Yep, another tax; and it’s just the beginning. Little may you know, but as far back as 1978, the concept of the Stormwater Tax, also known as “Rain Tax” or ”Driveway Tax,” has been conceived. Now it’s burgeoning all over North America. What a legitimate way for municipalities to generate more money. Needless to say, there is a lot of good behind it, as the tax serves as an awakening tool for all of us.

It all begins with rain. It falls from the sky, into the ground, filters its way into the water table and eventually the streams and rivers. Wrong! Once that was a beautiful and natural cycle, but unless you live in a rural environment, most of the water lands (no pun intended) on some kind of pavement, scurries into a drain, flows into the sewer towards a treatment plant and pumped into a river. There’s no filtration, rather collections of pollutants from vehicles and fertilizers, it surges sewerage processing, and passes contaminants back into our water supply chain. So the fish get sick, the sewer treatment plants gets over burdened and city has increased maintenance expenses. Thus, the evolution of “Rain Tax” has ran its course back into your wallet.

I actually believe that this tax has its benefits. First and foremost, it serves as a formal wake up call for government agencies, industry, environmental engineers, and the public. Too much has been taken for granted, especially something free as rainfall. Much more attention has been placed on oil resources and usage, but now the tides turning. Engines and machines will stop without oil, but Life can stop without water. Climate changes dictate a renewed study of weather pattern changes. There are more draughts, more floods, and greater size storms. China is running out of water and has a high rate of pollution: not too good. Europe and North America are more fortunate: we have the resources, but also have had a good amount of ignorance. To the rescue—the “EPA” (Environmental Protection Agency)—has demanded action. It might not be a Republican favorite, but no matter how you look at it, it’s definitely a humanitarian favorite.

Let’s begin. The best way to present the concept of how Stormwater becomes taxable is to parallel Pennsylvania’s Strom Water Management Act 167 enacted in 1978. Pennsylvania is blessed with many mountains, streams, lakes and rivers. It is also subject to a great amount of Stormwater run-off from its neighbors, New York and New Jersey. Both the Susquehanna and Delaware Rivers migrate through PA, though their watersheds are in Central New York State. According to a discussion held at a Broome County (New York) Planning Session, land engineers and environmental experts discussed that the climate change being experience now has shifted significantly bringing more moisture to Eastern USA. Increased rainfall  has been experienced in New York State watersheds. Notably, the Susquehanna Rivers has flooded its Pennsylvanian region three times since 2006. On two occasions, it surpassed the five-hundred year flood predictions. All that water completely washed out hundreds of towns along the riverbanks throughout Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. Stormwater is not a local problem, rather a national one, indeed.

Stormwater Management Plans are being generated throughout most States, Counties and local municipalities nationwide. Of definite interests is handling accelerated stromwater runoff that occurs when the environment can no longer handle rainwater naturally. This occurs because the existing pavements are not permeable, which in turn requires extra drains or culverts to carry water away. With the term “Accelerated” in place, preparing for the “Big One” becomes ominous. FEMA’s one-hundred and five hundred year flood plans have become useless, especially when 2 five hundred year floods occurred within four years of each other. Managing Stormwater runoff is a major public sector item.

High stormwater runoff causes soil erosion, reduces groundwater levels and picks up pollutants that could otherwise be filtered naturally through the ground. Whenever home or building construction fails to implement new permeable ground and pavement systems, and continue to use old impervious systems, they accelerate stormwater runoff.

Take note in your community on the status of its sewerage treatment plan. Most are aging and in desperate need for repair and expansion. But municipal budgets are strained. Most “Gray” infrastructures such as pipes, mechanical plants and concrete containment areas are at their brink. Fortunately, the “Green” concepts are becoming attractive as that system uses natural infiltration, stormwater runoff control designs, and permeable pavement alternatives.

Getting contractors and landscapers to become educated about permeability and dedicated to use them serves as the cornerstone to curtail stormwater runoff problems. Unfortunately, old ways prevail and construction contractors are quite hesitant to take the leap forward and re-invent how they operate their business. Worse yet, design engineers within municipalities are slow and insecure to risk change. The tax payer and governing agents need to become educated on alternative permeable solutions.

There is a cultural ping that needs to be dealt with intelligently. Changing the behavior of a culture can be an insurmountable task. There are five factors that need to be coalesced: (a) determining long-term environmental conditions, (b) alternative construction methodology, (c) regional government cooperation and financing, (d) education the public, and (e) taxation. Permeable construction materials are new to the industry, and the bureaucracy within municipalities hinders change. Changing the behavior of a culture need not be horrendous, rather educational, indeed.

The environment is constantly changing and people want action, but no taxation. They want their government to serve their needs, but don’t want government growth. Gail Beverly, at the Poughkeepsie Journal, bluntly makes clear sense with “Living water is that which we can use to drink, to cook with, to bath in and play in. We are, in essence, creatures of water. Human social concentration and industry create contaminants that threatens that essence.”

