Stormwater: Time To Green Carpet Your Deck


Bulldog reader Cliff Wardle says it’s time to disguise your home stormwater runoff from aerial photography the city is discussing .

This from X:


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7 Responses

  1. John Langstone says:

    A fun take on this, but I think artificial turf is permeability challenged (and I think banned in some municipalities). Question that comes to mind is how will this affect the coming trendy four unit housing we’ve committed to for new federal money? This sort of housing will probably come with reduced set-backs and more pavement to store more cars. What does this do for stormwater runoff?

  2. Ron Benn says:

    Amusing as it may be to come up with ideas on how to avoid a new tax, the last paragraph refers to non-residential properties.

    This is not a new concept. City officials have, in the past, bemoaned the fact that parking lots are unlikely to have any city water installations. Thus the city has no mechanism to charge the owner for the fixed charge element of the recurring water and sewer bill. The city wants to find a way to ensure that the parking lot owner contributes to the recovery of the capital cost of the storm water sewer system and the maintenance thereafter.

    Question: will the city tax itself? In Centrepointe there are acres and acres and acres of parking lots on city owned property. A small amount to support the users of the park. The vast majority, and by that I am referencing the roughly 1,600 parking spaces for city employees to park their personal use vehicles. The same city employees who choose not to take public transit to/from the Baseline Station major transit hub. The hub that is less than 600 metres away from the doors to the city office buildings.

    Physician – heal thyself.

  3. The Voter says:

    Will their methods be refined enough to detect the difference between a paved driveway and one covered in gravel or brick? That could be significant for a property with a long driveway and/or a large parking area.

    What about the acres and acres of paved streets, sidewalks and parking lots in the urban areas? These are not only impermeable for stormwater but also act as heat traps that raise the temperature in the built-up areas of the city. Could rural dwellers finally gain some benefit from their gravel roads and non-existent sidewalks?

    This could be achieved by adding the area between your property line and the centre-line of the adjacent roadway to the assessment footprint of your property for stormwater rates. There would have to be some adjustments made to measure streets that only have a sidewalk on one side so that properties on both sides would have half the sidewalk area included in their total area.

  4. Ron Benn says:

    Voter, the alternative ways of measuring impermeable surfaces you identify appears to be an appeal to the city to be equitable in their approach. Unfortunately, city staff are driven by ease of administration. One size fits all policy is always about ease of administration, and ease of administration will always trump equitable treatment. Always.

  5. Bruce says:

    The city tried to tax rural and village properties for “storm water drainage” when in fact the drains were unkempt ditches and natural watercourses. Very few of these properties have access to city water (some are on city communal wells) so the department in charge of “innovative taxation” tried this mind boggling ruse! Just another sign of a city managed by incompetents!

  6. Lorne Cutler says:

    Prior to the implementation of the current ystem for charging for water usage, the City had a pricing system that was based solely on consumption. As residents were incentivized to conserve water, they did so, very successfully. Unfortunately, running a water treatment system is highly capital intensive and costs are relatively inelastic to water consumption. As such, water rates were going up every year well above the rate of inflation or general property tax increases. The City claimed that this could be remedied by going to a system that combined a minimum fixed cost (regardless of usage) and a variable fee if one’s consumption went above the minimum. As well, unlike electricity, the cost of treating water is pretty much the same all day and the City has large reservoirs in which to store water (unlike electricity storage) so time of day pricing was irrelevant (even though the City went to these smart meters at some time in its history). My consulting company was commissioned by a City councillor to look at various ways of charging for water and the likely outcome on annual water increases. I looked at several cities throughout Canada and the U.S. that charged based on a consumption, fixed amounts and a combination therein. The conclusion was that regardless of how a City charged for water, rates across almost all North American cities climbed faster than inflation and property tax increases. The issue wasn’t water usage but the increasing costs associated with delivering a modern water storage, filtration and treatment system. Improved water standards cost more money and the rising water rates had little to do with consumption and everything to do with rising costs. My scope of work did not include any review of the costs. Based on the experience of other cities, I predicted that changing the way in which water was priced would not alleviate rising water rates. At the expense of many million dollars, the City implemented a new billing structure and within its first years, rates were increasing well above inflation and general tax rates. Staff and council wanted to be seen to be doing something and all they did was spend a lot of money to change a billing system without solving any problem. I did also recommend run-off charges, however, should be correlated with the permeable surface of a property. Several cities in Canada have now developed models for this, some more exact than others. Given that Ottawa seems to be embracing building the maximum coverage to the lot line, even at the expense of mature trees, hopefully any revised system will reward those people who still see the importance of permeable lawns, gardens and mature trees that suck up run-off.

  7. Ron Benn says:

    Lorne, thank you for your insights into this issue. Two “positive” thoughts come to mind.

    First, this city is spending more than it brings in and has for many years, as evidenced by the regular raiding of the operating reserves. So, kudos to staff for examining alternative ways of raising revenue.

    That households reduced consumption in response to rising usage rates is a part of Economics 101. That this did not occur to city staff is a mild condemnation of their education.

    The alternatives being examined appear to be changing the split between the fixed and variable components of the water bill/sewers surcharge paid by existing customers, and taxing non-consumers for storm water run off. Note that most of the existing customers are eligible to vote in municipal elections, whereas there is a high likelihood that the entities that own hard surfaced parking lots are corporations, and thus not voters. And even if they were, there are far more existing customers than parking lot owners. Never overlook the vested interests when choosing a solution.

    Second, the city is examining what other municipalities (their peer group) are doing. Step one in a “best practices” process. Again, kudos to staff.

    What remains to be determined is whether the non-residential storm water run off option that they are examining is financially viable. Any effort to determine what the “cost” to the system is of processing the storm run-off would be based on a somewhat arbitrary formula (the old school term we use before the decision to call those things the far more important sounding algorithms) and the key assumptions embedded therein. It is important to understand that assumptions can be dialed up and down, often depending on what the preferred outcome is (see Lansdowne 2.0 financial projections).

    All of which raises two questions.

    Does the city even try to arithmetically justify the quantification of the new non-user fees? The answer will be yes, because engineers and accountants love projections.

    Will the city spend more to implement and run the new system than they raise in new non-user fees? The answer is likely that no one at city hall will ask that question.

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