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Stormwater Utilities: A Tool for Managing Rainwater Runoff

September 16th, 2014 by

The following article was written by New Jersey Future summer intern MicKenzie Roberts-Lahti.

Diagram of how urban sewersheds function with separate (left) and combined (right) stormwater/sewage systems. Source: USEPA

Diagram of how urban sewersheds function with separate (left) and combined (right) stormwater/sewage systems. (Click on image for larger view.) Source: USEPA

In 2008, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ranked stormwater management – the control of flooding and pollution caused by rainwater runoff – as New Jersey’s number one water-related need. Stormwater management affects urban, suburban, and rural municipalities, above and below ground.  When aging water infrastructure breaks, when flooding results from pipe systems overloaded with rainwater, when sewage backs up into streets and basements, and when runoff pollutes waterways, New Jerseyans experience the negative effects firsthand. A failure to manage stormwater infrastructure effectively can create sinkholes, close businesses, damage property, contaminate drinking water and cause sewage overflows.

A new report (PDF) prepared by New Jersey Future intern MicKenzie Roberts-Lahti, examines the use of one tool – the stormwater utility – to manage stormwater. Stormwater utilities provide a mechanism for raising funds dedicated to stormwater management – for the construction, operation, and maintenance of stormwater infrastructure and for the development of related water-quality programs and public education.  Stormwater utilities assume responsibility for maintenance and upgrading of things like storm sewers and for developing asset management plans to maximize their useful life.

The report, Stormwater Utilities: A Funding Solution for New Jersey’s Stormwater Problems, provides an introduction to and description of stormwater utilities as a tool to manage stormwater more effectively. It includes an overview of the more than 1,400 communities around the country that have set up stormwater utilities; it provides examples of prevalent stormwater management practices, utility operations, and finance systems; and it discusses the various choices available to stormwater utilities for operations, planning, and financing. For example, the management of stormwater can be assigned to a separate entity or remain with a municipal public works or water department, and funding can be based on the amount of impervious pavement at the individual property level or as a flat fee.

The role of the New Jersey state government to authorize the local creation of stormwater utilities is also discussed. New Jersey is one of the 11 states without a single stormwater utility, although a current bill in the state legislature (A-1583/S-579) would grant all municipalities, counties and local government utility authorities that have combined sewer systems the authority to create such a utility.

Download the full report.

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