Municipal Storm Sewers (MS4)

How does MS4 Affect You as a Resident or a Business Owner?

MS4 is the Municipal Separate Storm Water Sewer System. The MS4's are publicly owned and maintained systems to collect and move stormwater that eventually discharges into creeks, streams and rivers. These storm sewers are separate from the more familiar waste water-sewer systems. Water that goes down a sink or other inside drain flows to either a wastewater treatment plant or to a septic system for treatment. Water that flows through stormwater systems is not treated. 

Stormwater can be any surface water flow or runoff such as:

  • natural precipitation
  • drainage from watering grass
  • washing cars
  • runoff from roads and farm fields 

It is not just rain or snow that can cause pollutants to flow into our waterways. For example, when you wash your car on the driveway, that water, dirt, and grime ends up in the MS4 system. That's why we need to be careful with what we put into the storm sewers. The development of our community, such as shopping centers and housing developments, increases impervious coverage which then increases the rate stormwater runs off. The quicker the stormwater runs into our streams, the more prone property is to flooding.

Why is this so Important?

Stormwater, the water from rain or melting snow that does not soak into the ground, flows from rooftops, over paved areas, bare soil, and sloped lawns. Stormwater collects and transports animal waste, litter, salt, pesticides, fertilizers, oil, grease, soil and other potential pollutants which end up in our streams, lakes, rivers, wetlands and other waterways.

Nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen can cause the overgrowth of algae resulting in oxygen depletion in waterways. Toxic substances from motor vehicles and careless applications of pesticides and fertilizers threaten water quality and can kill fish and other aquatic life. Bacteria from animal wastes and improper connections to storm sewer systems can make lakes and waterways unsafe for wading, swimming and fish consumption.

The MS4 Program

The purpose of the MS4 program is to reduce the number of pollutants to the maximum extent practicable (MEP) from the waterways as well as to protect the water quality of those streams and rivers. Those pollutants include nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment. By addressing stormwater streams such as the Conodoguinet and LeTort, the health of those waterways is preserved and in some areas greatly improved.

North Middleton Township will need to comply with the water quality requirements set forth in the Federal Clean Water Act. Several Cumberland County communities have already been mandated to comply. Those communities are more developed and populated than North Middleton. With the 2010 census, the Township reached the threshold for population density. This translates to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which enforces the Clean Water Act, to notify the Township that in the near future they will need to meet the requirements of the Act.

The Township has already begun the process by working with our neighboring municipalities and educating staff on the regulations. Staff is identifying and mapping stormwater inlets, outfalls and pipes within the populated areas. Some steps that are already taken:

  • The Township complex is in compliance by storing the road salt in the salt dome. This reduces water dissolving the salt which would flow into the Conodoguinet and affect the aquatic life.
  • Another example of compliancy is that fuel pumps are covered. The cover assists in reducing any leaking from running off quickly in the event a leakage would occur.

You will be hearing more about MS4 in the future. In the meantime, there are ways a homeowner or a business owner can help:

  • You can build water gardens or plant trees on your property.
  • Reduce the fertilizer you use on your grass and outdoor plants.
  • When watering outdoor plants, water slowly allowing the water to seep into the ground. This not only reduces water runoff but increases root growth thus you have a stronger plant.
  1. Only rain belongs in the drain! Do not dump anything down storm drains. Be sure to clear away leaves and debris.
  2. Wash your car over your lawn or gravel. This allows the ground to neutralize the soap and grime from your car rather than sending it directly to our creeks and streams. Use biodegradable or non-toxic soap that is phosphate-free. You can also take your car to a commercial car wash where wastewater is either recycled or treated.
  3. Keep your car well-maintained. Fix any fluid leaks promptly and make sure to clean up any spills. If you perform your own automotive maintenance, automotive repair shops will accept 5 gallons of used motor oil per resident per day.
  4. Disconnect your downspouts. You can plant a rain garden to absorb stormwater runoff. You can also use a rain barrel to help collect runoff from your roof and gutters to be used on your lawn or garden.
  5. Use lawn or garden chemicals sparingly. Choose organic alternatives when possible or those with low nitrogen and phosphorus numbers and check the weather forecast to avoid applying them before a storm.
  6. Mow your lawn less often. Try to keep your lawn at least 3" in height to minimize week growth, reduce the need for watering, and decrease the likelihood of pests. Leaving clippings on the lawn can also help block weeks and retain moisture. Sweep your sidewalks and driveway rather than hosing them down.
  7. Plant native, low maintenance plants and grasses. They often have longer root systems, which reduce the number of chemicals and water needed.
  8. Pick up your pet waste. Bacterial, parasites and viruses contained in pet waste are a health risk to other animals and people, especially children.
  9. Do not over-water your lawn and garden. Keep sprinklers on a timer to avoid pooling water.
  10. Use less ice melt. Do not over-apply salt. Choose a more environmentally-friendly alternative when possible.
  11. Choose paving materials that allow water to soak through. Use bricks, gravel, cobbles, natural stone, or permeable pavers instead of asphalt or concrete when possible.
  12. Do not drain your pool, spa, or fountain into a storm drain. Allow chlorine to dissipate for several days. Test the water to ensure the residual chlorine is zero before slowly draining to a landscaped area. You may be able to drain to a sanitary sewer. Contact your local municipality for more information.
  13. Keep your septic system well-maintained to prevent leaks. A leaking septic system can leach harmful bacteria into storm sewer systems and local waterways.
  14. Walk, bike, or share a ride when possible. Driving causes air pollution which contaminates the rain and ends up in our streams and lakes.
  15. Install a rain barrel or cistern to capture roof runoff. This helps prevent stormwater from reaching waterways and reduces the potential for pollution. Use the captured water on your lawn or garden. Keep the barrel emptied to not attract mosquitoes. Check with your local municipality to install it properly.