Flood Control Article Advice from Erin Letavic in Borough News

Erin Letavic, a project manager in HRG’s civil group, published an article in the July issue of Borough News magazine about flood control entitled “Mitigating Flood Risk in Your Borough.”  In it, she discusses the costs municipalities face when flooding occurs and offers  tips for how to minimize the risk of flood damage as much as possible.

Topics she discusses in the article include

  • Understanding your community’s flood risk
  • Improving floodplain management in your community
  • Expanding vegetation that absorbs flood waters and filters pollutants
  • Promoting the construction of green infrastructure
  • Obtaining funding for flood mitigation measures
  • Gaining public support for flood mitigation measures

Flood control strategies can help communities manage their flood risk and lower the potential cost of flood damage

Severe floods can happen in any community, and, when they do, they can wreak serious havoc: destroying homes and businesses, threatening people’s safety, temporarily shutting down the economy, and damaging infrastructure.

Communities can manage flood risk by implementing a flood mitigation strategy. The first step in flood control is to determine what areas of your community are most vulnerable to flooding and model exactly how those areas would be impacted by particular flood events. The next step is to make sure your ordinances and codes limit development in flood-prone areas and promote the planting and preservation of vegetation that will absorb flood waters and reduce flood intensity.

Successful flood control plans require cooperation among all stakeholders in a community, so it is essential to involve them throughout the planning and implementation stages. Obtaining grants and loans to support the initiative will help reduce opposition and lessen the impact on tight municipal budgets.

While the risk of flood damage cannot be completely eliminated, municipalities can greatly enhance the safety of their communities with a forward-thinking approach. The planning a municipality does today is key to weathering the storms tomorrow may bring.

Read the entire article here or in the print edition of Borough News magazine.

 

Watch Erin and other HRG personnel discuss the flooding that occurred around Harrisburg after Tropical Storm Lee and the measures local communities are taking to prevent similar damage in the future.

 

 

How EPA’s Stormwater Management Planning Guide Can Help with MS4 Compliance, Aging Infrastructure

EPA's planned guide on stormwater management planning can help municipalities address aging infrastructure and regulatory challenges under tight budget constraints.

Today, communities must address aging infrastructure and stricter stormwater management regulation (like MS4 permitting) under tight budget constraints. In order to be successful, they will need to take a long-term approach to stormwater management planning.  EPA’s new guide can help.

Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency published Community Solutions for Stormwater Management: A Guide for Voluntary Long-Term Planning. The current version is a preliminary draft (the final guide will not be published until later in 2017), and, when it is, it will be accompanied by a website and toolkit that helps communities navigate the recommended planning process.

But even in its preliminary form, the guide provides valuable advice about how to implement a long-term approach to stormwater management planning. Many of the steps outlined in the guide are an integral part of HRG’s approach to assisting our municipal stormwater clients.  Here are the major highlights:

Figure out where you want to go.

EPA recommends that you begin by identifying the goals you have for your stormwater management program.  This could include reducing runoff or improving water quality.  It could also include reducing flooding impacts or protecting natural resources like the floodplain and wetland areas.

The process for determining these goals includes talking to municipal staff as well as residents and business owners. One of your first steps should be to identify potential stakeholders in the community and a process for engaging them.  This could be the formation of a stakeholder advisory committee or open public forums.  At this time, you should also identify groups you can ally with as partners: watershed alliances, environmental groups, schools, businesses and community organizations, etc.

Throughout the entire planning and implementation process, you will need to communicate with the public, so now’s the time to establish how communication will take place: what media you will use, how often you will distribute information, and exactly what information will be communicated.

Determine where you are right now.

Before you can locate the path to success, you need to know your true starting point.  An early step in any long-term planning process is a thorough assessment of the current condition of your facilities. This includes finding and mapping your infrastructure, then documenting its condition and analyzing its performance.  It means determining the origin and destination of your stormwater management flows and considering future events that could threaten your facilities (significant weather events, new regulation, or the level of development in an area, for example).

This documentation could be made in the form of a paper map or a computerized geographic information system, depending on your goals and budget.

Chart a course.

Now that you know where you are and where you want to go, you can begin to evaluate the best possible way to get there.  In the previous two steps, you’ve identified your goals for an optimal level of service, and you’ve determined what your current level of service is.  In this phase of the process, a qualified consultant will help you identify the improvements you need to meet the desired level of service, including capital improvement projects and their associated cost.  He or she will also help you prioritize which projects should be tackled first.

In order to do so, the consultant will work with you to establish objective criteria for comparing various improvement alternatives. Some of the criteria you’ll want to consider include cost (not just construction cost but also life cycle costs associated with operation and maintenance), the potential burden on the community, the ability to reduce pollutants, improvement of receiving water quality, and public health benefit.

These steps are really just crucial components of an effective asset management and capital improvement plan.

Put it in gear.

This is the phase where you begin to implement the improvements you’ve selected.  It includes the creation of a detailed implementation schedule and the development of financial strategies to make sure the program is fully funded.

When looking for a consultant to assist you with a long-term stormwater management planning process, you’ll want to find one with ample financial expertise – someone who has extensive knowledge of the financing options available to municipalities, including grants and loans or user fees (among others).


HRG can help you evaluate whether stormwater user fees could benefit your community. Check out our guide:

Stormwater Utility Guide

Determining If a Stormwater Utility Is Right for Your Community

It includes:

• Answers to common questions about stormwater utilities
• Advice for how to build public consensus for stormwater fees
• An outline of the early steps you should take when investigating the feasibility of a stormwater utility

Download the guide at

www.hrg-inc.com/stormwater-utility-guide


Perform a check-up.

