Have questions about the effects of stormwater, the risks of combined sewer overflows and the reasons why we selected a stormwater utility to address the problem? We’ve got answers.
A stormwater utility is an enterprise fund created to finance wet weather management. Similar utilities exist for water, sewer, electricity and other services. Funds raised by a stormwater utility can only apply to wet weather needs and may not be used for any unrelated purposes.
Impervious surface areas like rooftops, sidewalks, walkways, patio areas, driveways, parking lots, sheds and more that don’t allow stormwater to do what it normally does — soak into the ground.
The stormwater utility fee is based on the amount of impervious surface area on a property. Each billing unit will be set per 1,000 square feet of impervious area.
Homeowners will be able to apply for credits if they are able to successfully manage runoff on their property. More details about credits will come soon.
Peoria’s Stormwater Utility Code established the initial rate of $3.00 per billing unit for years 2018 and 2019. Section 31-164 of the SWU Code also established the rate for years beyond 2019. The rate increases to $4.00 on January 1, 2020 and $5.00 on January 1, 2021. Beginning on January 1, 2022, the SWU billing rate will increase annually equal to the cost of inflation established by the US Department of Labor Midwest Urban Area Consumer Price Index.
Stormwater runoff directly correlates to the amount of impervious surfaces on a property. Runoff can be very damaging. Impervious surfaces allow the water to fill up our pipes and streams faster, increasing the potential for street and/or storm system flooding during heavy rains. This results in increased maintenance and repair requirements of the storm sewer system. By basing the fee on impervious surface area, residents would pay for the water they contribute to the system.
City staff believes a stormwater utility fee is the right option for Peoria for a number of reasons:
A fair solution: The fee would be based on the amount of runoff you contribute to the system. This approach, rather than increasing property or sales tax (which has no relation to the runoff that a property contributes), is the most equitable way to fund the stormwater program.
Competition for funds: The City currently funds a portion of stormwater management through the General Fund. A lot of important programs are also funded through the General Fund, and these different priorities — roads, fire, police — compete with one another. A dedicated funding stream would ensure that the appropriate amount of monetary support and attention was given to our wet weather needs.
Accountability and transparency: Because user fees are dedicated to funding specific programs, citizens can see exactly how the City is using the revenues that are collected.
Not only will we have the funding needed to repair crucial infrastructure, we will be able to beautify and strengthen our community. A stormwater utility will help us maintain green infrastructure like rain gardens, permeable pavers, bioswales and more. These elements have co-benefits, including:
HEALTHIER STREAMS, RIVER AND WILDLIFE
Rainfall and snowmelt pick up whatever chemical compounds and/or trash lie on pavement and flow directly into our creeks, streams and river. A stormwater utility could help us restore the natural hydrologic function we disrupted with pavement and other impervious surfaces, and would slow, cleanse and recharge groundwater once again. This reversal would not only benefit people, but also the animals and fish that rely on those water sources.
A stormwater utility could help Peoria afford more street sweeping, preventing flooding from pollution-clogged inlets. Also, green infrastructure could help absorb and retain water, lessening the occurrence of flooding.
POSITIVE ECONOMIC IMPACT
We could increase surrounding property values by improving public rights-of-way and repurposing vacant/blighted lots. We could also spur reinvestment and increase economic activity, including tourism, for nearby businesses by creating green spaces and roads that encourage multiple types of transportation.
A portion of the stormwater utility could be used for green infrastructure maintenance, which would provide a scale and scope of design and construction work that could be met by local companies. Green infrastructure could create a demand for workforce training and education to build capacity for these public and private jobs.
PEACEFUL GREEN SPACES
Using green infrastructure (bump-outs, bioswales, green streets, rain gardens) to address CSOs and stormwater runoff will beautify areas of town, especially parts of older neighborhoods. Studies have shown that green spaces are linked to improvements in mental health, stress reduction and can foster community.
We could create landscape designs that maintain sight lines, define public and private spaces, control access and encourage residents to spend time outside interacting and building stronger community ties.
Many elements make up our stormwater infrastructure, including ditches, creeks, pipes and culverts, ponds and lakes, curbs and gutters, inlets and manholes, wetlands, rain gardens and bioswales. Almost all properties use the stormwater system.
Combined Sewer Overflow
How Combined Sewers Function
Our first sewers were designed over 100 years ago to carry both stormwater and sewage from homes and businesses. During dry weather, sewage flows safely through our sewers to the Greater Peoria Sanitary District wastewater treatment plant. However, between 20-30 times a year, the sewers are overwhelmed by incoming rainwater or melting snow. This causes untreated sewage to overflow into the Illinois River.
Peoria built its first sewers in the late 1800s to carry rainwater and melting snow away from homes, businesses and streets. When indoor plumbing came later, homeowners and business owners hooked their sewage lines to those same sewers, combining stormwater and sewage in one pipe. This was standard practice in many U.S. cities at the time, especially in the Northeast and Midwest. By 1931, the combined sewers were connected to the new Greater Peoria Sanitary District treatment plant through a new riverfront interceptor sewer. However, the old sewers still retained their ability to overflow when sewage levels got too high. If they didn’t have this escape valve, raw sewage would back up into people’s basements and streets. (In new neighborhoods today, we avoid this problem by building separate sewers for stormwater and sewage.)
Raw sewage in the river is a health hazard, hurts our environment and harms efforts to revitalize the Peoria Riverfront. Raw sewage carries bacteria, viruses, parasites and other pathogens. Other pollutants typically found in sewer overflows include oxygen-depleting substances, suspended solids, toxic substances, nutrients, trash and debris. According to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, full-body contact recreation (swimming, jet skiing, water skiing, etc.) is impaired due to bacteria contamination.
