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Re-Thinking Stormwater Fees

arlington county street retrofit

Green Infrastructure in Arlington, VA

Philadelphia’s implementation of stormwater utility fees premised on the amount of impervious surface area is the most equitable and efficient method of financing the ever-increasing stormwater management requirements that states and cities are currently facing.  As the EPA notes, it used to be that like many older cities, Philadelphia based its stormwater utility fees on the size of a customer’s water meter and their rate of water consumption. such, those customers with large parking or other impervious areas—which do not consume water, per se–could theoretically pay less in fees than say, an apartment building filled with thirsty tenants.  Recognizing that the greatest impact from stormwater comes from polluted runoff generated from impervious surfaces, cities like Philadelphia have begun to disassociate water usage from fees collected for the purpose of managing the qualitative and quantitative burdens that stormwater imposes on a community. 

Although the concept of stormwater utilities and impervious surface-based fees have been around since the early 1970’s and the passage of the Clean Water Act, the example of Philadelphia and other cities that have recently adopted this approach demonstrate the extent to which the concepts of green infrastructure and efficiency have taken hold in the early part of the 21st century.  Mounting pressure from legal and regulatory mandates with respect to polluted waterways, a diminishing stream of traditional funding sources in the wake of the great recession, crumbling grey infrastructure, and greater concern and understanding about the connection between stormwater and impaired ecosystems, are making communities see the efficacy of providing a dedicated source of revenue for funding stormwater management.

chicago city hall green roof

Green Roof, Chicago City Hall


With urban runoff representing an ongoing and grave threat to the nation’s water quality and with flooding and storm events taking an ever greater toll on cash-strapped states and cities, stormwater fees — and the green infrastructure that these fees are meant to incentivize — are part of the way forward for communities to make themselves more sustainable and resilient.  It also means that the way we impose fees on utility customers in the future will be more equitable and will incentivize a “greener” and more cost-effective approach to the way we deal with stormwater.                  

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