Lower Macungie Township Environmental Analysis


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Lower Macungie Township Environmental Analysis

  1. 1. Metz 1Lower Macungie Township, located in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, is a wonderfulplace to live. With a current population estimated to be around 31,000, the community iswelcoming, the schools are great, and the natural features are pleasant.1Two streams run throughthis township: Little Lehigh Creek and Swabia Creek, both offshoots of the Lehigh River. Theyare used for recreational purposes such as fishing for trout in the spring. This community alsotwo environmental conservation zones: South Mountain Conservation Area and the PoolWildlife Sanctuary. These places preserve the natural habitats of the wildlife, providing a safearea where the environment cannot be disturbed.Within the last few decades, however, Lower Macungie Township has become incrediblyurbanized. Total residential land use increased from 32.2% in 2007 to 50% in 2009.2Thismassive increase in development has had adverse affects on the environment of this township.Effects of urbanization on the streams in this neighborhood should be considered the highlight ofthis community’s problems. First and foremost, this community needs an improved storm watermanagement system. After that, Best Management Practices need to begin being properlyimplemented, both with existing commercial areas and future development sites. This townshipis also the home to the Lehigh Valley South Industrial Park, which contributes a large amount ofimpervious surface to the flooding problem. While not as immediately pressing a concern,citizens in Lower Macungie Township need to become more aware of the effects that theiractions are having on the ground beneath their feet. This does not just include the residents, butthe trash collectors as well.1“Sewer Capacity Assurance & Rehabilitation Program” lowermac.com, October 2009,http://www.lowermac.com/library/file/public_works/LCA%20SCARP%20Approach%20Outline%20FINAL%20(11-3-09).pdf.2“Lower Macungie Township Statistics” lowermac.com. May 2009.http://www.lowermac.com/clients/LMT/client_files/file/Statistics/About%20Us%20Municipal%20Profile%20updated.pdf.
  2. 2. Metz 2The massive, seemingly unending amount of residential development has had an adverseeffect on the stream systems in Lower Macungie Township. The truth of this is obvious toanybody who has driven past the Little Lehigh Creek. This stream runs parallel to Spring CreekRoad, a main thoroughfare of traffic-heavy Route 100. Whenever it rains, this road becomesflooded. Large sections of this road become covered in river water, and cars are forced to makeotherwise unnecessary detours. Spring Creek Road is not even right next to the path of thestream; the Little Lehigh River is at least several hundred feet away from the road. Despite thislarge amount of grassy setback, the road still becomes flooded. Increased urbanization hasaffected the hydrological balance of the stream. Flood peaks and frequency have both increasedto the point that it has become a problem. The geomorphology of the river has been affected aswell. Consider this picture. Much of the natural canopy has been eroded away to the flooding,which causes instability in the river system. Upon closer inspection of the tree on the right handside, we can see that the roots have been exposed from unnaturally high levels of erosion fromthe sides of this stream system. In the middle of the picture on the far side of the stream, we see araised patch of light brown grassy underbrush. Directly underneath this is a mud cliff almostperpendicular with the level of the water. This disturbance of the natural borders of the stream
  3. 3. Metz 3contributes to increased levels of flood peaks farther down the stream system. This stream haslost much of its pool-riffle structure, showing that the natural processes of the stream are offbalance. In Winding Brook neighborhood, farther downstream from this photograph, thecommunity playground frequently gets flooded. The high level of impervious cover surroundingthis stream suggests that it will enter a critical condition relatively soon if left unchecked.Apart from the visual observations, this stream has been affected in other ways as well.As of 2008, the Little Lehigh Creek was placed on Pennsylvania’s list of impaired waters, inaccordance with their 303(d) legislation obligations.3The causes for impairment are listed asurban runoff/storm sewers, siltation, and agriculture. Swabia Creek, a smaller stream branchingoff of the Little Lehigh Creek, was impaired for the same reasons ten years sooner. Both streamshave been given thirteen years Total Maximum Daily Load goals.4By looking at the reasons forimpairment, it is clear that increased urbanization has caused increased storm water runoff andstream degradation that is affecting the environment of the stream itself, as well as thesurrounding areas. Even the wildlife is adversely affected. One fisherman commented that thetrout he normally tries to catch have been fewer and farther in-between than in previous years.Little Lehigh Creek and Swabia Creek affect more than just fishermen, however. LittleLehigh is designated as a potable water supply, and it should be maintained as such. For most ofthe neighborhood developments in this area, the water supplier is Lehigh Valley Authority. TheLower Macungie water supply comes from deep wells drilled into local groundwater supplies.The LVA does a good job at testing the water supply for inorganic, radioactive, volatile organic,3“2010 Pennsylvania Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report - Streams, Category 5Waterbodies, Pollutants Requiring a TMDL” Integrated Water Quality Report 2010, Date Accessed: April 7, 2011,http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/water_quality_standards/10556/integrated_water_quality_report_-_2010/682562.4Ibid.
  4. 4. Metz 4and various other contaminants.5Currently, the water supply passes inspection with flyingcolors, with little more than chlorine treatment being administrated. However, areas in andaround Lower Macungie Township, including Alburtis, Zionsville, and Vera Cruz rely directlyon private well systems. The surface river systems need to be protected upstream to help preventcontamination of groundwater watersheds in the areas mentioned above.The increased storm water runoff created from rapid development has to be monitoredfrom an infrastructural standpoint as well. Approximately 55% of Lower Macungie Township isconnected to sewer drainage systems. This system, known as the Western Lehigh Interceptor,connects to the Leigh County Authority conveyance system and is transported to Allentown’sKline Island wastewater treatment plant.6This means that all of the drainage systems in LowerMacungie drain into the same pipe system and are transported to a facility which is alreadycovering the load of densely populated Allentown city. The increased storm water back up isplacing a heavy strain on this treatment facility; most of the residents, however, fail to realizethat. The township’s Environmental Advisory Council has already taken action to address theissue. In a joint agreement with other Western Lehigh municipalities, they have commencedwork on a corrective action plan entitled SCARP (Sewer Capacity And Reassurance Program)which has been designed to address the inflow problem. SCARP is a countywide plan to evaluateand repair the municipal sewerage systems on a house by house basis.7SCARP workers travelfrom house to house to inspect the conditions of the household’s water system. More often than5“Water Quality Report 2009- Central Lehigh Division” lehighcountyauthority.org, Date Accessed: April 8, 2011,http://www.lehighcountyauthority.org/files/CLD.pdf.6“Official Sewage Facilities Plan Revision” Lehighcountyauthority.org, last modified: November 17, 2009,http://www.lehighcountyauthority.org/files/LCA-SCARP-PublicNotice.pdf.7“Sewer Capacity Assurance & Rehabilitation Program” lowermac.com, October 2009,http://www.lowermac.com/library/file/public_works/LCA%20SCARP%20Approach%20Outline%20FINAL%20(11-3-09).pdf.
  5. 5. Metz 5not, they find that the system needs to be repaired. SCARP is expected to cost $10,132,000.8Partof SCARP is to inform the community of the hazards of wet weather inflow, and whatcontributes to it: patio drain areas, exterior stairway drain, roof downspouts, and basementflooding. The main conveyance system for Lower Macungie was built in the 1960s and 1970s;needless to say, it is about time this system got revised. In addition to SCARP, theEnvironmental Advisory Council is currently drafting a zoning ordinance to protect at minimum75 feet of the wetland buffer areas surrounding the Little Lehigh. The ordinance will prohibitconstruction and dirt removal to prevent the flood plain from being further degraded.Apart from directly repairing the existing sanitary water system, Lower Macungie needsto encourage the implementation of Best Management Practices (BMPs). Structural BMPs havepotential to curb the effects of storm water runoff. Detention ponds need to be properly dispersedthroughout the township. While there are forty one detention ponds in the area (according to themap), they are clustered together. Not every neighborhood or commercial zone has their owndetention pond. Instead, the Western Lehigh Interceptor drainage system transports that water tothe next nearest detention pond. This should be changed; if every neighborhood had its owndetention pond, the amount of storm water back up would be significantly decreased. In thewords of Mr. Laliberte, resident of Ancient Oaks, a neighborhood without a detention pond, “itseems as if water is designed to simply flood straight into the river.” Another structural BMPwhich could be improved upon are bio-retentions, which are areas of plants and grass in betweenparking spaces to absorb water. These bio-retention areas provide a pervious surface where stormwater can properly seep into the ground, in a natural, vertical movement. The photograph on thenext page was taken at the Trexlertown Shopping Center, at the northern edge of Lower8“Official Sewage Facilities Plan Revision” Lehighcountyauthority.org, last modified: November 17, 2009,http://www.lehighcountyauthority.org/files/LCA-SCARP-PublicNotice.pdf.
  6. 6. Metz 6Macungie. This large parking lot is broken up by elevated platforms of gravel which areevidently used to direct people in the correct direction while driving. Currently, the onlyrainwater caught by these structures is the rain that falls directly on it. These mounts of gravelcould be replaced with surface level bio-retention areas. These flat zones of grass would providepervious absorption areas that would significantly decrease horizontal flow of water. Thepresence of grass and trees would also slow down the process of natural rainfall, allowing thepresent rainwater drainage system to transport more manageable loads of water at a time. Thebio-retention areas could also be expanded to cover a few more feet of surface area; largesections of this shopping center’s parking lot are never used. Those unused sections amount tolittle more than contributing to the impervious surface areas in this county.Nonstructural BMPs, which are more involved with the planning stage of development,also need to be considered in this township. For future neighborhood construction sites,developers in Lower Macungie should consider decreasing the widths of the roads going throughthe neighborhoods. In Danfield Run neighborhood, I measured the streets width to beapproximately 29 feet, 4inches across. Based off of my Dodge Caravan, the average car is about6 feet wide. This means that in most developments in Lower Macungie, there is potentially roomfor four cars side by side on these roads. There is no need for that much road space inside theneighborhoods. Every house has a driveway, so the extra parking space clearly is not necessary.In Brookside Villa, the streets get up to 37.5 feet wide; this unnecessary amount of impervious
  7. 7. Metz 7surface should not be present in future construction zones. Along the same lines, house setbacksfrom the street should be decreased as well to shorten driveway length. Fortunately, bycomparing Winding Brook development (built in the 1970s) with Penn’s Meadow (built in2007); it appears that developers are beginning to take decreased setback into consideration.Pervious pavement, another planning stage BMP, is currently not present in Lower Macungie butshould be implemented. Future developments should also consider using clustered developmentpractices when mapping out a neighborhood. Most current neighborhoods in Lower Macungiehave properties that are spread out, which consequently leaves little room for pure recreationalspace.There are several industrial plants in Lower Macungie Township that also warrantattention. Lehigh Valley South Industrial Park is the home of several large office and shippingbuildings of Johnstone Supply, Cooper Tires, and the Lehigh Valley Group. These companieshave a lot of impervious surface for the multitudes of trucks that carry shipments away from theindustrial park. Surrounding these buildings is a trench to capture storm water runoff. However,with the extent of storm water overflow present in this township, this system surrounding theindustrial park easily gets flooded out. That water then finds its way into Swabia Creek, locatednot too far off from the industrial park itself. Chemicals from the trucks and the trucksthemselves will mingle with the storm water and get into Lower Macungie’s stream system.Along the same lines, Mack Truck Corporation is located just down the road. Based onobservations from driving around this facility, there is no in-place method for redirecting stormwater to a drainage system. Undoubtedly, chemical runoff from the large truck yard flows intothe surrounding area and seeps into the groundwater system. Another industry in this township isthe Victaulic Careers factory, an international company that produces mechanical pipe joining
  8. 8. Metz 8systems.9In 2007, this factory was compelled to use non-flame-joining methods to reduceemissions of Particle Matter emanating from their factory.10This shows that Victaulic is trying tocontrol its air emissions, but it has not been completely successful. It is not a surprise to me thatwhile most of the houses built in Lower Macungie are of good quality, the single neighborhoodlocated near Victaulic appear to be of lower quality. Buckeye Pipeline Company, located at theedge of Lower Macungie is another point source to look at; this company will be discussed laterin this paper.On multiple levels, Lower Macungie citizens and businesses need to become moreeducated of how their decisions affect the environment. Some could argue that demographics arean attributing factor to the neglect of the environment. Lower Macungie is 93.8% Caucasian,with 75.3% of the jobs being in management, professionals, and sales.11The majority of thistownship falls under the middle to upper-middle class on the economic ladder; therefore, theycan afford to be wasteful. One point source is the Walmart shopping complex and the dozen orso strip mall stores that came with it. Constructed in 2001, Walmart store #2461 attractsthousands of shoppers daily. This has caused a massive increase in traffic going through LowerMacungie. This automobile volume increase increases smoke being released into the air, oil andother chemicals being washed into the groundwater, and the amount of oil being purchased.Renewable energy resources are being far outstripped by the immense quantity of cars lining upat the local Wawa, conveniently located just down the street from Walmart. As mentionedbefore, this massive shopping complex also consists of large areas of impervious surface in the9“LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)” Victaulic.com, date accessed: April 14, 2011,http://www.victaulic.com/docs/lit/wp-15.pdf.10Ibid.11“Lower Macungie Township Statistics” lowermac.com, last modified May 2009,http://www.lowermac.com/clients/LMT/client_files/file/Statistics/About%20Us%20Municipal%20Profile%20updated.pdf.
  9. 9. Metz 9form of parking lots and the sheer size of the buildings. The few commercial and recreationalzones in this township are so far apart and surrounded by main roads that most residents areforced to drive to “do” anything, further putting a strain on nonrenewable resources. Accordingto Scott Alderfer, head of the Environmental Advisory Council, Lower Macungie is the 3rdlargest/3rddensest municipality in the state. Developing the residential and commercial zones tothat extent did not come without its own environmental consequences.Citizens could also be more aware of what is actually happening with their trash andrecyclables. Trash collection is handled by a national business called Waste Management. WMcollects curbside trash and recyclables for the entire township. This waste goes to the GrandCentral Sanitary Landfill in Pen Argyl, Pennsylvania. This is a nonhazardous waste landfillabout 50 minutes northeast of the township. The downside of this landfill, where 80% of theinflow is municipal solid waste, is that it really is just a dumping ground.12There is no onsitestorage or treatment of waste prior to disposal. While this is not solely Lower Macungie’sconcern, an effort should be made to construct a resource recovery facility similar to the one inLancaster County. The benefits of this facility far outstrip the usefulness of merely dumpingwaste into a landfill, which is exactly what happens in Lower Macungie. Waste Managementruns 16 waste-to-energy plants; perhaps with some large scale organization, Lower Macungiecould take better responsibility with their waste.13These citizens do not have much input into their recycling as well. Waste Managementcollects recyclables in a single green tub placed at the curbside. This means that other thanseparating paper products, there is no sorting of materials conducted. Residents are not even12“Facility Detail” CHWMEG Inc, last modified 2011, http://www.chwmeg.org/asp/search/detail.asp?ID=268.13“Waste Management About Us” wm.com, last modified 2011, http://www.wm.com/about/index.jsp.
  10. 10. Metz 10required to rinse out or wash plastic bottles or metals, although it is suggested.14This singlestream of recycling method places little responsibility on the residents to manage their ownwaste. It was not even until 2008 that Waste Management introduced a separate, rear loadingvehicle specifically for recyclables.15While it is nice that the township provides free greenrecycle bins for its community, the residents should take a higher level of responsibility whendealing with their recyclables. From an observational note, Mr. Laliberte believes that “peoplethrow out too much trash”. While he makes an effort to recycle and reuse materials, he noticesthat most of his other neighbors put out twice the amount of trash as he does for collection. On apositive note, Lower Macungie does provide the Hinkle Transfer Yard Waste service. At thisfacility across from the township building, citizens can turn their yard recycling into mulch,which can then be reused.Other than proper solid waste management methods, citizens of Lower Macungie need tobe better informed about other ways they are adversely affecting the environment. Manyresidents like their lawns to look good (the front lawns, at any rate), so various chemicals areapplied to ensure that happens. Pesticides such as the product Round-Up are used improve theaesthetic quality of the grass. Use of this product introduces glyphosate, isoproplyamine salt,pelargonic acid and related fatty acids, and other potentially hazardous chemicals into the environment.Various groups around the township can be hired to come in and spray a chemical on the grass whichmakes it look “greener”; this unnatural alteration of the grass ecosystem introduces even morechemicals into the soil, and potentially, the groundwater. Citizens, as well as real estate developers, alsoneed to be cautious of where they decide to start digging. The Environmental Advisory Council is14“Curbside Recycling for Lower Macungie Township Residents” lowermac.com, Date Accessed: April 10, 2011,http://www.lowermac.com/library/file/public_works/Curbsite_Recycling.pdf.15“Public Works-Recycling” lowermac.com, date accessed: April 10, 2011,http://www.lowermac.com/main_public_works_recycling.cfm.
  11. 11. Metz 11beginning to create a permit system for future zoning ordinances, so people know exactly where not todig up. This has become a concern because currently, underground storage tanks are not regulated inthis township. Residents interested in landscaping have been accidently digging into underground septicsystems, tanks, and even some pipes. Digging up pipes in the township can be hazardous- particularly ifthey belong to Buckeye Pipeline Company. Buckeye Company is a network of pipelines, terminals, andstorage facilities serving major oil companies, refineries, and end users of petroleum products.16Thebulk storage terminals seen in this picture can hold up to five million barrels of refined petroleum, andthe company has a web of pipes transporting massive quantities of petroleum all across the LehighValley.17It would be disastrous for the surrounding environment if any of Buckeye’s undergroundpipelines were punctured simply because a resident was unaware of what lies beneath them. Fromdriving by, I counted over 30 of these large storage terminals in Lower Macungie, and judging from thepicture, it does not seem like the construction crew particularly cared for keeping the pre-constructionenvironment intact.Based off of the observations noted in this paper, the number one priority of this county shouldbe fixing the storm water runoff problem with the Little Lehigh Creek and Swabia Creek. These rivers16“Buckeye Partners, L.P.” fundinguniverse.com, date accessed: April 8, 2011,http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/Buckeye-Partners-LP-Company-History.html.17Ibid.
  12. 12. Metz 12frequently become over flooded affect the surrounding environment, including roads nearby. The firstthing this township should do is curb the never ending urbanization of otherwise eco-friendly plots ofland. After slowing down urbanization rates, the next highest priority should be for industries andcommercial zones to implement structural BMPs to help stop river overflowing and to preventpotentially hazardous chemicals from entering the water system. Next, nonstructural BMPS should beintegrated into the urbanization plans already in motion. Corporations such as Victaulic and WasteManagement need to improve their operating systems in order to properly “go green.” Finally, citizensof Lower Macungie need to become more aware of their environment and how much everydaypractices affect it. Driving less, not applying chemicals to simply make the grass look good, taking moreresponsibility with recycling; these are little things which could improve the environment. From theviewpoint of someone who has lived here my entire life, Lower Macungie is a wonderful township to livein. Upon closer inspection, however, it is evident that there are certain areas in this community thatcould use improved environmental planning.