If Mel Brooks added a story about the history of stormwater, perhaps it would go like this:
For a long time, it rained and people thought this was great…unless they got too much rain and then they were unhappy. Sometimes they danced around to make it rain, while next door someone else was dancing around to stop it from raining. This continued on for a few thousand years, until one day, the U.S. Congress decided that there was way more rain than necessary, created some laws about flooding, and told FEMA to get crackin’ and solve some stuff.
It was also decided that there was way too much pollution, so they told the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to also get crackin’ and solve some other stuff. In the end, the Clean Water Act was enacted and the nation’s waterways slowly started becoming better.
It would be a short vignette. There is a lot more to the actual story.
Pollution v. water quality is now in session
After regulating point source pollution (you can point at the end of a pipe and measure the pollutants coming out) since the 1970s, the EPA decided that nonpoint source pollution was still having a major impact on the water quality of our streams.
Quick Note: yes, “nonpoint source pollution” is a real phrase. It refers to pollution that is everyone’s fault. As an example, the majority of people drive vehicles or take public transportation. Over time, brake pads on those vehicles wear out and need to be replaced. What happens to those brake pads? They disintegrate…on the road. Brake pads can be made of materials such as copper, which is bad for the streams. During rain events, the copper washes into the storm sewer system, which goes to the local waterway. How many total brake pads do you think are replaced in the U.S. every year?
Once again, the U.S. Congress added new regulations to the Clean Water Act. This time the rules were regarding nonpoint source pollution, which occurred in the early 1990’s. An unfunded mandate was created stating that certain sized local government communities would be required to manage nonpoint source pollution. Note the “unfunded” part of the statement. The MS4, or Multiple Separate Storm Sewer System, rules were enacted.
Why do I care?
The MS4 program deals with nonpoint source pollution and has various requirements to help improve water quality. Government entities such as local communities, colleges, jails, and more are required to participate. You care because user fees or taxes are used to fund this program.
Why a stormwater utility fee?
To accomplish this unfunded mandate concerning MS4, many communities had to find a revenue source for these new laws. Therefore, almost everyone decided to charge a fee for stormwater (drainage). Just like with the service you receive for sanitary sewers, you receive a service for your community managing the rain that falls from the sky.
What does this stormwater utility fee cover?
I often hear the question “Why should I pay for rain falling on my property?”, followed by statements about how much it costs. The funds collected are generally used to manage the MS4 (water quality) program and the drainage (water quantity) projects that address floodplain and localized flooding issues. Typically, the drainage capital improvement projects will consume the bulk of the funding, but the MS4 program also has expenses.
The flood finale
In the City of Jeffersonville, the stormwater utility fee provides funds to protect water quality and fix flooding issues. The flooding issues that are resolved can either be localized and / or floodplain related. Jeffersonville has a Stormwater Master Plan that was created by the City Drainage Board to help provide a clear plan with prioritized objectives to resolve the more pressing flooding problems around the City.
In my next post, the History of the World: Stormwater Fees Part II, I will discuss how the stormwater fees are determined.