You’re not done yet! Once you’ve started implementing your plan, you’ll want to periodically assess how it’s working and make adjustments, as needed. Your consultant should clearly outline the metrics you will use to measure results. You’ll also want to track any cost savings your improvements produce.  This is important for providing the buy-in to keep the program going.  It will also help you identify ways to reinvest those savings.

As regulation and MS4 permitting requirements increase, municipalities will find that the historically reactive approach they have taken to stormwater management will not be enough to comply. They will need to take a more proactive approach to stormwater management planning based on their long-term vision for the community.  These tips are great place to start for creating that vision.

(If you’d like to learn more about stormwater management planning, visit our Water Resources page for a list of services we provide, more of our Insights on stormwater and MS4, descriptions of example projects we’ve completed, and profiles of our stormwater design professionals.)

 


Matthew Bonanno, P.E., Matt Bonannois the civil services practice area leader at Herbert, Rowland & Grubic, Inc. He has 15 years of experience in stormwater management, water resources engineering, and municipal retainer services throughout Central Pennsylvania. He can be reached at (717) 564-1121 or mbonanno@hrg-inc.com

 

Adrienne Vicari, P.E.,Adrienne M. Vicari is the financial services practice area leader at Herbert, Rowland & Grubic, Inc. In this role, she has helped HRG provide strategic financial planning and grant administration services to numerous municipal and municipal authority clients. She is also serving as project manager for several projects involving the creation of stormwater authorities or the addition of stormwater to the charter of existing authorities throughout Pennsylvania.

 

 

Utility Asset Management: Maximizing ROI

Money being washed down the drain

 

Each year, water and wastewater utilities send uncalculated dollars down the drain because of leaks and system failures, but asset management could provide the savings they need to respond to the creeping threats of aging infrastructure, water shortages, and increasingly stringent regulations.

Last year, UCLA filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power for $13 million in damages sustained during a water main break on campus in 2014. This break released 20 million gallons of water onto Sunset Boulevard, flooding the street, campus buildings, and athletic facilities.

The lawsuit is just one of many claims the utility has received from people and businesses impacted by the water main failure; and it’s a reminder of the often hidden and forgotten costs utilities face when their infrastructure fails.

Every day, U.S. utilities produce 34 billion gallons of water, and 22% of it is lost through leaks. That’s billions of dollars in treatment, energy, labor and operations costs that cannot be recouped. These leaks cost the average utility more than $100,000 per year in revenue, but water main breaks like the one at UCLA can be even more costly.

Each year, there are approximately 240,000 water main breaks in the U.S., costing utilities an average $500,000 per break.

Much of our water and wastewater infrastructure is old and has far exceeded its life expectancy. Some pipes date back to the Civil War era! The cost to replace this infrastructure will be high, but, as these examples demonstrate, so is the cost of doing nothing.

As utilities struggle to budget for the replacement of aging systems, they continue to face increasing cost pressures from federal mandates. While the EPA establishes new limits on different contaminants (often requiring utilities to acquire new technology or improve their facilities), funding has not kept pace with these new demands. A report by the Water Infrastructure Network indicates that federal funding on water and wastewater systems has declined by more than 70% since 1980. As a result, local utilities have had to shift more of their revenue from operations and maintenance to new capital expenditures, leaving them even more ill-equipped to respond to an aging system.

At the same time, conservation efforts and improved technology have led many Americans to reduce their water consumption. While this is great for the environment, it translates into lower revenues for utilities – even as water acquisition costs increase (because utilities must turn to more expensive water sources once the least costly sources run dry).

With rising costs and shrinking revenues, utilities need to carefully manage every dollar to ensure the maximum return on their investment. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that the cost to make the improvements our water and wastewater system needs to keep functioning over the long term is more than $1 trillion. While there is plenty of work to be done, there is simply not enough funding to do it all at once. Therefore, ASCE recommends assessing the condition of every pipe and valve to determine the risks of failure and properly allocate funds where they are needed most. The need for asset management and capital improvement planning in the water utility industry has never been greater.

What is asset management?

Asset management is a systematic approach to minimizing the cost of owning, operating, and maintaining your infrastructure at acceptable levels of service.

It is not a computer system or GIS, though these are often valuable tools employed in an asset management program for record-keeping and data analysis. Depending on the needs of your utility, an effective asset management system could be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet or as robust as an enterprise level solution integrating all of your inventory, operations and maintenance, billing, and document management functions.  The solution can include mobile interfaces for supporting field crews and even interactive applications to enhance and promote public interaction and transparency.

While utility managers often reject implementing a large-scale asset management program because they think it will cost too much, the truth is: asset management is an investment designed to cut  inefficient or wasteful spending and stretch your budget further.

It is about optimizing how you spend your budget dollars in order to make sure they are providing the largest possible return on investment: reducing the life cycle costs of each asset you own while maximizing the service that asset provides over time.

A proper asset management and capital improvement program will help a utility identify areas where money is not being spent wisely and reallocate those funds where they can be most beneficial.

It will also help you recognize and evaluate options for keeping your assets functioning for a longer period of time, so that you don’t need to invest in expensive upgrades or replacements as frequently.

An asset management program involves:

Creating an inventory of what you have and its condition

Establishing your goals.

Prioritizing what’s most critical and directing resources to those needs first.

Measuring the results.

Analyzing those results and repeating or revising the cycle.

Circular Nature of Asset Management

 

It is a circular process that never ends. Many things change over time: the condition of your assets, regulations and the business climate you operate in, the number of users you serve, etc.  A good asset management and capital improvement program helps you plan for these changes in advance and respond proactively before they become threats to your bottom line.

Because of the tight financial constraints under which most utilities operate, they often take a reactive approach to budgeting for maintenance and replacements. As an asset fails, they make room in the budget to fix it or replace it, but this reactive approach will not be sustainable over the long-term.  Our infrastructure is too old, and too much work will be needed to be able to pay for it all at once.  Utilities need to plan for this inevitable future now, so that they can begin saving the money they will need in the coming decades.

 

Photo by Connie Ma. Published here under a Creative Commons license.

crews working overnight at a water main break
Proactive approach vs. Reactive: By monitoring the condition of your assets and planning for their maintenance and replacement in advance, you avoid the high costs associated with failures like this middle-of-the-night water main break.

Though the financial obligations associated with aging infrastructure, increasingly stringent regulation, and shrinking grant programs can seem overwhelming, asset management and capital improvement planning can help. Asset management helps you find the waste in your spending programs and put those dollars to better use. It helps you recognize potential threats to your system and minimize risk (thereby minimizing the financial damage those threats can do). It also helps you improve service to your customers and achieve buy-in from them when the case must be made for rate increases.

Investing in asset management and capital improvement planning can be hard to justify when utility budgets are stretched so thin, but the savings an asset management program can produce will more than pay for the program over time. Those savings, in fact, may be crucial to meeting the coming challenge of replacing our aging water systems and addressing the possibility of spreading water shortages.

In business, there’s an old saying: Sometimes you have to spend money to make money. With asset management, you spend money to save   money.

 

Asset management can also be a valuable tool for municipalities managing a stormwater system. As MS4 permit requirements continue to grow, municipalities need to know more and more about the location and condition of their stormwater infrastructure. HRG has extensive experience creating asset management systems for stormwater systems, and we offer a wealth of advice about meeting MS4 permit requirements and funding stormwater program needs through user fees. Check out these Insights for additional information:

Tips for Preparing Your 2018 MS4 Permit Application
Learn more about: the specific deadlines associated with the 2018 MS4 permit application, how to apply for a waiver from the new Pollution Reduction Plan requirements, what details must be added to the 2018 mapping, and how municipalities can collaborate with others to improve the effectiveness (and reduce the cost) of their MS4 program.


Paperwork

 

Stormwater Utility Guide
Get answers to frequently asked questions about stormwater user fees and advice on how to build public support for a fee in your community. This guide provides an overview of a user fee’s benefits and an outline of the steps one must take to decide if a user fee is right for their municipality.

Stormwater Utility Guide

Also check out these examples of our project experience with asset management for water, wastewater, and stormwater systems:

 

Capital Region Water, Harrisburg, Dauphin County, PA
Herbert, Rowland & Grubic, Inc. (HRG) is developing/customizing a Geographic Information System (GIS) database for Capital Region Water (CRW) potable water, storm sewer and public sanitary sewer infrastructure networks.

CRW Logo


HodderHoward Hodder, GISP, is the manager of HRG’s Geomatics Service Group. As such, he oversees the delivery of surveying and geographic information system services to all of our clients firm-wide. He has extensive experience in asset management for municipal clients, particularly in the areas of sanitary and storm sewer systems. Contact Howard with your questions about asset management and GIS.

Join Howard at the 2016 Pennsylvania Utility Management Summit, being jointly presented by the PA American Water Works Association, PA Water Environment Association, and Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association! He will be presenting a workshop entitled “GIS and Asset Management: Putting a World of Information at Your Fingertips.”

Tips for Preparing Your 2018 MS4 Permit Application

Learn more about:

  • the specific deadlines associated with the 2018 MS4 permit application,
  • how to apply for a waiver from the new Pollution Reduction Plan requirements,
  • what details must be added to the 2018 mapping, and
  • how municipalities can collaborate with others to improve the effectiveness (and reduce the cost) of their MS4 program.

Get started now on all that 2018 MS4 permit paperwork

The 2018 MS4 permit cycle may seem far away, but the time to start preparing your permit application is now. Submission deadlines for portions of the application process begin as early as this December, and the final deadline for submission of your permit application is next September (2017).

If your municipality is one of the many subject to a new permit, new waiver, or new Pollutant Reduction Plan or TMDL requirements, you will need plenty of time and resources to produce the required documentation for your application.

Start now: the first submission deadline is just 3 months away.

As described in our previous post on the 2018 MS4 permit requirements, the new permit cycle adds requirements for Pollution Reduction Plans and TMDLs for many municipalities.  But it is possible for some of these municipalities to skip the submission of a Pollutant Reduction Plan altogether.

Municipalities may be eligible for a waiver from submitting a Pollution Reduction Plan if:

  • Their population size is small enough. (i.e. They have less than 1,000 people in their urban area or less than 10,000 in their entire municipality.) AND
  • They can show that none of their outfalls discharge to a locally impaired water OR
  • They discharge to impaired water, but DEP determines that they are not contributing to the impairment.

Deadlines are rapidly approachingIf you think your municipality might be eligible for a waiver, you will need to submit an advanced waiver request by December 31, 2016 at the latest. (In order to have time to review all applications thoroughly, DEP is requesting that you submit your applications even earlier, if possible.)

Mapping and paperwork are required for a waiver request, so you will need time to work with a consultant or government agency with GIS support staff to develop these materials.

 

Preparing an Advanced Waiver Request

Waiver requests must include:

  • A detailed map of the MS4, which includes all outfalls, storm sewers, surface waters, land uses, and any connections to other MS4s.
  • An outline of the drainage area for each outfall that discharges to impaired waters.
  • A written explanation of why your waiver is justified.

There is no application fee for an advanced waiver request. If your waiver is granted, you must include two copies of it with your completed permit application in September 2017.

NOTE: You must submit your waiver request by December 31 to avoid submitting a Pollutant Reduction Plan. Even if you qualify for the waiver, you will have to submit the plan if you didn’t apply for an advanced waiver by December 31 in case, upon review, a General Permit is actually issued by DEP.

 

Even if the advanced waiver deadline does not apply to your municipality, it is still imperative to begin planning for your 2018 permit cycle now. The pollutant reduction plans for the permit application are due next September, but the plan(s) must be completed and posted for public comment at least 45 days in advance, which is less than a year away.

Review/complete/update your map: New information is required.

MS4 permit requirements are moving from a qualitative approach to a quantitative approach: Instead of just implementing BMPs in a good faith effort to improve stormwater quality, municipalities are increasingly being asked to determine the exact nature of their discharge and specifically demonstrate how they are reducing the quantity and concentration of pollutants. Good mapping is essential to this task because you cannot eliminate illicit discharges if you do not know where they originate.

Accordingly, DEP has clarified what permittees must map and submit with the 2018 permit application. This includes:

  •  The location of privately owned storm sewers and other government-agency-owned facilities that connect to the municipal system.
  •  A delineation of the storm sewershed for each stormwater outfall.

What is a storm sewershed?

It is the entire land area that drains to a particular regulated MS4 outfall. (Outfalls are any discernible, confined conveyance of stormwater that discharges to surface waters. This includes pipes, ditches, channels, etc.)

Why are storm sewersheds relevant?

Municipalities subject to Pollutant Control Planning are required to develop an inventory of pollutant sources within their MS4. The storm sewershed will define the areas to be investigated in order to identify and investigate potential pollutant sources.

Municipalities with Pollution Reduction Plan requirements have specific goals for reducing their pollutant contributions. The storm sewersheds will minimize the planning area for existing base loads, and identify locations of BMPs that will provide the necessary pollutant reduction in those areas. (Municipalities with Pollutant Reduction Plan requirements include Chesapeake Bay watershed contributors, municipalities with watershed impairments attributed to nutrients and/or sediment, and TMDLs.)

In the current PAG-13, municipalities are expected to ensure the proper operation of all stormwater facilities within their MS4 (even privately owned facilities), some of which are not accessible (feasibly, legally, etc.). For this reason, DEP will now accept observation points on the mapping which indicate where municipal staff can inspect facilities that are not accessible due to safety or legal concerns.

Collecting data for mappingFor existing permittees, the 2018 mapping should include:

  • Municipal boundary lines.
  • 2010 Urbanized Area.
  • The location of all regulated outfalls – even those that are privately owned but connect to the public system. (Each outfall should be numbered for reference and should include observation point locations, where applicable.)
  • Surface waters that receive drainage from the MS4.
  • The entire storm sewer collection system that is owned or operated by the permittee including roads, inlets/catch basins, piping, swales/channels, and storm sewersheds.

The purpose of this map is to track illicit discharges and map storm sewersheds for pollutant reduction planning. While digital mapping functions best for suburban municipalities and cities, boroughs may exist at a scale where less sophisticated mapping techniques may be more cost efficient and equally effective.

Watershed crossing municipal boundaries

Watersheds often cross municipal boundaries, so cooperation can be very beneficial when controlling stormwater.

Consider the value of working with others:

Stormwater does not recognize municipal boundaries. It continues to flow down slope, regardless of where the borders of an MS4 regulated area may lie.  But a municipality working on its own can only manage that stormwater as it flows through its boundaries.  With the new emphasis DEP is placing on pollutant reduction, municipalities may need to work together with their neighbors in order to meet their regulatory obligations.

Recognizing this, DEP is strongly encouraging collaboration in the 2018 permit cycle and in statewide training sessions provided in 2016.

The language of the permit instructions specifically addresses the formation of regional stormwater authorities:

“If a regional authority is created to administer stormwater management programs throughout multiple municipalities, the authority may apply on behalf of its municipalities using a single [form]. If DEP approves the [form], the permit will be issued in the name of the regional stormwater authority.”

DEP recognizes that collaboration between municipalities requires an agreement, which clearly outlines the rights and responsibilities of each member. The formation of a stormwater authority is an effective means of forming this agreement, but many municipalities have historically questioned who would be responsible for permit compliance: the municipality or the authority.

By clearly stating that the permit responsibility will be issued to the authority, DEP eliminates this concern, clearing the path for authorities to form. This makes it possible for multiple municipalities to truly share responsibility equitably.

DEP suggests working with local sportsmen’s groups, environmental groups, colleges, and others on public education efforts required by MCMs 1 and 2 and long-term implementation of BMP installation.

Such collaboration is already occurring in some areas. For example:

The Paxton Creek Watershed Education Association, Manada Conservancy, and Penn State Extension have extended their services to municipalities for educational workshops on rain gardens, rain barrels, stream buffers, etc.

Lower Swatara, Middletown Borough, Royalton Borough, and Conewago Township have partnered together to identify similar stormwater program issues, opportunities for collaboration, and a funding plan to realize achievable goals. This effort is being fundedthrough a grant received by the Alliance for the Bay.

DEP encourages municipalities to check with their county government and other entities for mapping data. Many counties have mapping available that could provide a foundation for the MS4 mapping the permit requires.  Other sources for mapping layers include DEP, USGS, and the US Census Bureau.  (Note that these entities can provide general basemap-type layers, but municipalities will still most likely need to supplement this with specific data about their stormwater infrastructure.)

Municipalities can also work with their local sanitary sewer authority.

Some sewer authorities have pretreatment requirements for businesses that discharge sewage with contaminants that cannot be treated by the sewage plant. If a property like this has pretreatment requirements for its sewage, there is a chance its stormwater runoff may also be contaminated. If the sewer authority shared its list of businesses subject to pretreatment requirements with the municipality, it could help municipal staff identify potential pollutant sources (a new requirement associated with Pollution Control Measures and Pollutant Reduction Plans).

