While stormwater utilities have gained in popularity across the country, common misconceptions frustrate their implementation. Here are the most common myths about stormwater utilities, debunked.
Under the Clean Stormwater and Flood Reduction Act, each locality may decide whether a stormwater utility is appropriate for their community. The law is permissive, not mandatory.
A stormwater utility does not randomly tax rainfall, but rather charges a user fee based on the stormwater generated by each property, which must then be managed by the stormwater system in order to prevent flooding and water pollution. The fee supports important public benefits. Depending on the community, it could eliminate raw sewage from streets, curtail property damage from flooding, or protect local tourism and recreation-based economies. It is a fair way to fix serious problems.
In many New Jersey communities, chronic flooding and water quality problems are well-documented. Approximately 90 percent of New Jersey waterways do not comply with water quality standards, and on average 60 percent of the pollution load is carried by stormwater. And as of 2017, New Jersey ranked fifth in the nation in flood insurance policies, with 226,588*.
*Source: Insurance Information Institute, 2017. Total of 226,588 flood insurance policies in NJ.
The Clean Stormwater and Flood Reduction Act exclusively dedicates fee revenue to a local fund that can only be spent on stormwater needs. Auditors will monitor the fund to enforce this.
It is not necessary to create a separate agency to administer a stormwater utility. Most often, the responsibility is simply added to an existing department of public works or sewerage authority.
All communities spend money on stormwater needs, but the service is obscure and the amount budgeted is often insufficient.
Since the age and condition of stormwater systems varies significantly, the revenue need can vary widely across communities. Imposing a standard statewide fee would be inappropriate and inefficient. At the local level, the fee must be approved by the governing body based on each community’s needs.
Individual properties are not self-sufficient when it comes to stormwater. As just two examples:
- The stormwater that falls on some private properties is carried by shared pipes to nearby waterways.
- Residents and employees travelling to your property travel on roads that generate stormwater runoff that the local government must manage.
The only exemption allowed in New Jersey is for agricultural land. However, the state enabling law requires partial fee credits for properties that manage stormwater on site in compliance with the standards that existed when the system was installed, for best management practices, and for green infrastructure that reduces, retains, or treats stormwater onsite and which exceeds any state or local regulatory requirements currently applicable to the property.
Stormwater permit fees, collected through the New Jersey Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NJPDES) from all private and public entities that discharge to the surface and ground waters of the state, are deposited with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. The Department uses these revenues to support staff who monitor water quality and manage the corresponding discharge permits. The funds do not support local stormwater management systems.