Bad bill HB 316 SB 116 would take away stormwater permit revenue

If you want the Valdosta wastewater situation to be worse, let HB 316 SB 116 pass, taking away revenue for Valdosta or anybody upstream or down to control stormwater.

It turns out HB 316 was apparently from 2009.

The stormwater bill before the Georgia legislature this year (2017) is SB 116.

Here are the current GAWP talking points about SB 116, which you may notice also mention HB 316, which leads me to believe SB 116 is just HB 316 back again under another name.

Please Oppose Senate Bill 116
Georgia Association of Water Professionals

Senate Bill 116 would exempt “water-neutral sites”, defined as those properties designed to control runoff form a 25 year, 24-hour storm event in a manner consistent with the Georgia Stormwater Management Manual (GSMM), from paying stormwater user fees charged by local governments or authorities that have established stormwater utilities. Water-neutral sites, as defined in this bill, still discharge stormwater to the local drainage system, which the local government or authority is legally responsible for operating and maintaining.

Implications of HB 316: We ask you to consider the following far-reaching implications of the bill.

  1. Local Control. The State of Georgia should not interfere in how a local government operates a utility or charges its customers. This would be equivalent to the State saying how a local utility could charge (or not charge) for water or sewer services. If the General Assembly exempts “water-neutral properties” from paying fees for stormwater services, could they next exempt a defined class of customers from paying local water and sewer fees in the future?
  2. Economic Impact on Local Governments. This bill could have a devastating impact on local governments who are required to operate and maintain stormwater drainage systems for the public good and to protect the health, safety and welfare of their communities. “Water Neutral” properties are not actually water neutral because they still discharge stormwater runoff to the local drainage system thereby causing an impact. A local government still must bear the cost of maintaining the stormwater drainage system even if every property builds a detention pond to the 25 year, 24 hour storm event standard. The City of Griffin reports that the potential loss of revenue to their stormwater utility, should this bill pass, would be approximately 40% of their annual user fee revenue, thus crippling their stormwater utility and its ability to provide essential services.
  3. Public Safety. Stormwater utility revenues allow local governments to reduce flooding and replace failing infrastructure, including collapsing culverts under public roads. There is an unacceptable risk to public safety if local governments no longer have the ability to collect revenues to perform important and essential storm water management services.
  4. Existing Credits. Eligible properties with detention ponds are already offered user fee credits ranging from 30 — 50% from most stormwater utilities. This credit is offered in recognition of the reduced impact these properties have on the drainage system. However, the credit is not 100% because controlling the 25 year, 24-hour storm does not eliminate a property’s impact on the local drainage system; the customer still receives stormwater services.
  5. Customer Equity. Local governments are alone in their responsibility to manage stormwater drainage systems and operate stormwater management programs to protect life and property from flooding, and to protect local waterways from stormwater impacts so that the State’s waters remain fishable and swimmable for Georgians to enjoy. There is virtually no funding available from the State or Federal governments to assist local governments in carrying out this important charge. Thus, local governments have been forced to develop local financing mechanisms to provide sufficient revenue sources to carry out this responsibility. Allowing a contributor to the problem to be exempted from participating in paying a fair user fee for this service would be grossly unfair to the remainder of the paying customers and to the local government as well.

Here are all the Georgia state senators in WWALS watersheds.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

You can join this fun and work by becoming a WWALS member today!

In addition to ACCG and GAWP, this bill is also opposed by the Georgia Water Coalition (GWC), including WWALS. Below are talking points from the ACCG website. Please contact your Georgia state legislators.

Please Oppose House Bill 316
Association County Commissioners of Georgia
Georgia Association of Water Professionals

House Bill 316 would exempt state government entities from paying local government stormwater utility charges. While specifically using the word “charges”, the proposed exemption appears to presume that the stormwater utility fee is a tax and not a fee for services. In presenting and promoting the bill, proponents may refer to these fees as a “rain tax”. However, in 2004, the Georgia Supreme Court specifically ruled in McLeod v. Columbia County that stormwater utility charges are, in fact, a fee for services, and not a tax. The State is exempt from taxes, but there is no legal or logical basis for the State to exempt itself from paying valid fees for actual services rendered.

Implications of HB 316: Notwithstanding the threshold issue of legality, this bill could have extremely far-reaching implications. If the General Assembly exempts State government from paying fees for stormwater services, would they also exempt State government from paying local water and sewer fees? If they did that, would they then exempt the State from paying for any services provided by local government? What about purchase of goods? The implications of this bill are staggering.

