In the last two years, EPA has released three new draft National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Phase II General Permits for Discharges from Small Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4s) within Massachusetts and New Hampshire. These permits, which are expected to be finalized later this year, will replace the 2003 permit which expired in May of 2008 and will impact 262 communities in Massachusetts and 48 communities in New Hampshire. The requirements listed in these draft permits are extensive and will require a significant investment of resources in order for communities to comply. As municipalities research various funding options, stormwater utilities have gained widespread attention and have already been successfully implemented in a few communities within New England. The process, however, has not been easy as it requires considerable time and effort to gain the necessary public support and approval. With user-based fees for wastewater and drinking water, a similar fee for operation and maintenance of the storm drain system may be warranted. Having a dedicated stormwater fund in place to draw from would allow communities to generate revenue for drainage infrastructure improvement projects as well as operation and maintenance of the drainage system.
There is a common misconception that a stormwater utility must be a separate utility company set up for stormwater. However, stormwater utilities can come in many different forms, including, but not limited to, stormwater fee programs, separate designations of revenue solely for stormwater management, or stormwater enterprise funds. There are also different methods for calculating stormwater fees. Fees can be calculated using an area based method, which looks at the amount of impervious area, establishes a common unit, and then groups billing rates by zoning. A simple set fee system can also be utilized which assesses an annual or quarterly flat fee based on a property’s zoning.
Implementing a stormwater utility is a lengthy process which can take a few years, and the public education component does not end once the utility is implemented. A stormwater utility is most appropriate for those communities that have water quality and flooding issues that require a significant investment of capital. With issuance of the final MS4 General Permits looming in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, it would seem that the time to implement a stormwater utility is now. Is a stormwater utility right for your community? What are your obstacles to implementation? If not through a stormwater utility, how do you plan to fund MS4 General Permit compliance?