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Pennsylvania State Rules & Regulations

Clean Streams Law

The Clean Streams Law was created in 1937 to regulate the discharge of sewage, industrial waste or any substance, which causes or contributes to pollution, into the waters of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The law was amended several times, including in the 1960s to add water quality standards.  In the late 1970s and 1980, the Clean Streams law was amended to align its requirements more closely with the federal Clean Water Act

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has delegated authority in Pennsylvania to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to enforce Clean Water Act requirements, including the issuance of National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Systems (NPDES) permits and the enforcement of water-related environmental regulations.  The DEP accomplishes this goal through the Clean Streams Law and enforcement of the Combined Sewer Overflow Policy guidelines.

Under the law, if the DEP finds that the “acquisition, construction, repair, alteration, completion, extension or operation of a sewer system or treatment facility is necessary to prevent pollution or a public health nuisance,” the department may order a municipality to take action on the issue.  Municipalities may be required to file a report pertaining to sewer systems or treatment facilities they own, operate, or maintain and any sewage discharges originating from those sources within the municipality. The report must contain plans, facts, and information that will help DEP determine whether existing sewer systems and treatment facilities are adequate to meet present or future needs.

If deemed appropriate, DEP may issue consent orders requiring municipalities to “undertake studies, to prepare and submit plans, to acquire, construct, repair, alter, complete, extend, or operate a sewer system or treatment facility, or to negotiate with other municipalities for combined or joint sewer systems or treatment facilities.” These orders may also prohibit any sewer connections, commonly referred to as sewer tap-ins, for newly constructed businesses or residential developments that would result in an increase in sewage discharged into an existing sewer system or to a treatment facility.

More information on the Clean Streams Law

Pennsylvania Sewage Facilities Act 537

Malfunctioning sewage disposal systems can pollute public and private drinking water sources, which can pose a serious threat to public health and the environment.  The Pennsylvania Sewage Facilities Act 537 was passed in the 1960s to “correct existing sewage disposal problems and prevent future problems.”  The PA Dept of Environmental Resources administers the sewage planning portions of the Act and can order an update of the municipal plan if it is deemed inadequate to meet the current system needs due to capacity limits for wet weather or new development.

A local agency—in this area, the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD)—administers the Act 537 on-lot sewage disposal program (septic system permitting)  

Major provisions of Act 537 include:

  • All municipalities must develop and implement an official sewage plan that addresses their present and future sewage disposal needs.  
  • If a municipality begins a new land development project or its sewage disposal needs change, it must submit a revised plan.
  • DEP reviews and approves official plans and any subsequent revisions, and issues construction permits, if necessary. 
  • DEP provides grants and reimbursements to municipalities and local agencies for 50% of the costs associated with the Act 537 planning and permitting programs.

Locally, ALCOSAN is developing a large-scale regional wet weather plan that generally reflects the current and future needs of its service area municipalities.  This plan will be submitted to the municipalities for adoption as their Act 537 revision once completed.

However, municipalities must submit a specific plan when a permit is necessary for their own sewer system improvements, such as for the construction of a pump station or wet weather storage treatment facility in their community, the beginning of a new development of more than 250 homes or the utilization of an on-lot disposal system.

More information on the Pennsylvania Sewage Facilities Act 537.