If you attend municipal meetings regularly (like yours truly), you know that stormwater management is a frequent topic of discussion and debate. Simply put, stormwater is the precipitation which flows off impervious surfaces during a weather event rather than infiltrating into the ground. Naturally, development of any type changes stormwater infiltration and runoff patterns. In today’s world, even small construction projects require civil engineers to develop plans for how stormwater runoff will be managed. As a component of land development, detention basins, pipes, swales, rain gardens, and other stormwater best management practices (commonly referred to as “BMPs”) are implemented to divert, control and manage stormwater. Plans for these facilities are carefully reviewed by municipal engineers, and in many cases, by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”), to ensure compliance with all applicable regulatory requirements.
It’s important to note, however, that these stringent requirements were not always in place. Past development designed under looser standards contributed, along with a variety of other factors, to an excess of polluted stormwater runoff flowing into central Pennsylvania’s streams and rivers. To combat this issue, the Environmental Protection Agency and DEP require municipalities to obtain National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) permits to cover discharges from their municipal separate storm sewer systems (“MS4s”) into Pennsylvania’s waterways.
To add to the alphabet soup, municipalities that discharge stormwater into the Chesapeake Bay watershed are required to create Pollution Reduction Plans (“PRPs”) as a condition of their MS4 permits. In their PRPs, municipalities must identify concrete steps that will be taken to reduce discharge of pollutants (including nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment) from their MS4s. Practically speaking, this means that municipalities must design and implement projects to improve stormwater management and enhance water quality within their boundaries. It all sounds great in theory, but there is one important piece of the puzzle that is missing- the funding necessary for these costly infrastructure improvements.
Enter the rain tax (also known as a stormwater tax or fee) which is being implemented throughout central Pennsylvania as a way for municipalities to generate the funds necessary to meet PRP requirements. If the municipality where you have your home or business operates an MS4 but has not yet enacted a stormwater fee, one is likely on the way in one form or another. Typically, these fees are based off the amount of impervious coverage located on a property. As a result, while the fee paid by a residential homeowner may not break the bank, developers and commercial property owners will be more significantly impacted.
The news, however, is not all bleak. Many of the municipalities that have enacted stormwater fees have also established credit programs that can be used to reduce the amount due. As an example, a property owner may be able to reduce the fees owed by demonstrating that certain types of BMPs have already been installed on his or her property. In most situations, however, it is incumbent upon the property owner to apply for, and demonstrate an entitlement to, any applicable credits. As a result, it’s important to be familiar with the stormwater fees and credit programs in the municipality where you own property. If you have questions about stormwater fees in the municipality where you live, work, or do business, please contact a member of the McNees Wallace & Nurick Land Use Group for assistance.