DEP continues to encourage cooperation with the county conservation district on construction and post-construction stormwater management plans.Many municipalities have been working with their county conservation district on this for several permit cycles.

In general, the paperwork associated with construction and post-construction stormwater management is now understood to be subject to Chapter 102 regulations. If those regulations are delegated to the conservation district, the municipality will not have to track anything for MCM 4 under its MS4 program.  (Illicit discharges will still be handled on a case-by-case basis, but they would likely be addressed under Chapter 102.)  BMP operation and maintenance continues to be a long-term responsibility for municipalities to track, but not necessarily perform, specifically.

silt fence at construction site

In Summary, Get Ready

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania must meet federal water quality goals, and MS4 permittees are one piece of the overall watershed improvement plan. Wastewater improvements have been invested in for decades, agricultural accountability continues to improve, and urban stormwater (until proven to not be part of the water quality “problem”) continues to be a regulatory target.

The 2018 permit will require municipalities to more closely identify pollutant sources and begin mitigating them. New MS4s will have a steep learning curve, depending on their impaired watershed status and proximity to the Chesapeake Bay.  This is over and above the job of getting acquainted with the new acronyms they need to “speak” and other permit obligations to perform.

The new permit application requires existing MS4s to complete their maps (if not completed to date) and requires many MS4s to create and publicly vet Pollutant Reduction Plans. It will take time to compile this information, so municipalities should begin preparing their 2018 permit application components now.

Some municipalities may be able to obtain a waiver that eliminates the Planning requirement, but they should preliminarily apply for that waiver before December 31, 2016.

Collaboration with other municipalities, the county, and local community groups can help a municipality meet the more stringent requirements of the 2018 permit cycle. DEP encourages this collaboration but does not require it.  Still, the language of the 2018 permit cycle specifically clears a path for collaboration by allowing regional authorities and less rigid coalitions to assume ownership of the MS4 permit obligations.  Local governments can stretch their tax dollars if they think less locally.

If you have questions about the 2018 MS4 permit requirements and pollutant reduction planning, please contact Erin Letavic.


As MS4 permit requirements continue to increase, many municipalities are wondering where they will find the funding to meet these requirements. A stormwater user fee program is one option to consider, and HRG can help you decide if it is the right choice for your municipality. Download our guide:

Determining If a Stormwater Utility Is Right for Your Community

Stormwater Utility GuideIt includes
• Answers to common questions about stormwater utilities
• Advice for how to build public consensus for stormwater fees
• An outline of the early steps you should take when investigating the feasibility of a stormwater utility

Download the guide at

www.hrg-inc.com/stormwater-utility-guide


Erin LetavicErin G. Letavic, P.E., is a project manager in HRG’s Civil Group. She guides municipalities and cooperative groups throughout Pennsylvania through the management of their MS4 permits, provides grant application development and administration services, and provides retained engineering services to local government.

GUIDE: Are Stormwater Fees Right For Your Municipality?

Stormwater Utility Guide Stormwater costs are on the rise due to increased regulation, aging infrastructure, and the increasing frequency of heavy storms. But existing tax revenue is already spread thin by other priorities. You need more revenue to address your stormwater needs, and a utility could be the answer.

Stormwater utilities provide a dedicated stream of funding that ensures you always have the money on hand to manage stormwater issues – without competing with other budgetary needs. They also allow you to collect money from everyone who uses the service: even tax-exempt properties like churches, hospitals, and universities.  And they are a more equitable source of funding than property taxes because you charge users according to their contribution to runoff and can offer credits to people who reduce their runoff with approved techniques.

Find out it a stormwater utility could be right for your community with our guide. In it, you’ll learn

    • The many advantages of forming a stormwater utility.
    • Answers to frequently asked questions about stormwater utilities.
    • How a dedicated revenue stream can make your grant applications more attractive to selection committees.
    • How to structure the ownership and responsibility for facilities between the municipality and an authority to ensure your interests are well-protected.
    • Tips on how to build public support for a stormwater fee.
    • The first steps in implementing a stormwater utility.

 


Find out if stormwater fees are right for your community.

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PA Considering New Stormwater Fee Legislation

Photo by Ruhrfisch.  Published via a Creative Commons license.

PA State Capitol

There’s no reason to wait for legislation about stormwater fees currently circulating through the PA Capitol.  The work you would do to implement an authority will still be required even if the legislation passes.

 

Stormwater funding is in the news again these days, thanks to three separate bills currently circulating through the Pennsylvania House and Senate:

These bills are designed to allow municipalities to charge a fee for stormwater management services without having to use a municipal authority. (They all contain essentially the same language but are separated into three bills as amendments to separate codes applying to Second Class Townships [1325], Boroughs [1394], and First Class Townships [1661].)

Some of our clients have asked whether they should hold off on developing and implementing their stormwater management program until we know whether these bills will become law or not, and the answer to that question is no. If you want to explore your options regarding a stormwater fee, now is the time to get started. 

The steps you take to implement a stormwater fee will be the same whether you use an authority or are approved by this potential legislation to do it yourself.

The draft language of the legislation states that the fees “may not exceed the amount necessary to meet the minimum requirements of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act … for the construction, maintenance, and operation of stormwater management facilities and systems.”

Enacting a stormwater fee via the proposed legislation will not be as simple as picking a round number and passing an ordinance. You will need to carefully consider how much it will cost to meet regulatory requirements and provide the desired level of service to your customers.  This means you will still have to conduct an inventory of your facilities, their condition, and the costs associated with their maintenance and operation – just as a stormwater authority is required to do.  You will also need to identify any future costs related to upgrades and repairs and consider varying levels of service provided to property owners throughout the community – additional steps a stormwater authority is required to do.

Regardless of whether the fee comes under the municipality’s name or that of a municipal authority, public outreach will still be necessary to gain support for the stormwater management program and associated fee – just as it would be warranted with the implementation of an authority.

Thus, there is no reason to delay these steps while you wait for these bills to make it through the legislature. All of the work you do in the coming months to inventory your facilities, calculate costs, and gain public consensus will still be useful if the legislation passes.

The legislative process is long. Waiting till this process is complete will take months or even years. In the meantime, stormwater management costs will continue to rise, as MS4 permit requirements become more stringent in 2018 and communities continue to struggle with aging infrastructure, increasing development, and heavier storms.

A qualified financial consultant with expertise in public works and utilities can help you evaluate all of your funding options and determine the best course of action. In order to do so, he or she will have to conduct the steps outlined in this article – regardless of what option will ultimately be selected.

Don’t let the flood of stormwater management costs continue to rise in your community while this legislation works its way through the halls of state government. Investigate your options now.


Do you want to learn more about how a stormwater utility could fund your stormwater program? Download our guide:

Determining If a Stormwater Utility Is Right for Your Community

Stormwater Utility GuideIt includes
• Answers to common questions about stormwater utilities
• Advice for how to build public consensus for stormwater fees
• An outline of the early steps you should take when investigating the feasibility of a stormwater utility

Download the guide at

www.hrg-inc.com/stormwater-utility-guide


VicariAdrienne Vicari, P.E., is the financial services practice area leader at HRG. In this role, she has helped the firm provide strategic financial planning and grant administration services to numerous municipal and municipal authority clients. She is also serving as project manager for several projects involving the creation of stormwater authorities or the addition of stormwater to the charter of existing authorities throughout Pennsylvania.

Water Resource Engineers Are Rising to New and Bigger Challenges

by Matthew Bonanno, P.E.

Flooded Street

This article was published in the Engineers’ Week supplement of the Harrisburg Patriot-News in February 2016.

Water is a precious resource, but, during extreme weather events, it can also be a deadly foe.

Without water, you could not take your morning shower, drink your coffee, use bathroom facilities, wash your clothes or water your lawn.

Yet, as crucial as water is to our survival, too much water at one time can be very dangerous: ask anyone who has been trapped in their car or in their home as water rises, like the individuals who were rescued during the massive flooding that hit Central Pennsylvania in September 2011 during Tropical Storm Lee.

Engineers work hard to ensure that communities have enough water to drink, cook, and clean, while also striving to ensure that public and private property is not threatened by water from storms or failing infrastructure, like burst pipes or deteriorating dams.

In order to keep our water clean, engineers must prevent pollutants from entering our local rivers, lakes and streams, and, in order to protect against stormwater damage, they must collect, capture and convey stormwater runoff away from homes and businesses using swales, inlets and piping. These drainage facilities must be designed to handle the sudden influx of runoff that comes with heavy storms and must be maintained in order to work properly. Many innovative drainage systems are designed to collect and infiltrate runoff back into the ground to recharge aquifers and reduce the amount of water that leaves each site.

It’s an important job: Even in the United States, hundreds of people become ill from exposure to waterborne illness each year. In 2012, the most recent year for which the Centers for Disease Control has released a report, 431 people across the nation suffered a waterborne illness.  The United States has averaged almost $8 billion dollars in property damage and 82 deaths per year due to flooding over the past three decades, according to the National Weather Service.

But the job to protect the public has become even harder in recent years.

Rapid growth and development puts a heavy strain on our existing infrastructure. New shopping centers, schools, and hospitals bring more pavement, and pavement does not absorb rainfall like undisturbed land does.  Without proper stormwater management techniques, these impervious surfaces have the potential to increase the amount of water being directed into our stormwater pipes, which were not necessarily designed for the increased water volumes.

In addition, the increasing frequency of heavy storms in recent years (and the prediction that this heavier storm activity will continue), places even more burden on our stormwater systems. Localized flooding has become more common and more severe as the frequency and intensity of storms have increased.

Yet, as the demand on our infrastructure grows, the health of that infrastructure is in decline. A high percentage of our pipes and inlets are decades old.  With age comes deterioration, and these drainage systems may not be strong enough to withstand the water flows for which they were designed, let alone the increasing flows they carry today.

Stormwater is under heavier scrutiny today than in the past. Over the past 40 years, engineers have made great strides reducing or eliminating water pollution from industrial facilities and wastewater treatment plants.  As a result, some believe that one of the greatest causes of water pollution today is stormwater discharges, and regulators have focused their attention on reducing this threat with increased regulation, primarily through the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) program.

Today’s civil and municipal engineers are responding to these new challenges as they have always done: with creative thinking. Green infrastructure (such as vegetation that remove pollutants from the water before it is collected and conveyed in our inlets and pipes) and stormwater best management practices (like porous pavement that absorbs rainfall) are tools for improved water management.  Newer funding mechanisms like stormwater authorities will help us allocate the funds needed to repair aging pipes and build new infrastructure where needed.

Porous Pavement

 

Tough jobs like this cannot be done alone, however. Community support is needed to make sure that funding is allocated and innovative approaches are accepted and implemented. Together, engineers and community members can ensure the safety and purity of our water for generations to come.


BonannoMatthew Bonanno, P.E., is the civil services practice area leader at Herbert, Rowland & Grubic, Inc. He has 15 years of experience in stormwater management, water resources engineering, and municipal retainer services throughout Central Pennsylvania.  He can be reached at (717) 564-1121 or mbonanno@hrg-inc.com

Building Voter Support for Stormwater Fees

Hand voteMany local officials realize the need to improve stormwater management to protect water quality, but fear constituents would oppose a new fee for stormwater services. Experience shows a transparent approach that involves community stakeholders can build consensus.

by: Adrienne Vicari, P.E.
 

