged.