Six amendments passed by the York City Council on Aug. 16 make technical revisions to the stormwater management ordinance.
They were very dry and passed without much discussion or controversy, making stormwater management one of the more controversial issues facing the city.
And besides, the city couldn’t do much about it. The changes were mandated by the state Department of Environmental Protection, and they were intended to improve water quality in rivers, streams and, ultimately, the Chesapeake Bay.
However, sticking to the changes was a ban on washing your car in the city under certain circumstances.
Yes, it’s now illegal – sort of – to wash your car in York City.
Technically, you can still wash your car, but you can’t use any cleaners or soaps — considered “green” — when you’re trying to make your ride look nicer.
You can, depending on the city, rinse your car with water, or wash it with soap on a pad covered in grass or gravel. But you can’t use cleaners or soaps on streets, alleys, driveways or any other paved, impervious surface that allows wastewater to flow into storm drains.
Word is just getting out about the ban, and the city is expecting a blowout.
“A lot,” said Lettice Brown, the city’s stormwater management coordinator.
The city’s strategy for handling that blowback?
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“We’re going to have to do a lot of education on this,” said Mayor Michael Helfrich.
Just to be clear, neither the city administration nor the city council had anything to do to ban, ordered by the DEP.
Even suburban municipalities have car wash restrictions in their ordinances. West Manchester Township Manager Kelly Kelch said her township allows residential car washes if there are “no pollutants” in the discharge. He said the York Township and Manchester ordinances have similar language.
But suburban municipalities see more of an impact on water quality from lawn manure than in stormwater management systems, he said.
In a publication, the DEP explained, “There’s no problem with washing your car. It’s just how and where you do it.”
DEP spokesman Jamar Thrasher explained that previously, the DEP had “permitted water discharges from individual car washes.” However, this year’s model ordinance, written to comply with clean water standards, was changed to allow only car washes that drain into storm drains without soap or solvents, which are considered pollutants under state clean water. Stream Law. “Residential car wash water with cleaning agents can be discharged into sanitary sewers or vegetated areas such as lawns,” he said.
When you wash your car in a driveway, or on the street, or in a garage that doesn’t have drains, the wastewater flows into storm drains. That water then flows, untreated, into local streams and eventually makes its way into the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake. Most soaps and car cleaning solutions contain phosphates and other chemicals that degrade water quality and harm wildlife habitat.
The DEP recommends that if you must have a clean vehicle, use a commercial car wash, either a self-serve or machine wash, because the water used in those operations flows to water treatment plants or is recycled.
Or you can wash your car on your lawn or on a gravel pad where the water can seep into the ground – the ground acts as a filter to remove harmful pollutants.
York isn’t the only municipality to adopt a car wash ban. The DEP estimates that about 950 municipalities in the state will have to adopt the change by the end of September to stay in compliance with state law.
Brown said the city does not cite first-time offenders, seeking to educate rather than punish. Subsequent offenses may result in citations, fines determined by the District Magistrate Judge.
Helfrecht, who served as Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper before being elected mayor, said the ban may be an inconvenience, but the goal is beneficial.
“This is clearly a move in the right direction for our waterways,” he said.
Columnist/reporter Mike Argento has been on the York Daily Record staff since 1982. Reach him at [email protected]