Word games and terminology differ from State to State and among their municipalities. The “Stormwater Tax” could be proposed as a utility user fee charge based on the gross area of your non-permeable property including roofs, driveways and parking areas. Based on the economic assessment value assigned to your county, tax rates could vary substantially among municipalities. There are many variables to consider including: the economic stability of your local government, level of deteriorating “Gray” infrastructure, population and industry demands. A “Stormwater Management Plan” must be generated, approved and enforced. Most municipalities have not yet begun to face the fact of Stormwater legislation fearing the political impact that that action will imposed, or the simple fact that the municipality does not have the resources to provide one.

“Philadelphia has the first and only EPA-approved green infrastructure plan,” said Mark Focht, FASLA, first deputy commissioner, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation and ASLA President, at the Dupont Summit, a meeting of the Policy Studies Organization in Washington, D.C. He said Philadelphia even needs to “train the EPA on how to evaluate our plan,” which provides a cutting-edge, low-cost approach for dealing with his city’s stormwater run-off problems.

“Where the rubber meets the road” regarding costs, which dictates common budgetary sense. For example: a grey infrastructure system was estimated to cost more than $6 billion. The green infrastructure plan Philly is moving forward with will only cost $1.2 billion over 25 years. Some $800 million of that will go directly to green infrastructure projects in the city, while $200 million will go to further strengthening the city’s water treatment plants. Another $200 (million) is reserved for “adaptive management,” which will address “future technological changes.” Focht said even if future mayors tried to undo this 25-year plan, they can’t. The agreement, which he emphasized is “not a consent decree,” has been signed.

At this early junction of Stormwater taxation, it would be misleading to delineate taxing structures. Needless to say, they can substantially vary. Here are some Tax rate examples:

(a) …Green City Business Tax Program in Philadelphia: Resident Stormwater tax rate: 10¢ to 13¢ per square foot with the option for Grants Recipients to get up to $2.30 per square foot.

(b) …Installing 500 square feet residential driveway over a 20 year period cancels out most tax burdens, and there is no capital improvement tax, plus the resident builds good equity value in his property. In a nutshell, the property owner wins, the environment wins, and the municipality wins.

(c) … According to Maryland House Bill 987 (PDF) 2012, assessments in the Baltimore Area were among the lowest in that State: Single-family homes, $39 per year, and industrial property at $69 per 2,000 square feet per year.

(d) … Throughout Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Florida, West Virginia and Ohio, fees from $2 to $10 per month are entering the picture with commercial properties and schools paying thousands per month.

But there’s more, according to the (Chesapeake) Bay Daily, a Maryland State tabloid, their Stormwater tax contributed to hiring 3,300 workers in Montgomery County alone. And, an additional 178,000 jobs around the Chesapeake Bay Region. Green infrastructure and hardscaping construction jobs soared. The EPA was instrumental insisting that the environment was in dire need to sustain growth or face total deterioration.

A Hyattsville, Maryland, woman received a $2,000 cash rebate for upgrading to a permeable pavement program. Adam Ortiz, Director of the Department of Environmental Resource, summed it all up commenting: “Our challenges are too great for the government to solve by itself.” Building a better and more efficient environment is up to all of us—from the property owner, the municipality, to the State and Federal governments. It took 4.5 billions years to reach 7 billion people on the planet. In just thirty years, she will have 2 billion more people looking for water. Conserving and protecting our water mandates action. And if it takes taxation to do this, then that’s our choice.

New “Greener” products are hitting the market every day, but little is known about them. The days are numbered for asphalt and concrete, but paving companies are now favoring permeable asphalt and concrete. Though run-off has been lowered, maintenance is high. Concrete pavers which avail more permeation, require more labor to install, some instability and regular maintenance. The newest innovative pavers are the plastic permeable grid-pavers, however, knowing their composition is vital. Plastic grid-pavers offer up to 98 percent permeability and with very low maintenance, if any, they benefit the project with tremendous value and durable composition. For long-term applications, prices for these are far less when compared to asphalt and about half the cost of concrete.

Grants are becoming more visible. Some active States and their larger cities are stepping up grant programs for residential, commercial, and non-profit organizations to become more aware of the need for a Greener Environment. In some cases, grant money is being awarded, as a Stormwater Tax Credit. Oh yes. Beware! I heard that some municipalities are considering a “Flush Tax.”

As we can see, every State, every municipality, every property owner needs to step forward to the realization that sustaining good clean water demands action. With proper collaboration, Stormwater Management Plans can become a reality. Planning, funding and enforcement need immediate attention.  Together, we can appreciate the gift of clean water.

References and Links

Permeable Pavers, Articles and Grants: