Rhode Island’s cities and towns are being urged to consider a new way to help pay for services to deal with the growing problem of polluted stormwater runoff and its often costly consequences, such as beach closures, street flooding, property damage, closed shellfishing beds and impaired water quality.
More than 2,000 cities or municipalities in the country have established a “stormwater utility” to help control the problems that contaminated stormwater cause.
In Rhode Island, Middletown and Westerly are working with the R.I. Department of Environmental Management to consider the feasibility of creating stormwater utilities – public utilities established to provide stormwater-management services. The utilities generate revenue through user fees based on the amount of stormwater generated on a property.
Stormwater pollutants are hardly unique to Rhode Island, but it is a growing concern in a state that is nearly fully developed, said Elizabeth Scott, DEM Office of Water Resources deputy chief.
“This is a stabilized means of funding these projects,” she said of the stormwater utilities. “It’s equitable, it creates a situation to have money and it’s stable. It’s a good idea.”
At a Oct. 25 conference at the University of Rhode Island Coastal Institute during which stormwater utilities were discussed, 50 participants from the state’s municipalities all said their budgets could not support paying for the stormwater treatment that was needed in their towns, and all were interested in hearing more about the utility, Scott said.
In Rhode Island, new design and installation standards to control stormwater came into effect this year. During a panel discussion at the URI conference, municipal leaders were advised of ways of meeting the new standards, including considering a stormwater utility.
Stormwater utility fees are different from real estate taxes, because they are user-based and are tied to stormwater-management services provided by the utility, said Andrew Reese, a vice president with AMEC, an international consulting firm on engineering and project-management services.
“We have for years acknowledged pollution, but treatment hasn’t really been addressed,” said Reese.
Reese advises cities and municipalities to adopt a stormwater utility to provide a dedicated and predictable flow of income to pay for local stormwater-management services.