(These tips are excerpted from an article we published in the October 2015 issue of Pennsylvania Township News magazine and are used here with their permission. Reprints of the entire article are available upon request.)

Increasingly stringent stormwater regulations are causing municipalities to think about how they can fund badly needed stormwater system improvements in their community. Many municipalities are considering funding their program through user fees charged by a municipal authority, as authorized by Act 68 of 2013, but some municipal leaders worry that a new fee may be unpopular with residents and businesses.

Though stormwater utility fees are still largely unchartered territory in Pennsylvania (less than a dozen communities have established one here), the use of dedicated stormwater utilities and stormwater fees is a nationwide movement that has seen steady growth over the past four decades. Western Kentucky University reports that there are more than 1,500 stormwater utilities throughout the United States and Canada, serving communities as small as 88 people to more than 3 million. Their success in building consensus among constituents for stormwater fees can show local municipalities a path to approval in their own community.

HRG has used information from the Western Kentucky University study, the nationwide non-profit Water Words That Work, and several case studies published by the EPA (along with our own experience implementing stormwater authorities) to come up with several tips on how municipalities can build local support for stormwater user fees.

 

  1. Make sure you have identified and involved all the potential stakeholders – even those who oppose the formation of a utility – and form a stakeholder advisory committee. If you don’t attempt to address the concerns of your opposition in these committee meetings, they can come back to haunt you later when it comes time to pass the resolution. According to the EPA case studies, this is what happened in Dover, New Hampshire, and Huntsville, Alabama. Both communities had small advisory committees, but they did not engage all community groups. Though there was unanimous consent among the committee members to form a stormwater utility, the opposition of certain community groups who had not been represented on the committee ultimately drowned out their voices, and the municipal leadership declined to pass the resolution.
  2. Make the stakeholder committee an open forum where people feel comfortable expressing all points of view. Again, you want to deal with any potential obstacles proactively, rather than be blindsided by them in the final stretch. Stakeholder advisory committee meetings are more conducive to problem-solving and negotiating in a deliberative way than public meetings are. By including your opposition early in the process and giving everyone a chance to speak freely, you ensure that major obstacles to support will have been addressed before a public vote.
  3. Have your stakeholder committee discuss the stormwater program and what it can accomplish first. Don’t bring up funding till you’ve established a need for improvements and motivated people to support them. People need to know what they’re getting before they can be motivated to hand over their money.
  4. Clearly define the benefits of the program in all public outreach efforts. Tell people exactly what improvements you intend to make with the money you raise, and quantify the benefits of those improvements whenever possible. For example: “This project will reduce the likelihood of flooding along Main Street by 75%.”
  5. Show, don’t just tell. Visuals are particularly persuasive. Water Words That Work found that showing people photographs of how the fee would be used had the single most dramatic effect of any information provided in gaining approval of the fee.
  6. Choose your words carefully. Name the fee to clearly convey the service you are providing. “Stormwater management” is too vague and largely meaningless to the average person, but “clean water protection” has obvious value. In the Water Words That Work survey, “pollution control and flood reduction fee” tested better than any other term containing the words stormwater, authority or utility.
  7. Emphasize fairness. People generally believe that those who use a service most should pay more for it, so show them how your fee ensures that is the case. Explain why it’s important that non-profits pay the fee because they, too, contribute to stormwater discharges (often more than residents because of their large impervious parking areas). Tell them about credits that people can receive if they lower their stormwater impact by installing green infrastructure on their property. In general, people perceive fees based on actual impervious area to be the most fair and equitable (as opposed to a flat rate), but some of the communities EPA studied did successfully enact flat rates with effective public education about the reasons why that option was chosen.
  8. Demonstrate cost-effectiveness and be transparent about finances. If a stormwater utility is truly the best approach for your community, the numbers will convey that, and detailed economic studies are always an integral part of the planning process. Use those numbers to prove that the stormwater fee will better accomplish program goals than general fund revenue or any other option available. Voters can often be mistrustful of a government’s ability to use funds wisely. Being transparent about program finances (how the fee was determined, how it will be used) eases minds and reduces the chance of a legal challenge.
  9. Define this as a local solution to a local problem. Avoid talk about state and federal mandates or general environmental goals. If flooding is a recurring problem in your community, show how this program will reduce that problem. If pollution is a concern, talk specifically about keeping local waterways clean: the stream families teach their children to fish in, the lake where they go swimming.

Determining whether a stormwater utility is the most effective way to fund infrastructure needs in your community is a complex process that requires dual expertise in civil engineering and financial consulting. Unfortunately, some communities are afraid to even investigate the option because they believe their constituents will never approve of a stormwater fee.   In communities where utilizing general tax revenue is not the best fit approach, research by EPA and others cited in this article shows that an effective public outreach program, which includes key stakeholder groups in the earliest planning stages, can be successful in persuading people to accept stormwater management fees.


Do you want to learn more about how a stormwater utility could fund your stormwater program? Download our guide:

Determining If a Stormwater Utility Is Right for Your Community

Stormwater Utility GuideIt includes
• Answers to common questions about stormwater utilities
• More advice for how to build public consensus for stormwater fees
• An outline of the early steps you should take when investigating the feasibility of a stormwater utility

Download the guide at

www.hrg-inc.com/stormwater-utility-guide


VicariAdrienne Vicari, P.E., is the financial services practice area leader at HRG. In this role, she has helped the firm provide strategic financial planning and grant administration services to numerous municipal and municipal authority clients. She is also serving as project manager for several projects involving the creation of stormwater authorities or the addition of stormwater to the charter of existing authorities throughout Pennsylvania. Contact Adrienne about stormwater authorities.

