Frequently Asked Questions
- What is stormwater runoff?
- Why is stormwater runoff a problem?
- Where do the pollutants in stormwater runoff come from?
- Why should I care?
- What are some examples of drainage problems?
- What happens if we don’t do anything about stormwater runoff?
- What is the difference between a separated and combined sewer system?
- What is green infrastructure?
- What can I do to help?
Stormwater runoff is rainfall or snowmelt that is not absorbed into the ground but rather flows over the land’s surface before eventually emptying into a storm drain or the nearest local waterbody. Impervious surfaces like roadways, sidewalks, and building rooftops prevent rainfall from naturally soaking into the ground.
Every time it rains, the rainwater that is not absorbed into the ground carries contaminants from lawns, streets, buildings and parking lots, and deposits them directly into our local waters. Untreated stormwater causes beach closures, contamination of shellfish beds, nuisance conditions in lakes, and degraded ecosystems. Flooding is another big problem caused by stormwater runoff. When drainage structures are not able to efficiently convey runoff, streets and adjacent properties may be flooded. In some areas, this happens with even small amounts of rain.
Pollutants come from a variety of sources, such as oil and other automotive fluids, pet waste that is improperly disposed of, lawn chemicals and fertilizers, cigarette butts and other road debris, and poorly controlled construction sites that allow dirt to flow to the local waterbody.
The negative impacts of stormwater runoff directly impact your community’s public safety, quality of life, and economic opportunities. The Narragansett Bay region’s aging infrastructure is unable to keep up with even small storms; streets that routinely flood pose driving hazards and hinder response by public safety vehicles. Stormwater polluted waterways negatively impact recreation and fishing opportunities, resulting in beach and shellfish bed closures. These events not only affect our community’s quality of life but also the state’s tourism industry, which attracts 10 million people a year.
Street flooding is a common problem in the area. This is typically caused by the drainage system being undersized (meaning the volume of runoff is greater than the drainage pipes’ capacity) or clogged with sediment or debris due to lack of cleaning. Deferred maintenance and repair can cause drainage structures to collapse, leading to significant damage to roadways and costly emergency repairs. Malfunctioning drainage systems can also cause flooding of adjacent properties and millions dollars in property damage.
The problems associated with stormwater runoff are not going away. As the region’s infrastructure continues to age and we experience more intense precipitation events as a result of our changing climate, our municipal governments will need more resources and funding to respond to emergencies. Without a comprehensive plan, the consequences of neglect - such as flooding and pollution - will worsen.
Combined sewer systems are sewers that are designed to collect wastewater and stormwater runoff in one pipe and transport the combined sewage to a wastewater treatment plant for treatment. After rainfall or snowmelt, however, the wastewater and stormwater can produce too much flow and overwhelm the pipes, leading to combined sewage overflows into local waterbodies. Separated systems are designed to collect stormwater and wastewater in separate pipes; only wastewater is transported to a wastewater treatment plant for treatment. Most separate stormwater systems discharge directly to local waters without treatment. The Narragansett Bay region has both separated and combined systems.
Green infrastructure is the use of vegetation, soils, and natural processes to provide water management that protects, restores, or mimics the natural water cycle.
Simple actions like minimizing the amount of pavement on your property, disconnecting roof downspouts so that they flow onto lawns and gardens, cleaning up pet waste, properly disposing of oil, and reducing or eliminating the use of fertilizer are just a few things you can do to help keep Narragansett Bay and our economy healthy. Visit the Documents & Resources page for links to resources where you can find out what changes you can make in your daily life to help protect your quality of life and the water quality of our rivers, lakes and Narragansett Bay.
Learn more about the Study, attend a Stakeholder Group meeting, and share your thoughts, questions, or concerns with the Steering Committee by contacting the consultant team at firstname.lastname@example.org
Stormwater Management District
- What is a “stormwater management district”?
- What is a “stormwater utility”?
- What are the benefits of implementing a stormwater management district?
- A stable, adequate, flexible, and equitable source of revenue for stormwater services which can then leverage grants and low cost loans.
- Consistent flood mitigation efforts across the region.
- An effective means of addressing watershed-wide water quality problems that span municipal borders.
- A cost-effective approach to addressing municipalities’ technical needs and services.
- The ability to resolve management issues and infrastructure problems of interconnected systems (that is, connections between drainage systems owned/managed by multiple entities).
- What kind of services would the stormwater management district potentially provide?
- Why is a regional approach being considered?
- Who would manage the district?
- Are other municipalities and regions putting similar fees in place?
- Are there examples of other municipalities implementing a stormwater utility?
- Fall River, Massachusetts
- Northampton, Massachusetts
- Lewiston, Maine
- South Burlington, Vermont
- Long Creek, Maine
A stormwater management district creates a separate organization that provides stormwater services for one or more cities or towns.
