Regionalization: Pros and Cons

Implementing a stormwater utility at the municipal, multi-municipal, county and authority levels can be expected to differ principally in terms of increasing geographic scale. As the real extent of stormwater services expands, the variety and type of stormwater best management practices (BMPs) utilized in the service areas can also be expected to expand. Further, as the geographic scale of the stormwater utility services enlarges, the potential for areawide/watershed management approaches to be implemented increases. Several locations that have implemented stormwater utilities have found that areawide/watershed approaches to stormwater management allow for larger and inter-connected management practices and approaches. This has also been seen to reduce the number and cost of implementing and maintaining many small BMPs, with higher efficiency of stormwater management potentially being provided by larger BMP systems.

While there are not a large number of regional stormwater utilities in the country, larger-scale implementation has been seen to lower the cost of achieving the desired level-of-service (such as the Wyoming Valley Sanitation Authority in nearby Pennsylvania). Although this model is not well researched in stormwater literature, research shows that consolidation of water and wastewater utilities, brings scale benefits. Some benefits of regionalization of utility services include:

Supports watershed-scale planning and management

This is beneficial since watersheds do not follow political boundaries.

Eliminates duplication of services

Potential to streamline the execution of regulatory requirements

Ability to reduce the individual cost to customers

Ability to spread debt service as well as administrative and operational costs over a larger customer base, thus reducing the individual cost to customers.

Ability to take advantage of bulk purchasing opportunities for equipment and materials

Ability to afford and attract highly specialized employees

Such employees would perform in-house engineering, technical consulting, accounting, public relations and other functions.

Enhanced economic development by providing services to previously underserved areas

Ability to leverage staffing redundancy

This provides added versatility in operations and service reliability.

Enhanced opportunity for government grants and loans

Uniform policies and procedures within a county or across neighboring towns

While the potential for implementation of larger, more complex stormwater management approaches increases as the scale of implementation expands from municipal, to multi-municipal, to county scales, experience in this regard varies widely, including the potential for negative consequences. Formation of a regional stormwater utility will likely lead to less local control and autonomy. Also, permit obligations may be performed by others, increasing the risk of permit non-compliance. Nevertheless, when considering the scale of stormwater utility implementation, the feasibility analysis should consider the scale, and possible economies of scale that might derive from larger geographic approaches as well as the potential negative consequences.

For a detailed discussion of Regional Stormwater Management and the Wyoming Valley Sanitation Authority, click here.

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