Court Overturns Stormwater Fees
The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that stormwater fees charged by the city of Jackson, Michigan, were unconstitutional, violating the state’s Headlee Amendment. The city has collected nearly $3 million in fees since they began charging them in 2011.
In December of 2011, Jackson County and several local businessmen filed suit against the city, after receiving stormwater utility bills that totaled more than $35,000. The Court of Appeals’ ruling said that the city would be required to pay back the plaintiffs in the suit, but not other residents or businesses.
None of those bringing suit have paid the stormwater fee, but they could be reimbursed for court costs. locals hope the city will reimburse all residents and businesses, now that the fee has been ruled unconstitutional. The fee was created by city officials because they did not want to use street funds to sweep streets, pick up leaves or keep the Grand river clean, a service required by the federal government.
EPA Official Tours New Hampshire Center
The chief regulator of the EPA’s water division visited Durham, New Hampshire, recently. The reason for the visit was to inspect the town’s collaboration with the University of New Hampshire in removing pollution in stormwater runoff. Town officials used the opportunity to underscore a new approach to achieving clean water.
Durham is working on a study and a plan that will identify which improvements will remove the most pollution per dollar spent. They hope that their study will show that money would be better invested in green infrastructure like raingardens than in wastewater treatment plant upgrades. By showing this, they hope that they will be granted leniency on their wastewater permit.
Currently, towns get two water permits from the EPA—one regulating wastewater, and the other dealing with stormwater—but Durham is hoping to negotiate a integrated permit for both pollution sources.
The town’s study won’t be complete until next year.
Calculator Helps Reduce Stormwater Runoff
A new National Stormwater Calculator was recently released by the EPA to help developers, landscapers, urban planners, and property owners make informed landuse decisions to protect local waterways from pollution caused by stormwater runoff.
The calculator is an innovative addition to the administration’s toolkit to help prevent stormwater runoff. It is a desktop application that estimates the annual amount of stormwater runoff from a specific site, based on local soil conditions, slope, land cover and historical rainfall records.
This information helps users determine how adding green infrastructure can be one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce stormwater runoff.
An update to the Stormwater Calculator, which will include the ability to link to several future climate scenarios, will be released by the end of 2013. Climate projections indicate that heavy precipitation events are very likely to become more frequent as the climate changes.
City Fights Shoreline Erosion
The Port Hueneme City Council recently declared a municipal emergency to stop shoreline erosion that is threatening local streets and beachfront areas. The California community authorized spending $500,000 on sandbags to preserve the shoreline during the summer.
last year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers pumped in about 400,000 cubic yards of sand to keep local beaches intact. High tides and waves have already removed that sand from beaches. The problem of sand replenishment was identified after the community was built in the 1930s. The port blocks the natural flow of sand that runs on the California coastline.
Port Hueneme is seeking to have the sand replenished later this year; the project is estimated to cost $10 million. The city is also monitoring the pier for instability, because the pilings are no longer sunk as deeply as needed.
Stormwater Project Continues near Houston
Excavation of a $5.7 million stormwater basin recently started near Houston, Texas. More than 647,000 cubic yards of soil will be removed from a 75-acre basin that will reduce flooding risks. The excavation is the second phase of a stormwater project that will be completed in approximately 300 days.
The Harris County Flood Control District and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have spent more than $12.6 million on the project. The basin will hold 1,000 acre-feet or 326 million gallons of stormwater.
Reducing Pollutants Can Reduce Property Tax
Any property owner in the Northeast Ohio regional Sewer District who implements a stormwater control measure that reduces the amount of stormwater and pollutants from their property is eligible for a reduction on their property tax as long as the measure is approved.
Measures include installing rain barrels, rain gardens, vegetated filter strips, onsite stormwater storage, pervious pavement and impervious surface reduction. The measures are designed to retain and filter stormwater, in order to slow its introduction into the watershed and minimize pollution.
Application forms and more specific requirements for stormwater control measures can be found at the sewer district’s website, www.neorsd.org.
Science Student Researches Erosion-Controlling Chemical
A junior at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina, has been working on research that will help control erosion. Tyler Sowers developed a method to detect the levels of polyacrylamide (PAM) in an aqueous solution.
“PAM is a polymer used in water treatment and erosion control,” said Owen Duckworth, an assistant professor of soil biogeochemistry in the department of soil science. It is put on soil to keep the land from eroding on construction sites and commercial land.
“PAM works by attaching itself to the soil and causes it to flocculate, or to bind together, and to drop out of the water that is eroding the land,” Sowers said. However, there was no portable way to measure how much PAM is in a given solution.
Sowers used an older method, previously employed in water treatment and paper processing, and adapted it to detect the amount of PAM in a water system. He took a portable turbidity meter, which measures how misty a solution is, and instead discovered a way to use it onsite to measure PAM levels in water.
Sowers’ research has the potential to widen the use of PAM, not only in the research setting, but the private sector as well. This will be beneficial for the environment, because while there are many other chemicals that perform similar functions to PAM, many of them are much more toxic.
Stormwater Rates To Increase
Gulfport, Florida, residents and business owners could see a 12% increase in their October bills for water, sewer and stormwater. longtime residents said rates had not increased significantly in decades.
The increase will help avoid a 37% bump from the city of St. Petersburg, Gulfport’s water wholesaler, said the city manager. When the Gulfport contract expires in 2017, St. Petersburg could add a 25% surcharge to the water bill, which it has done to other municipal customers.
Between 2005 and 2010, Gulfport spent almost $2.6 million replacing water mains and service lines, but the city’s sewage system needs modernizing at a cost of $25 million.
Stormwater Green Project
A campus-wide stormwater management system will be designed to return water to the local groundwater table by West Los Angeles College in California. Another project will stabilize the slopes on campus.
“The stormwater project is particularly noteworthy,” college President Nabil Abu-Ghazaleh said.
“This green project will capture 85% of the college’s stormwater runoff, which minimizes the runoff into local storm drains that flow to the ocean.”
The slope stabilization project is needed to prevent potential slides during earthquakes. The work will require the excavation and export of local soils and the import of more stable soils.
Watch Out Nonprofits
Father Donald Grzymski at St. Clement Mary Hofbauer Church in Rosedale, Maryland, is asking Baltimore County to reconsider increased fees charged to his church that were attached to his property tax bill. The church was recently hit with large stormwater fees.
Nonprofits are being charged $20 per 2,000 square feet of impervious surface area. “We have 49,000 square feet of impervious surface area, and based on the new rate, the total bill is $1,691 per year,” said the local director of environmental protection and sustainability.
The bill from Baltimore County includes the new stormwater fee also known as the rain tax. “We knew it was going to go up, but it was up more than we thought,” Grzymski said.
A Boon for the Stormwater Pipe Industry
Selling stormwater pipes is a growing business. This is due to the fact that localities face tightening state and federal restrictions on the pollution content of storm runoff. According to a study published by the Freedonia Group, an industry market research firm, demand for pipe in the United States is expected to reach $50.1 billion by 2016.
In Virginia, localities will have to meet strict new regulations in 2017 and 2025, in an effort to stem pollution in Chesapeake Bay, said Thomas l. Frederick Jr., executive director of the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority. “The rules are getting more stringent,” he said.
To cope with crumbling infrastructure and to meet the new requirements, Charlottesville, Virginia, also enacted a stormwater utility fee. The fee charges all property owners for the total area of impervious surface on their properties. Impervious surface is defined as a flat surface, such as a roof or driveway, through which water cannot percolate.
The stormwater utility fee will charge $1.20 per 500 square feet of impervious surface on a property per month. Money from the utility fee will allow the city to increase its annual funding for its water resources protection program from $950,000 to $2.5 million per year.
Stormwater Grates Cost City Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars
The city of Nashville, Tennessee, is prepared to settle a lawsuit for approximately $200,000, after a woman had an accident when she rode over a stormwater grate. The grate runs parallel to the street, in contrast to newer perpendicular versions safe for bikes to ride over. This is the second time in four years that someone has been seriously injured by this type of grate.
Margaret Yoste was leading a group of cyclists when her front tire sank into a stormwater grate. Her tire jarred and she was flipped over her handlebars, suffering facial injuries—a lacerated chin, broken tooth and a fractured jaw that required surgery.
Metro Water Service officials have known that these grates are liabilities for some time. There was another identical bicycle accident, with even more severe injuries than Yoste’s. The council agreed to settle this cyclist’s injury claims for $130,000.
Officials say they’re on the way towards systematically replacing the older grates and have launched a five-year $1.7 million plan to do so. The downside: the process will take at least five years.