Coming Soon to Your Water Bill: Cleaner Stormwater

Starting this summer, Baltimore City and the nine largest counties in the state – including Baltimore County – must begin assessing fees on property owners based on the amount of stormwater pollution each property produces.

Because stormwater from urban & suburban areas is the fastest growing source of pollution entering local streams, the Harbor,  and the Chesapeake Bay this problem is directly impacting the health of Baltimore’s people. Stormwater pollution contributes to sewage overflows,  compromises drinking water infrastructure, and creates flooding and so these mandate fees are an important part of the solution.

A stormwater utility in Baltimore City will help clean up messes like this
A stormwater utility in Baltimore City will help clean up messes like this.

Baltimore County is still determining how it will approach this mandate, and we will share information about their plans soon.

Baltimore City residents voted in November to create a new Stormwater Utility to manage these fees. In the past, resources for reducing stormwater pollution came from the City’s general fund, so these projects were often underfunded due to scarce resources and the need to provide other services. Once the utility is implemented, the funds collected will be dedicated to infrastructure improvements, consistent street sweeping operations and maintenance of existing structures. We will also see public/private partnership efforts to reduce litter, and a local source of funding for greening projects such as tree plantings and stream clean-ups.

Over the past month I attended four different community meetings organized by the Baltimore City Department of Public Works to publicize the new utility and to answer questions from residents about it. I am happy to report that City residents were generally receptive to the fee. There were questions and concerns, to be sure, but most comments appeared to be decidedly positive.

City residents should get credit for taking action by installing a rain garden.
City residents should get credit for taking action by installing a rain garden.

Residents were provided with basic billing information but wanted to know if there would be an appeals process or credit system that could reduce their fees; the answer is “yes” on both counts. The credit system has not been finalized, and Blue Water Baltimore is participating with other advocates in City-convened task force to create guidance for how this system will work for residents and property owners.

Based on discussions thus far, though, Blue Water Baltimore expects that residents will be able to apply for a credit if they have taken an approved action to reduce the amount of stormwater pollution their property produces – installing a rain garden, for example – or if they participate in local, environmentally-focused volunteer events.

At each meeting, residents encouraged the City to work closely and cooperatively with environmental non-profits and community groups in their efforts to reduce water pollution. This should include grant funding and use of City resources for volunteer projects and community-led activities.

Residents also wanted to know how the City will be helping them to organize clean ups, create tree pits, and eliminate impervious surfaces. Education was important to those that attended the northwest meeting. One City resident commented, “We need to get the kids involved but we also need to figure how to explain to adults what a storm drain is and where it’s going.”

Creating a much-needed funding source for stormwater management projects is just one piece of a very complex and costly solution. Residents who called for collaboration were right: we need everyone to do their part by working together, and Blue Water Baltimore is here to assist.

One thing that will not change is our commitment to clean water. With innovative programs like Blue Alleys, our residential water audits, and community tree plantings, Blue Water Baltimore will continue working with residents of Baltimore City and Baltimore County to reduce stormwater pollution.

For more information on the stormwater utility fee, please check out the City’s fact sheet. You can also view a list of frequently asked questions about the utility, which provides further details on the fee and how it is calculated for each property.

As the fee structure and credit system become more fully developed, we will continue to post updates here, so stay tuned!

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