A stormwater utility is what a sewer utility is to sewage, and a water utility is to drinking water. It is an organized program to provide stormwater management services through a dedicated “stormwater fee.” The stormwater fee is typically based on the amount of impervious surface on a property.
There are many benefits to establishing a stormwater management district, including the ability to provide:
A stormwater management district would provide the operation, maintenance, and construction of proper stormwater infrastructure for member communities.
Currently, many municipal stormwater management programs in the region are underfunded and have a very limited capacity to manage runoff. Expertise in stormwater management is uneven among individual communities. In some municipalities it is managed by the highway department and in others the department of public works. A regional approach is being investigated with the intention of providing the communities with consistent and professional stormwater management expertise and services they can’t currently provide to their residents. While regionalization appears to offer a cost effective approach to address the region’s stormwater problems, Phase II of the study will identify the advantages and disadvantages of regionalization for the participating municipalities.
Phase II of the Study is looking at different management structures and will recommend one in the final report to be issued in Spring 2016.
According to the Western Kentucky University Stormwater Utility Survey (2014), more than 1,500 stormwater utilities have been documented nationwide.
Stormwater utilities are being implemented nationwide. In New England, some examples include:
- How are stormwater services currently paid for? How is a stormwater district fee different?
- Why would I pay a stormwater fee if there are no storm drains where I live?
- Why would I pay a stormwater fee if I don’t have a drainage problem?
- How would the stormwater fee be calculated?
- How is a stormwater fee different than a tax?
- If a stormwater management district is implemented, will my taxes go down?
- Would there be exemptions from the fee?
- Would I be able to get credit for stormwater management systems that I’ve already installed?
- Would there be incentives for property owners/managers to install systems on properties they are developing or redeveloping?
Currently, municipal stormwater services are paid for through the municipality’s general fund, which is primarily funded through property taxes based on a property’s assessed value. With a stormwater district in place, properties are charged a fee proportional to their stormwater contribution based on the property’s impervious surface area. Because fees may only be used for stormwater services, a stormwater district creates a more equitable dedicated revenue source to address flooding and water quality problems. This is being looked at as part of Phase II of the Study.
Stormwater systems include more than just storm drains. Stormwater is conveyed away from properties through ditches, curbs, gutters, culverts, and open streams. Municipalities are responsible for maintaining manmade and natural conveyance systems to minimize flooding and erosion.
If your property has impervious surface area it contributes to stormwater runoff. Although a drainage issue may not exist on your property, runoff from your property contributes to stormwater downstream. Additionally, the stormwater fee would not only be used to address drainage issues but would be used for maintaining systems in good working condition and improving water quality as well.
A fee program will be recommended in Phase II of the Study. There are several ways to determine the fee, based on impervious area, such as flat rates for residential properties, and individual parcel fees for apartments and condominiums, and commercial and industrial properties.
Stormwater fees are seen as more equitable than property taxes for funding stormwater services. Fees would be proportional to a property’s stormwater contribution, and not based on the value of the property.
Funding for the operation, maintenance and management of the stormwater system would no longer be part of the tax base if a district is implemented. Stormwater fees associated with the District would be dedicated for stormwater use only, no longer relying on communities’ general funds. However, it would be up to the administration of each community to decide if changes to the tax structure and rate are warranted.
Exemptions could be possible. This study is evaluating exemptions for the District and will provide recommendations on how to implement the program.
Credits could be provided for properties that treat and/or store stormwater on-site. This study is evaluating credits for the District and will provide recommendations on how to structure a credit program and what improvements qualify.
Incentives could be part of the overall management and funding. The District would decide if and how to structure an incentive program to encourage property owners to minimize impervious surfaces and to keep stormwater on-site, including what qualifies.
- What did Phase I of the Study evaluate?
- What will Phase II of the Study look at?
- How can I stay informed and be involved?
The purpose of Phase I was to determine if a regional approach to stormwater management based on user fees makes sense. It involved reaching out to relevant communities and discussing their individual stormwater issues and needs. The findings of the Phase I Study showed that in these communities, lack of proper stormwater management investment has resulted in polluted water, flooding and property damage, diminished quality of life, economic impacts, and outdated and aging infrastructure.
Phase II will look at options for managing and funding the proposed stormwater management district. The consulting team and participating municipalities will host stakeholder group meetings to engage and elicit input from key interest groups. Phase II also seeks to build public understanding of the need for a regional district and support to advance to Phase III – Implementation.
You can stay informed by checking out the “Latest News” section of our website, visiting the links to other information resources on the Documents & Resources page and contacting Cindy Baumann (email@example.com) or Shelby Basel (firstname.lastname@example.org) with comments or questions.