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division is charged with responsibility for implementation of the federal Clean Water Act and the Georgia Water Quality Control Act. In its most recent biennial report on the status of Georgia’s water resources (“Water Quality in Georgia 2006-2007”), EPD summarizes the water quality problems facing Georgia as follows:

The pollution impact on Georgia streams has radically shifted over the last two decades. Streams are no longer dominated by untreated or partially treated sewage discharges which resulted in little or no oxygen and little or no aquatic life. The sewage is now treated, oxygen levels have returned and fish have followed. However, another source of pollution is now affecting Georgia streams. That source is referred to as nonpoint and consists of mud, litter, bacteria, pesticides, fertilizers, metals, oils, detergents and a variety of other pollutants being washed into rivers and lakes by stormwater. Even stormwater runoff itself, if rate and volume is unmitigated, can be extremely detrimental to aquatic habitat and hydrologic systems. Nonpoint source pollution, although somewhat less dramatic than raw sewage, must be reduced and controlled to fully protect Georgia’s streams.

EPD has charged local government with the responsibility of managing stormwater to achieve the State’s water quality standards. There is virtually no funding available from State or federal government to assist local governments in carrying out this charge. Thus, local governments have been forced to develop local financing mechanisms to provide revenue sources to carry out this responsibility. Allowing a major contributor to the problem to be exempted from participating in paying for this service would be grossly unfair to the local government and to the remainder of the community.

It should be noted that State government has perhaps a greater effect on Georgia’s water resources resulting from stormwater than any other sector. Stormwater runoff from State and federal highways contributes greatly to Georgia’s water quality problems. More significantly, the Georgia Department of Transportation’s construction projects have historically been one of the greatest contributors to soil erosion and sedimentation in our lakes and streams. Most stormwater fee systems that we are aware of do not include fees for roadways, so the State is already getting an enormous break on these fees. State government should be a role model for stormwater management rather than seeking exemptions from paying fees for a necessary service provided by local government and mandated by the State.

State Water Plan: Lastly, the Statewide Water Management Plan (page 32, item (1)(b)) specifically encourages local governments to adopt stormwater utilities as a means for “funding the administration, operations and maintenance, and capital costs of stormwater and non-point source pollution controls”. As the state is turning to local governments to implement measures to protect state waters, we believe, again, that Georgia would be sending a bad message by exempting itself from funding its part.

In Summary:

  • The whole point of the Clean Water Act and all of the billions of dollars spent to abate water pollution since the l960s was to have “fishable and swimmable” waters;
  • At the present time, many of the surface waters in Georgia do not meet the standards for fishing and swimming. The State of Georgia established these standards;
  • Wastewater treatment (POTW) plants almost always meet the criteria in their discharge permits;
  • If the discharges from the POTW are meeting their permit criteria, stormwater must be the sources of the pollutants that cause surface waters to be unsuitable for fishing and swimming;
  • All of the polluters who contribute to pollution should bear a pro-rata share of the cost of abating pollution;

    Stormwater utilities are new. In the past, stormwater services were paid out of local governments’ general funds;

  • But, things have changed: almost every city and county must have a permit for the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System, (the “MS4”) which is analogous to the wastewater discharge (NPDES) permits for the POTW;
  • And, the POTW permits now require local governments to develop, fund and construct watershed improvement projects as a condition of operating the POTW;
  • Thus, a stormwater utility is essential as a funding mechanism to ensure that every landowner who sends polluted stormwater runoff into the MS4 pays for the services that are provided;
  • Most local government stormwater ordinance base the service fee on the amount of impervious area on the customer’s property: any land that contains impervious surface area contributes pollution to the MS4;
  • Customers who have more impervious area pay a higher fee than customers whose land has less impervious area.
  • Utility charges are a fact of life: electricity, gas, water, sewer, phone and cable charges affect everyone. Why should stormwater utility fees be any different?
  • Many local governments have made a policy decision to impose a stormwater utility service fee on every parcel of property within their jurisdiction, whether or not this property was owned by the federal, state, county or municipal government, public or private schools, non-profits, businesses or homeowners.
  • If, as a matter of policy, some polluters, for example federal agencies which insists that the stormwater fee is a tax, or state agencies, by adopting HB 316, are exempted from the fee, what happens?
  • The stormwater from the impervious area on property that has been exempted from the fee will continue to enter the MS4;
  • But the cost of abating the pollution from these properties will be spread among the other property and homeowners, who are paying for the services that they receive and paying for the services provided to the owners of the exempted properties.