Stormwater runoff that does not infiltrate into the soils usually flows over impervious surfaces and ends up in a public sewer system, where it is treated and released to a waterway. Maintenance of the distribution system and operation of the wastewater treatment facility imposes costs on a community, usually recaptured through municipal property taxes or a sewer fee. Another financial approach is to create a stormwater utility, which charges landowners for the treatment of the captured stormwater and for the operations and maintenance of the stormwater collection system. The utility would impose its fee based on how much stormwater is being generated by each landowner, readily calculated from the amount of impervious surface on the parcel and amount of annual average precipitation in the community. Any stormwater diverted from the sewer system through infiltration or temporary retention (such as from a green roof or by using rain barrels) could be given a credit against the utility fee equal to the averted collection and treatment costs.
A utility fee system gives greater transparency as to the true societal costs of managing stormwater runoff, rather than incorporating stormwater management into a sewer fee that would also include wastewater management costs. Once people better understand the costs of stormwater management, they would have an economic incentive to employ practices to divert more stormwater from the collection system, thus increasing its effective capacity without having to continually pay more money to expand it.
Since people generally don't like paying taxes, they may not like paying an additional stormwater utility fee either.
Example 1: Downer’s Grove, Illinois
Description: Website clearly lays out fee structure while listing impervious surfaces and other needed information.
Example 2: Champaign, Illinois
Description: Website for the Champaign Stormwater Utility Fee explaining need, costs, and other considerations.
Example 3: Mt. Lebanon, PA
Description: Mt. Lebanon’s website explaining the ordinance and providing important links.
Photo Credit: City of Champaign