It’s been called a “rain tax” and, while no municipality in the state applies a fee for the upkeep of drainage systems, there’s legislation enabling the creation of storm water districts with an accompanying fee to oversee them.
Warwick is taking a step in the direction of identifying and better monitoring and maintaining its storm water drainage with the hiring of a professional engineer for the project.
No fees are proposed. No district, or districts, has been defined.
But taxpayers will be paying.
The engineering job, which will pay $85,000 to $95,000, was posted after Mayor Scott Avedisian announced at a July Save the Bay press conference in Oakland Beach that, in addition to a plan to extend sewers, the city would work to better manage storm water runoff and the pollutants it carries. At the press event, Save the Bay cited the unusually high number of beach closings this summer and the need to capture pollutants before they enter rivers, streams, ponds and the bay.
One of the first tasks will be to identify and map all the city’s catch basins, said David Picozzi, director of public works. Picozzi said there are “hundreds” of catch basins in the city and that Warwick is “behind” in updating its systems.
In an e-mail yesterday, Avedisian said he has had talks with DEM Director Janet Coit and that Coit has agreed to participate in a committee reviewing applicants for the engineering job.
“We have an identified plan of action that we have discussed with Director Coit that we will undertake as soon as the Engineer is on board,” the mayor said.
“This is really good news. It is very much needed,” Lisa Scott, district chief in the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) office of Water Resources, said in a recent interview. She said that Warwick has been warned for failing to update its storm water management plan. The city has not been cited, as have Johnston and North Providence.
“They have deficiencies in their plan,” Scott said of Warwick.
She said that Rhode Island has a high level of impervious area – roadways, parking lots and large buildings – that impede the process of rainwater naturally filtering into the ground. Scott said legislation designed to monitor and control systems to handle storm water and giving DEM the regulating authority was approved in 2002.
She said the intent is not only for municipalities to come up with a plan but to take steps to improve water quality. Plans include provisions for regular testing of storm water outflows, identification of illegal connections, cleaning programs and programs for the upkeep and replacement of aging systems.
“For a lot of municipalities, these systems were built in the ’50s and ’60s and they are now undersized with development,” Scott said.
She believes a lot of beach closings are related to storm water runoff.
Picozzi does not know how the city could do everything DEM would like to see.
“I agree with the end game,” he said of managing storm water and reducing the flow of pollutants into waterways, “but we just don’t have the staff to keep up with it.”
City Planner William DePasquale is fully aware of the legislation and the ability to create storm water management districts. Using a map of the city, he points to Warwick Pond, and the drainage areas and streams feeding it, and Buckeye Brook as an example of a possible district. In other parts of the city, as well as in other municipalities, he points out, districts may cross over more than one or two town and city lines.
A first step to a plan is assessing how effective the existing systems are in retaining and treating storm water. Programs could include scheduled inspections of septic systems and additional street sweeping and catch basin cleaning.
“It’s not just capturing water, it’s treating it,” said DePasquale.
A key step, he said, is pinpointing the water sources.
“It’s a large undertaking, but it can be done,” he said.
He would like to see that tied into a database that can be queried. He sees this being developed with the use of GIS, or geographic information system, that would contain maps of the city’s roads and infrastructure and a record “of every inch of pipe.”
As for how to pay for it and the application of a storm water district fee, DePasquale said, “Now you’re talking taxes upon taxes and that’s political. We got to be careful not to overburden people.”
Asked about implementing a fee, Avedisian responded in an e-mail, “We have not decided to create any storm water management districts yet. We have been mulling over the pros and the cons of such a move. So far, we are simply talking about having the new City Engineer implementing changes to help create the plan.”