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Explanation of Storm Water Fees

posted Sep 19, 2009, 12:08 PM by Marie Sligh
by Jim Hutto

In basic terms, in 1972 Congress passed the “Clean Water Act” under the jurisdiction of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It basically said, in part that storm water runoff contains pollutants that find their way into streams, rivers and lakes. This legislation mandated that those types of pollutants must be controlled by states and/or reduced to meet federal water quality standards.

Here’s the interesting part. Note I said by “states” above. The states, including SC, passed these requirements down to the counties and cities with no funding source to meet the requirements. The feds are allowed to levy large fines on violations, up to $50,000 per day for willful violations! The states can levy these fines along with the EPA to counties and cities that don’t meet the specified federal water quality standards (acceptable levels of pollutants in rivers, lakes and streams). The State was sued as many of us thought this program should be managed by them (SCDHEC) since it was a federal mandate to states, but the courts determined the state had the right to mandate a large portion of the program to local governments.

The question facing us then was how do we fund this “unfunded mandate”? Most local governments nationwide chose the Storm Water Utility Fee rather than real or personal property tax increases. Now, as per the legislation we are required to meet six minimum measures:
  1. Provide public education and outreach. We choose to let Carolina Clear (Clemson University) do this for us. It cost around $35,000 or so per year. They handle the public education talks, brochures, TV and radio ads, etc. with schools, civic groups, etc.
  2. Public participation and involvement. This too is part of the Carolina Clear contract. As a part of this they keep records that will be turned in to SCDHEC to show what’s being done.
  3. Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination. This requires us to find and track down pollutants being discharged into our municipal drainage system. It may also require us to modify our existing system to separate and/or minimize polluted storm water from entering streams, rivers, etc. This would come from our storm water capital fund. The Capital Fund could also pay for upgrades to existing older systems. This would be kind a balance we would build up over a number of years to pay for large expensive improvements.
  4. Post construction runoff. This requires controls on our, or contractor jobs to control loose dirt and sediment from washing away during rain events. We have staff monitor the sites. Staff is paid for through the utility fee. Materials are also paid for through the fee if we do the construction.
  5. Pollution Prevention and Good Housekeeping. This requires us to prevent pollution in our city drainage system and around our sites (like the Public Works Compound).
  6. Post construction site runoff. We must monitor sites after construction is finished to insure no excessive runoff with pollutants are being discharged into our system.
The majority of our utility fee will be charged against staff dealing with our municipal drainage issues (maintenance and engineering with some administration), the equipment they use (Vac truck, excavators, pickups, etc, supplies (silt fence, pipes, catch basin boxes and covers), fuel costs, and other general budget items. We have been funding around $1 million of stormwater/drainage expenses out of the General Fund each year up till now, but the small fee increase should pay for all the stormwater related expense AND give us a small reserve each year to invest in drainage project upgrades in problem areas prone to flooding or older crumbling drainage infrastructure replacement.