Stormwater utilities, a tool for managing flooding and water pollution, are gaining prominence in New Jersey as a better way to capture rain, fix old stormwater systems and build new ones to benefit homeowners, commuters, and the environment.
Instead of soaking into the ground, stormwater runs off of roofs, streets, parking lots, driveways and other impervious surfaces and causes flooding. During a storm, pollutants from human activities, such as motor oil, soaps, fertilizers, pet waste, and agricultural runoff, mix into the stormwater. The polluted runoff flows rapidly into local streams and overwhelms storm sewers.
According to the NJDEP stormwater is one of the most significant sources of pollution into our waterways. “Polluted stormwater is a problem from both a flooding and water pollution perspective,” said Policy Director Michael Pisauro. “Our current systems in New Jersey are insufficient.”
A stormwater utility is an efficient way to reduce flooding and improve water quality. A utility is responsible for the funding, construction and maintenance of a management system for polluted rainwater runoff.
Utilities can charge user fees based on the amount of stormwater generated by a site and use those funds to correct the problem. Individuals that address the problem on their own can secure credits against the fee. Stormwater utilities are not new. Since 1976, over 1,600 stormwater utilities have been created throughout the country. New Jersey is one of only 11 states in the nation without one.
Without enabling legislation, stormwater utilities are not allowed in New Jersey. Therefore, the Watershed supports the passage of legislation allowing the creation of stormwater utilities. Senators Bob Smith (D-17th District) and Kip Bateman (R-16th District) have introduced a bill in early January. This latest bill continues a decade-long effort to authorize stormwater utilities in New Jersey.
In addition to an efficient way to address stormwater, a utility also would provide incentives for property owners to manage stormwater with rain gardens and other green infrastructure, keeping trash and other pollutants out of the rivers. These incentives would apply solutions at the source of the problem.
Along with a regional approach, a stormwater utility would create a system and ongoing funding to fix New Jersey’s failing stormwater management and create reliable funding for new ones. The fees for stormwater utilities typically are based on a property’s impervious area, which includes rooftops, parking lots and other hard surfaces that prevent water from soaking into the ground.
Stormwater utilities can be a more efficient and economical way to improve stormwater management and comply with environmental regulations, such as the federal Clean Water Act, and support other forms of low-impact development, according to a Brookings Institution report.
We know the old way of addressing stormwater has resulted in flooding and degraded water. A stormwater utility can be the tool that reverses the course and improves our waterways and keeps our environment healthy.