By Maura Ryan, Marketing Director at St.Germain Collins | Sentry EHS®
At MEREDA’s Morning Menu Breakfast Event in November, a panel discussed stormwater service fees—why they are needed, and what measures property owners can take to reduce their fees.
Scott D. Collins, Managing Principal and Senior Engineer at St.Germain Collins kicked off the discussion with an overview of the stormwater utilities that are currently in place.
Almost 1,500 stormwater utilities have been identified nationwide and in Canada; the smallest in Indian Creek Village Florida with a population of 88, and the largest in Los Angeles with a population exceeding 3 million. 
In Maine, there are currently three municipalities with stormwater utility programs: Bangor, Lewiston and Portland. Each municipality offers ways to reduce stormwater fees for property owners who take (or have taken) steps to reduce or treat stormwater runoff. There are at least a half dozen other municipalities and counting throughout New England who have already implemented stormwater fee (and credit) programs also.
City of Portland
Douglas A. Roncarati, Jr., Stormwater Program Coordinator at City of Portland, Maine went into more detail about the City of Portland’s need to implement their stormwater service charge program.
There are three wastewater systems in Portland dating back to the late 1800’s:
- Stormwater – stormwater that goes directly to streams, rivers and coastal waters
- Combined – wastewater and stormwater combined
- Sanitary – wastewater only that goes to treatment plant
Through the years there have been updates to the systems including: establishing the East End Treatment Plant; increasing capacity in the sewer systems; adding combined sewer overflows (safety valves) to redirect wastewater and excess stormwater in the combined sewer system to prevent backups and localized flooding; and more recently, separation of sewers and storm drains and storage systems to address the water quality impacts of combined sewer overflows.
As Portland developed and automobiles became the primary mode of transportation, the amount of impervious area (i.e. paved roads, parking lots and roof tops) within the City grew rapidly, resulting in more stormwater runoff. The sheer volume of stormwater running off the landscape can overwhelm the combined sewer and storm drain systems causing sewers to back up, streets to flood and can also contribute to combined sewer overflows. Stormwater runoff can also pick up bacteria, sediments, herbicides and other pollutants from streets, yards and parking lots carrying them to streams and other natural waterways.
Figure 1: On undeveloped land only about 10% of stormwater runs off as 40% is evaporated and 50% infiltrates the ground. On more developed properties there is approximately 55% run off.
Until recently, the primary source of funding was a sewer fee for all sewer and stormwater management and Clean Water Act compliance programs in Portland. However, the costs of managing stormwater runoff and its impact on both the combined sewer and storm drain systems was the real issue driving up the costs of these programs. In fact, the Portland invested over a hundred million dollars to address combined sewer overflows and flooding and was struggling to pay for it with the sewer fee.
The City recognized that this approach to paying for wastewater and stormwater management was simply unsustainable, so over the last several years it explored how other communities were dealing with these challenges and in 2016 implemented a stormwater service charge program. The intent was to more equitably share the costs of stormwater management by tying them directly to the sources of stormwater runoff and pollution. The fees are calculated on the amount of impervious area (i.e. rooftops and pavement) on the property. Currently those fees are $6.00 per month for every 1,200 square feet of impervious area.
Justin Pellerin, P.E., Stormwater Project Engineer at City of Portland, Maine discussed the City’s stormwater credit system and how stormwater funds are spent.
When the City implemented the stormwater service charge in January 2016, they also implemented the stormwater credit program which can reduce the amount a property owner has to pay.
The stormwater credit is a conditional reduction in the amount of the stormwater service charge if the property owner documents existing or implements new stormwater management and pollution prevention systems and maintains them.
Focusing today on the non-residential (commercial properties) stormwater credits, the credits are awarded for:
- Water quality treatment systems
- Water quantity management systems
Systems must meet the requirements in the Stormwater Credit Manual (http://www.portlandmaine.gov/DocumentCenter/View/9714) and an application with documentation must be submitted to the City of Portland’s Water Resources Division.
To date there have been 28 non-residential applications for credits, with 23 being approved. The largest credit was a savings of $340 per month. It is possible to get a 100% credit, so far the range has been 10% to 60%, with the average monthly reduction at 30% off the stormwater service bill.
How the City of Portland Spends the Stormwater Service Fees
The stormwater services fees are used for:
- Cleaning a minimum of 3,000 of the 6,000 catch basins each year;
- Completing 70 to 75 green infrastructure projects and ongoing inspections and maintenance;
- Street sweeping approximately 260 miles of Portland’s streets—which cleans up sediments from street surfaces before they can be washed off in stormwater runoff;
- Significant stormwater infrastructure maintenance;
- A portion of combined sewer separation projects;
- Drainage and flood management projects;
- Watershed protection and water quality restoration projects.
Property Owner Perspective
Brian DesMarais, Area Environmental Protection Manager at Waste Management discussed the stormwater service fee and credit program from his commercial property perspective.
Waste Management of Maine, Inc. has managed stormwater at their Portland location for several years and are already regulated under the Maine Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (MPDES) Multi-Sector General Permit (MSGP).
Waste Management received the first stormwater bill from the City of Portland in January 2016. Because the property’s building and surface impervious area totaled 221,276 square feet, this new monthly stormwater fee of $1,104 prompted them to look for stormwater credits for their existing stormwater control and treatment systems to reduce the bill.
After confirming the City’s assessment of impervious areas, the first step to seek credits for their existing stormwater systems was to document that the existing stormwater infrastructure was functioning as designed and was properly maintained. perform standard annual maintenance on stormwater systems. Waste Management also wanted to confirm the impervious areas that were calculated by the City. They hired St.Germain Collins who determined what credits Waste Management may qualify for:
- Performed an inspection of existing systems – City Form 4;
- Computed Basic Water Quantity Waiver Credit;
- Computed minimum Water Quality Credit (for Waste Management’s existing wet pond);
- Determined new total billable impervious area; and
- Submitted the Non-Residential Stormwater Credit Application – City Form 3
In just a matter of weeks, Waste Management received a condition of approval for existing credits (25% for Minimum Water Quality Credit; and 10% Basic Water Quantity Waiver Credit) for applicable portions of the property. These credits—which are retroactive to January 2016—reduced their monthly charges to $894, which is an annualized savings of $2,520. In order to continue receiving these credits, continued maintenance of stormwater infrastructure and submitting a Best Management Practices (BMP) Inspection Form (City Form 4) each year are required.
Maintaining older systems can be costly, so Waste Management is also considering improvements to their stormwater systems. These improvements could earn them additional credits and cost savings. Waste Management is evaluating options that could approach 100% credit, including: conversion of an approximately 12,000 square foot gravel area to pervious lawn; providing bio-retention cells near two parking areas;; and enhancing the existing stormwater detention basin to a wet pond that meets or exceeds current Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s Chapter 500 standards.
Maintenance and Inspection
Scott Collins closed the discussion with a few pointers on staying qualified for stormwater credits.
Structural controls are only effective if maintained. An annual inspection by a qualified 3rd party inspector is required. By June 30th each year, the City Form 4 must be submitted to the City of Portland. The City of Portland has a right to inspect properties to ensure stormwater systems are as reported.
For More Information on Sustainable Stormwater options please visit http://stgermaincollins.com/mereda-stormwater-event/