Environmental Protection

From the Editors

Operating utilities is nothing new for U.S. cities. For well over a century, the majority of local governments in our country have taken on the responsibility of providing their citizens drinking water and wastewater treatment services. In most cases, municipalities have received the funding to operate these water and wastewater utilities from a mix of governmental funding and user fees paid by the citizens who were recipients of the water and wastewater services.

Likewise, local governments have been dealing with stormwater since the late 1800s, when many of them started building combined sewers to convey and dispose of sanitary sewage and stormwater. The funding for these systems was provided by general revenue funds and not user fees from citizens. As time went on, municipalities began to separate storm flows from wastewater flows through the use of separate storm sewer and sanitary sewer systems. Basically, these early separate storm sewer systems, which included roadside ditches, gutters and concrete and grass lined open channels, were created in order to discharge stormwater quickly.

Now it appears that cities are starting to combine both skill sets by pioneering a new type of utility dedicated to stormwater management. According to Andrew Reese, PE, vice president of AMEC Earth & Environmental, and coauthor of the best-selling textbook Municipal Stormwater Management (Lewis Publishers), municipal stormwater management programs are presently in transition in our country. The demands of aging infrastructure, more stringent stormwater quality regulations, increasing citizen expectations, new technology, and the aggregate effects of urban sprawl, all combine together to overtax municipalities' scarce financial resources that are dedicated to stormwater management.

One of the big drivers in pushing U.S. cities to rethink their stormwater management programs is the relatively recent passage of two federal stormwater management rules. Published in 1990, Phase I of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) stormwater regulations pertains to operators of large and medium municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s). Under the Phase I rules, large MS4s that serve a population of 250,000 or more or medium MS4s that serve a population of 100,000 or more, but less than 250,000, are required to obtain NPDES permits and manage their stormwater discharges. In 1999, Phase II regulations were enacted that require certain regulated small MS4s, which serve populations of less than 100,000, to obtain stormwater management permits. For more information on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) NPDES regulations, go to www.nafsma.org ). In the report, the authors promote a variety of funding methods and mechanisms that reflect a mix of federal, state and local sources: service fees; general revenue appropriations; special user fees; bonding for capital improvements; capitalization recovery fees; impact fees; developer extension/latecomer fees; and federal and state funding opportunities such as grants, loans and cooperative programs. The guidance also lists the four rate structure concepts or methodologies that are typically used in the more than 500 communities that have already established stormwater utilities. These local governments base their stormwater utility fees on the following criteria: impervious area; a combination of impervious area and gross area; impervious area and the percentage of imperviousness; and gross property area and the intensity of development.

In order for newly emerging stormwater utilities to be successful, they need to have adequate, stable, and equitable funding to support stormwater programs that are sure to become increasingly comprehensive. Part of this process will require building support though educating citizens and key stakeholders that stormwater -- when properly managed -- can be a great resource to their communities. Despite its many challenges, stormwater can enhance communities by creating and/or restoring wetlands, recharging groundwater, and being captured to meet water supply needs.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2006 issue of Water & Wastewater Products, Vol. 6, No. 4.

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.

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