Published on December 1, 2013
Sustainability and the Cost of Compliance with the Clean Water Act Implementing a Stormwater Utility Fee for the City of Huntington Beach Judith Keir Applied Capstone Project For Master of Applied Science April 30, 2012
The Problem The City of Huntington Beach currently funds its stormwater program using an unsustainable method of general funds. • • • General funds are unrestricted in nature, and not specifically allocated to any particular program. General funds are neither self-supporting, nor do they provide accountability and transparency. General funds are funded mainly by property taxes, and fluctuate with the economy. Stormwater programs must comply with requirements of the federal Clean Water Act. • To protect waterways • To improve water quality The City of Huntington Beach does not have sustainable funding in place to meet these requirements.
A sustainable approach to funding is needed. Without a sustainable approach to funding, the cost of compliance with the Clean Water Act will extend beyond the reach of existing sources. A sustainable approach to funding a stormwater pollution prevention program requires a change in existing policy. Existing funding methods of using general funds from the City's budget are unrestricted in nature, and not self-supporting. A fee levied on properties for the discharge of stormwater may help the City to (1) prevent further pollution, (2) improve water quality and (3) promote sustainability of the City. By specifically allocating funding to stormwater pollution prevention programs, the stormwater program becomes sustainable.
The Clean Water Act mandates protection of water quality. Restrictive permits require states, municipalities and other agencies to reduce pollutant discharges to the maximum extent practicable. States issue permits to address point and non-point source pollution. Municipalities and other agencies are mandated to develop stormwater pollution prevention programs – To reduce pollutant loadings To restore and maintain water quality To protect beneficial uses of water Urbanization has negative impacts on water quality and its associated economic and intrinsic benefits.
Implementing a Stormwater Utility Fee State-issued permits address three major phases of development, including planning, construction, and existing development. The planning and construction phases of development include fees that are deposited in the City’s general fund. However, methods to address the reduction of pollutant discharges in the existing development phase currently are not substantially addressed. • Inspections of businesses incur a fee to cover the cost of the inspection only. • Many businesses do not meet the parameters that require they be inspected. • Residential areas of the city are not inspected, and do not support the funding of the stormwater program. Implementing a user-based stormwater discharge fee will improve the sustainability of the stormwater program specifically and the City in general.
A sustainable stormwater program requires a change in policy. Current policy uses general funds instead of user-based utility fee. Policy change is vital to sustainability of the City. City has fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers. City has environmental responsibility to protect beneficial uses for all. The discharge of stormwater should be viewed as a utility, similar to wastewater and water distribution. Existing method of funding program with general funds is not sustainable. Costs of protecting water quality are mandated by CWA, and grants and loans may provide limited and constrained supplemental value.
A user fee benefits users Provides for use of storm drain system. Provides incentive to reduce discharges. Fees may be used to implement additional measures to continue improving water quality. Provides long-term funding stability. Restricted in nature to stormwater program. Provides for accountability and transparency. Forces properties to internalize program management costs. Allows for cap-and-trade of water quality credits in market. Attracts private investors and offsets retrofit costs. Allows for increasing demands on overall water sector. Provides potential support for conservation and wastewater efforts. Lessens downstream impacts. Retrofits of properties may benefit users by reducing fees and protecting the environment. Retrofit benefits include clean waterways and green communities. Water quality trading market attracts private investors and offsets retrofit costs.
Recommendations • Funding the stormwater program through a utility userbased fee will benefit improvements to water quality. • Funding the program through a user fee will support a sustainable city • Controls stormwater runoff, reducing flooding and the rate and volume of untreated runoff discharged to surface waters • Contributes to a green municipality, mitigating greenhouse effects, and providing for stormwater harvesting and conservation • Provides for business opportunities • Retrofit incentives and benefits • Water quality trading market • Stormwater harvesting
Solution strengths • Satisfies permit requirements • Fiduciary responsibility to fund stormwater program • Complies with efforts to improve water quality • Reduces potential enforcement for non-compliance by federal, state, or third parties • Provides revenue from all development, including existing • Takes advantage of citizens’ willingness-to-pay for water quality • Informs public of necessity of paying for utility of stormwater • Provides harvesting, use, and conservation opportunities • Provides energy savings Solution weaknesses • Apathy of municipal leaders • Changes to policy necessary • Necessitates public relations and new billing
Conclusion Urbanization has negative impacts on water quality. The built environment contributes pollutants to surrounding waterways. A stormwater utility fee will help the City to comply with the requirements of the Clean Water Act, and provides a mechanism to control pollution at its source, within the existing developed properties of the City. General funds are unrestricted in nature, and not specifically allocated to any particular program. Unlike general funds, a utility fee would be self-supporting, provide accountability and transparency, and would not fluctuate with the economy. A utility fee would include all properties in funding the stormwater program, and provide additional benefits in the market and environment. The costs of protecting water quality are growing, and a sustainable funding method is needed. The current funding method is not sustainable and could cause the City to be non-compliant with its permit. Non-compliance can be costly to the City, with costs passing on to taxpayers.
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