HERMITAGE — A state-mandated program is giving Hermitage officials a chance to be proactive with their stormwater system. And the firm doing the work said the city's storm system is performing well.

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DAVID DYE | Herald

Environmental scientists Sara Rair, left, and Gary Geisinger, of Wallace Pancher Group, inspect a stormwater outflow along Maple Drive in Hermitage.

The Municipal Separate Stormwater Sewer System, or MS4, is required by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for municipalities such as Hermitage to both map their stormwater systems and inspect the outflows, with permits issued every five years.

With the next permit cycle ending in March 2023, work is already under way to map Hermitage's stormwater system, said Daniel Wallace of the Wallace Pancher Group.

"There's still some work to do, but we'll have everything completed by then," Wallace said.

Last year, Wallace Pancher Group started with an area covering Patagonia in the northwest corner of Hermitage. In the Patagonia region alone were about 79 outflows, where water is deposited into a stream or river, while the region around the Bobby Run Watershed had about 200 outflows so far, Wallace said.

The permits are required by DEP to ensure that municipalities use separate systems for both sewer and stormwater, compared to older systems that used to collect both in the same system. However, such systems are more common in areas such as Cleveland, Ohio, or Pittsburgh, said Matthew Coppage, an engineer with Wallace Pancher Group.

"When you have a sewer system, the water is collected and then treated, whereas a stormwater system collects the water before depositing it into a stream," Coppage said.

Inspections of the outflows can't be carried out during or immediately after rain because the increased water flow could prevent inspectors from noticing signs of pollutants, Coppage said.

"If you have all of this flowing water you can't really tell what's in it, but if it's dry and there's something flowing through, then you know that shouldn't be there. Or if the water flows overland from the outflow to the stream, then you can look at the pipe or the ground and tell if there's a sheen or an odor if someone's dumping something such as oil into the system," he said.

No pollutants have been found in the stormwater system so far, nor have any major problems with the pipes themselves. Despite the heavy rain earlier this year in May and June, Wallace said the system performed as it should.

The main issue encountered during inspections was some minor clogging, which is why part of the inspection process by DEP includes an educational component — to help property owners avoid inadvertently clogging the system, Wallace said.

"I know it might seem like the easy thing to just brush grass clippings or leaves into the drain and then it's out of sight and out of mind, but that can collect in the pipes and maybe someone else's house gets flooded down the line," he said.

But there is more to the MS4 program than just meeting the standards set by DEP. Since crews are already mapping and inspecting the stormwater systems, Wallace said the engineering firm is also creating maps that can be used by city officials.

Aside from dividing the different areas of Hermitage into quadrants, the quadrants are broken down into grids. These grids are again broken down with outlines of the stormwater systems, catch basins, storm drains, swales and outflows, which are all numbered for easier reference in case the Hermitage Street Department gets called out for repairs, he said.

"The city's been very proactive with maintaing the system, so when our crews are doing the inspections for DEP, they're also looking at what diameter the pipe is, what the condition is, what material the pipe is made of," he said. "And because everything is mapped and labeled, that alone can save the city on work hours if the street department was ever called out for a problem."

To help keep people informed on the dos and don'ts of the city's stormwater system, a poster and brochures with information are available to the public at the Hermitage Municipal Building at 800 N. Hermitage Road. Some of the major points include:

• Use as little fertilizer as possible and keep it away from storm drains.

• Wash cars on either grass or gravel, or take them to a professional car wash service to avoid soapy water entering the stormwater system.

• Clean up pet waste in bags and dispose of them in the garbage.

Like David L. Dye on Facebook or email him at ddye@sharonherald.com.