Maryland “Rain Tax” Debunked: Stormwater Fees are Common, Equitable Way to Pay for Reducing Polluted Runoff
Ellicott City, MD, January 24, 2014- It’s been inaccurately dubbed a “rain tax” by its opponents, but the stormwater fees that Maryland’s ten most populous jurisdictions are required to charge under the stormwater fee law (House Bill 987) are anything but. Similar to a water or sewer fee, a stormwater fee is actually a user fee charged to property owners for the service of managing the polluted runoff coming from their property. When rain falls on hard surfaces such as roofs, roads and parking lots, it creates stormwater runoff and carries a veritable stew of pollutants such as bacteria, trash, nutrients and sediment with it to nearby streams and rivers. Stormwater fees are used to construct management practices in strategic locations in the landscape to slow down and filter pollutants from runoff in order to provide cleaner water, reduce flooding and erosion, protect infrastructure, and revitalize communities.
Stormwater fees are not unique to Maryland. The first stormwater fee in the country was enacted in 1974 in Washington State and since then a growing number of cities and towns have established stormwater utilities to provide a sustainable funding source to curtail flooding and manage polluted runoff. A 2013 survey by Western Kentucky University estimates that there are currently between 1,800 and 2,000 stormwater utilities across the country in 39 states and the District of Columbia in communities of all sizes and political affiliations. Maryland public officials have recognized the value of stormwater fees even before the stormwater fee law was enacted in 2012. Says Bill Stack, former Chief of Baltimore City's Surface Water Management Division, "The City of Baltimore began work on developing a stormwater utility in 2009 because having a sustainable funding source to meet pending state and EPA mandates was the only solution to avoiding a costly consent order for non-compliance."
Municipalities that do not charge stormwater fees still incur costs to manage runoff, but the revenue must come from other sources such as the general fund, which means residents pay for stormwater management as a percentage of their property tax. Stormwater fees are a more equitable way to fund stormwater management because the fees are based on the amount of impervious surface on each property, which directly influences the amount of runoff pollution created. Says Stack: "A stormwater utility is an equitable solution for providing ratepayers services such as a greened landscape, reduced flooding, clean streams and healthy harbor."
In Maryland, the costs for local jurisdictions to manage polluted runoff are expected to increase substantially to meet new pollution control requirements to restore the Chesapeake Bay and local tributaries. The Maryland Department of Legislative Services reports that the estimated costs just for the ten jurisdictions subject to the stormwater fee law total more than $4 billion over the next five years. Maryland Department of the Environment records show that the jurisdictions are already behind their impervious cover “treatment” goals, while at the same time impervious surfaces continue to expand across the state with new development.
The Center for Watershed Protection has released a new report on the value of stormwater fees in Maryland. This report is intended to inform legislators and the public about why stormwater fees are needed and show that they are a standard and successful practice across the country, as the Maryland General Assembly considers possible modifications to the Maryland stormwater fee law. Get the full report here.
The Center for Watershed Protection, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to fostering responsible land and water management through applied research, direct assistance to communities, award-winning training, and access to a network of experienced professionals. The Center is your first source for best practices in stormwater and watershed management. The Center was founded in 1992 and is headquartered in Ellicott City, Maryland. As national experts in stormwater and watersheds, our strength lies in translating science into practice and policy, providing leadership across disciplines and professions. To learn more about the Center’s commitment to protect and restore our streams, rivers, lakes, wetlands and bays, go to www.cwp.org.
Director of Research
Center for Watershed Protection