Starting in 1987 (through 1994), Peoria proactively undertook about $10 million (in 1980s dollars) in projects to reduce overflows. Projects included: Separating sewers in seven drainage basins by constructing either new sanitary or storm sewers to separate the combined flows; Constructing swirl concentrators at two locations to remove trash from overflows; Using a mile-long, 60-inch and 48-inch diameter sewer to store excess flows until downstream capacity is available in the riverfront interceptor; Installing gates to control the amount of flow discharged to the interceptor sewer and backflow valves to prevent the river from flowing into the interceptor sewers during flood conditions; Constructing treatment plant improvements and installing telemetry to monitor and report on sewer flows.
The benefits included reducing …
- The number of CSO locations from 20 to 16.
- The average days of overflows from 40 a year to 28 a year.
- The overflow volume from an estimated 840 million gallon average to 250 million gallon average in a typical year.
- The amount of trash discharging into the Illinois River.
The City has long maintained a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program permit that regulates discharges of untreated overflows resulting from combined sewers into the river. Due to evolving regulations, our municipality is required to develop a long-term control plan to reduce the incidence of CSOs. We must work to bring the number down as close to zero as possible. Since about 2007, Peoria has been diligently working to prepare a responsible plan that meets Clean Water Act requirements.
We have the power to demonstrate our dedication to meeting Clean Water Act requirements while improving public rights-of-way and beautifying our City. Peoria is proposing a cost-effective approach using 100% green infrastructure. Rather than constructing more capital-intensive “gray” infrastructure (like pipes, tanks or tunnels), the City seeks to employ proven techniques to prevent stormwater from entering combined sewers in the first place. From a single rainstorm, Peoria needs to be able to capture about 60 Olympic-sized swimming pools of water, or about 37 million gallons.
This approach promotes the natural movement of water in a way that complements our City’s unique natural topography and soil composition — instead of forcing it to wash down paved streets, into manmade drains, then into massive pipes and tanks. Reducing sewer overflows will reduce the loading of pathogens and other pollutants into the Illinois River. Although it won’t solve all the river’s problems, like siltation, it will be a start toward a cleaner river and healthier riverfront.
At present, negotiations are continuing in earnest with regulators.
Our proposed green infrastructure approach will be more cost-effective than gray for meeting Peoria’s CSO obligation. Nonetheless, making these improvements likely will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. City leaders and our citizens will be tasked with identifying funding streams for this mandate. There will be costs associated with:
- Installing green infrastructure (capital). Our current estimate for installing green infrastructure to control CSOs is around $200 million.
- Ensuring that it continues performing (maintenance, such as street sweeping, keeping plantings healthy, etc.). Maintenance of green infrastructure is estimated between 1-3% of capital cost.
Peoria is conducting a global financial analysis to determine what our City and our citizens could reasonably afford to fund. An exact dollar amount is not available at this time because:
- The Peoria City Council, informed by public input, will have policy decisions to make regarding our municipality’s approach.
- The location, size and amount of projects are not yet decided; these also will be informed by public input.
- Our use of green infrastructure will employ adaptive management, so green implementation is consistently monitored and optimized as we go.
- Negotiations continue in earnest with the U.S. EPA, including on an implementation timeline.
This federal mandate is not going away. As a community, we must have serious discussions about how to address it. Continued non-compliance with the Clean Water Act requirements will lead to major fines and penalties. It’s better to keep our dollars here to improve our community than to send fines to Springfield and Washington, D.C.
We all share responsibility for the health of the river and health of the community. Peoria is here because of the Illinois River. As a community, we need to protect it and stop dumping raw sewage into it. Also, it’s important to remember that when the City first built newer neighborhoods, people in older neighborhoods helped pay for some of the new infrastructure. Now it is time to bring the old sewers up to 21st-century standards, and the entire community shares in that responsibility. Also many of our newer neighborhoods that have separated sewers discharge sewage into the combined sewers as part of the sewage’s path to the treatment plant. Therefore, these separate sewers are also contributing to the combined sewer overflow problem.
Credit and Grant FAQ
Your existing best management practice may qualify for a credit if it was built to the required credit design standards, has been properly maintained and functions as it was designed to function. Your existing best management practice must have its original capacity to qualify.
Both brick and gravel are considered impervious surfaces as they are typically not designed for stormwater infiltration. However, in the rare instance that these materials are used in a way designed for stormwater infiltration, the project may qualify for a green infrastructure or rate reduction credit.
You would still need to pay the utility fee because most surfaces, including grass, generate stormwater runoff. Native prairies and woodlands still generate runoff. Grass just generates less runoff than impervious surfaces. The City is using impervious area to determine each property’s use of the system. This methodology is used by many other cities for their stormwater utilities. If the City were to do an actual drainage analysis of every property (that would be over 46,800 properties!), the administrative cost would be high and the general outcome of that effort would result in a cost distribution similar to using impervious area information.
The City is exploring solutions to lessen the impact of the stormwater utility on residents who have low income. We have discovered that most stormwater utilities do not offer a low- or fixed-income program.
Property owners who drain to a creek, ravine, pond or lake still must pay the stormwater utility fee. These waterbodies are important parts of the stormwater infrastructure system. Lakes often feature overflow structures that drain water into the stormwater system when the level rises too high. The stormwater system is made up of City-owned and privately-owned infrastructure and the utility will provide funds to help maintain that infrastructure. The Private Property Drainage Assistance Program and Stormwater Infrastructure Investment Grant are two programs to help private infrastructure maintenance.
If you are required to construct something by ordinance, you cannot receive a grant but you may be eligible for a credit. Grants reward green infrastructure construction when it isn’t mandated, but rather the property owner is taking extra steps to improve their property.