The Potential Advantages of a Stormwater Utility for Financing Your Stormwater Management Needs

by: Adrienne Vicari, P.E.

West Clarion University Pond

Two years after the passage of Act 68, many municipalities still have legitimate concerns about whether a stormwater authority would be right for their community. In a previous article, HRG addressed concerns about public opposition, up-front costs, and a loss of control over the infrastructure covered under the MS4 permit. In today’s article, we discuss the potential advantages of stormwater authorities to municipalities searching for ways to finance their stormwater management programs.

Advantage #1: Stormwater authorities enable you to collect money from tax-exempt users.

Churches and non-profit organizations like hospitals contribute a lot of stormwater runoff to the local watershed, but a tax would never collect any revenue from them because they are tax-exempt. By using the stormwater authority structure, you can charge fees to these users and collect their fair share contribution to stormwater management efforts.

Advantage #2: Stormwater authorities can collect fees from multiple municipalities who may be contributing runoff to their watershed; municipalities cannot charge anyone outside their own borders.

Political boundaries and watersheds seldom coincide. Stormwater is not neatly contained by political boundaries, and watersheds often cross through more than one municipality. But townships and cities cannot charge other local governments for stormwater management under state law. A multi-municipal (or joint) stormwater authority, however, can be set up to serve an area that extends beyond the boundaries of a single municipality, which enables everyone within a particular watershed to contribute to the stormwater management services it requires.

Advantage #3: Stormwater authority fees are more equitable than a property tax.

As stated in #1 and #2, stormwater utility fees ensure that everyone who contributes to a community’s stormwater pays for the services they use (even tax-exempt organizations, particularly if a utility is set up on a watershed-wide basis).

But stormwater fees are also much more flexible and responsive to the true nature of stormwater than a straight property tax would be. The value of someone’s land has little to do with how much stormwater it creates, so a property tax is inherently unfair for this purpose. A property could be appraised at a high value and contribute very little to stormwater, but an experienced financial consultant can help set up an authority’s rate structure based on the quantity and/or quality of runoff a property creates (rather than charging a flat fee or basing it on acreage).

A municipality can also offer credits to property owners who install best management practices for controlling runoff. (This has the added bonus of encouraging good behavior: inspiring people to install stormwater control measures like rain gardens, buffers, etc. on their property.)

Thus, a well-designed stormwater utility ensures everyone pays according to how much he or she uses the service.

Advantage #4: Stormwater authorities provide a dedicated revenue stream for stormwater improvements.

Relying on general tax revenue for stormwater improvements isn’t practical for some communities. There simply isn’t enough money to cover all of the needs the municipality must address, and stormwater often falls to the bottom of the list because money is allocated to more high profile projects such as a bridge replacement or pavement rehabilitation. Unless there is major flooding, stormwater is often forgotten and doesn’t receive the financial attention it needs.

With a dedicated stormwater fee, the money is there to maintain, repair and replace stormwater infrastructure on a proactive basis, rather than waiting till flooding causes expensive damage or impacts public safety.

Advantage #5: A dedicated revenue stream for stormwater can improve the finances of a municipality.

It can do so in several ways. First, now that the municipality no longer directs tax revenue to stormwater management, it has more tax dollars available for its other priorities.

Second, debt associated with stormwater improvements is no longer considered direct municipal debt because it can be self-liquidated by the authority’s revenue stream. Therefore, the stormwater debt doesn’t count towards the municipality’s borrowing limit, and its impact on the municipality’s bond rating is reduced. (Since municipal authorities are not subject to the same restrictions on borrowing and bond rating concerns as municipalities, they are often able to implement larger projects or make improvements in a timelier manner than a municipality could.)

Third, many agencies that offer grants and loans expect the municipality to put up matching funds, which is hard to do when you don’t have a dedicated stormwater revenue stream. Even if matching funds are not an official requirement of the grant or loan, most funding agencies place a higher preference on recipients who have money available for the infrastructure because they have a greater confidence in their ability to complete the project if there are issues and to maintain it after it’s done.

Advantage #6: Stormwater authorities are better positioned to raise rates than municipalities are to raise taxes if stormwater obligations increase.

Tax increases are not popular politically, and they are hard to pass. As stormwater infrastructure needs change, municipalities may need a revenue source that is flexible enough to meet those changing demands.

Every municipality’s financial situation and stormwater needs are different, so it’s wise to seek the counsel of a consultant with dual expertise in engineering and financial consulting to determine if a stormwater utility is right for your community. If it is, your consultant can help you organize a program that maximizes an authority’s potential advantages: providing a dedicated revenue stream for stormwater management that is more equitable than other funding sources and freeing up the municipality’s tax dollars for other priorities without adding to its direct debt or negatively impacting its bond rating.


Do you want to learn more about how a stormwater utility could fund your stormwater program? Download our guide:

Determining If a Stormwater Utility Is Right for Your Community

Stormwater Utility GuideIt includes
• Answers to common questions about stormwater utilities
• Advice for how to build public consensus for stormwater fees
• An outline of the early steps you should take when investigating the feasibility of a stormwater utility

Download the guide at

www.hrg-inc.com/stormwater-utility-guide


VicariAdrienne Vicari, P.E., is the financial services practice area leader at HRG. In this role, she has helped the firm provide strategic financial planning and grant administration services to numerous municipal and municipal authority clients. She is also serving as project manager for several projects involving the creation of stormwater authorities or the addition of stormwater to the charter of existing authorities throughout Pennsylvania. Contact Adrienne about stormwater authorities.