What is a stormwater utility?
Stormwater utilities are fees which generate direct and stable funding for stormwater management. Stormwater utilities function the same as other utilities, such as water and sewage. Just as residents pay a fee for how much water they use to fund the drinking water services within their area, stormwater utilities charge residents and property owners on the amount of impervious cover on their property to fund the management needed to prevent and mitigate stormwater pollution and its adverse effects. Impervious cover charges allow for all properties, including those which are tax-exempt, to contribute to the stormwater fund, making for an equitable and fair fee. These funds can be used for various aspects of stormwater management, such as infrastructure repair, green infrastructure implementation, catch basin cleaning, and more, most of which are requirements of the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4) permit.
Why are stormwater utilities necessary?
Stormwater is a growing problem around the world, but especially in the Northeast. With climate change causing an exacerbation in extreme rain events and increase in precipitation, the Northeast will continue to experience stormwater runoff, impacts on water quality, burdens on stormwater infrastructure, and possible flooding events. From 1958 to 2012, the northeastern region of the U.S. has seen an increase in very heavy precipitation events of 71% (U.S. Global Change Research Program, 2014). This stormwater collects pollutants, bacteria, and harmful chemicals along pavements and carries them storm drains which discharge directly to local bodies of water. While in some cases these water bodies can flow into a water treatment reservoir, all too often they continue downstream into the shoreline, bringing all the pollutants from the stormwater runoff with them. On top of this, extreme rainfall events can result in combined sewer overflows in which stormwater runoff and sewage discharge directly to bodies of water.
Stormwater utilities are a way to provide dedicated and reliable funding in order to better mitigate the consequences of stormwater pollution, whether it be for upgrading aging stormwater infrastructure to protect against flooding, implementing green stormwater infrastructure to protect water quality, or to keep costs of stormwater permit compliance covered.
Isn’t this just a rain tax?
No, stormwater utilities are not a rain tax. This is a common misconception. Stormwater utilities are unique in their equity in distribution of the fee. These utilities charge a user fee based on the amount of impervious area on a property contributing to the stormwater system, rather than based on property tax.
Stormwater utilities function the same as other utilities, such as water and sewage. Just as residents pay a fee for how much water they use to fund the drinking water services within their area, stormwater utilities charge residents and property owners on the amount of impervious cover on their property to fund the management needed to prevent and mitigate stormwater pollution and its adverse effects. Impervious cover charges allow for all properties, including those which are tax-exempt, to contribute to the stormwater fund, making for an equitable and fair fee.
Stormwater utilities range in equity based on the fee structure in place. For more information on fee systems, visit out Fee Systems page.
Is this even legal?
Is this required?
No, stormwater utilities are not required, but are a great way to generate funding to support stormwater management.
Has anyone in CT done it before?
Connecticut is currently home to two stormwater utilities: New London, implemented in 2017, and New Britain, implemented in 2021. Stormwater utility popularity within the state has been increasing in recent years with sparked interest across municipalities. Recently, Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments was awarded with a climate resiliency grant from UConn CIRCA to fund a stormwater utility feasibility study for four of their municipalities. The report can be found here.
Who will be billed? What bout tax-exempt properties?
Stormwater utility billing can vary depending on the fee structure used. However, most often all property types will be included in the billing – residential, industrial, commercial, and yes, tax-exempt properties. However, the fee will typically be different for each property type, given that each is expected to have different amounts of impervious cover (i.e. residential properties typically pay much less than industrial properties which are much larger and contribute far more to the stormwater system). Frequency of the billing and the amount per property will depend on each utility.
How can you ensure equity amongst billing?
Stormwater utilities are equitable in nature as they charge based on contribution to the stormwater system – the more impervious cover your property contribute to increase stormwater runoff, the more you pay. There are various options that can be used when establishing a fee structure. The most common, and most equitable fee system is the Equivalent Residential Unit system, or ERU system. It is used for over 80% of stormwater utilities in North America (EPA). It is based on the effect of a typical single-family residential impervious cover footprint, billing an amount proportional to the impervious area on a parcel, regardless of the total area. After the ERU is established, this measurement can then be done individually for each property or can be done through a tiered flat rate. This way, the fees for each property are equitably distributed based on how many ERUs a property has. The more you pave, the more you pay. To learn about the other fee systems, click here.
Is there any way to reduce your fee?
Most stormwater utilities have opportunities in place for various property types in order to reduce the total fee being charged. These partial fee reductions or ‘credits’ offered to residents or property owners in order to incentivize stormwater runoff retention and treatment using various Best Management Practices (BMPs). The idea is, the less impervious cover you have, the less you are contributing to stormwater pollution, and therefore the lower your stormwater utility fee is. Stormwater utility fee credits typically take the form of Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) implementation, helping to mitigate against the harmful effects of stormwater pollution.
As of July 1st, 2022, House Bill 5506 requires that any established stormwater authority within Connecticut must now provide a credit system with their utility. At a minimum, the stormwater authority in place must offer a partial fee reduction for any property owner who,
- Has disconnected a percentage of such property’s impervious surfaces from the municipal separate storm sewer system, combined storm sewer system or surface water, and
- Provides documentation to the satisfaction of the stormwater authority that current stormwater best management practices or other control measures, approved by the stormwater authority, that reduce, retain or treat stormwater onsite are being applied and maintained
For more information about credits, click here.