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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Residents may pay Storm Water Fee

Mar 15, 2021 11:19AM ● By Cassie Goff

By Cassie Goff | [email protected]

Cottonwood Heights City Council continues to deliberate the potential of implementing a Storm Water Fee for residents. On Jan. 19, Public Works Director Matt Shipp invited Justin Dietrich from Bowen Collins & Associates, an engineering firm, to present on the federal requirements of storm water sanitation and the challenges of the infrastructure within the city. 

Dietrich explained how most of the infrastructure for storm water drainage within Cottonwood Heights and surrounding cities, was first constructed within the ’70s and ’80s. When the cities started to incorporate, they inherited the storm water system that was under Salt Lake County. 

“Most of that system is built out of corrugated metal pipe,” explained Dietrich, which only have an estimated life span of about 25 years. “Here we are, over double the design life.” 

Almost all of the cities who adopted the storm water drainage system from Salt Lake County have been experiencing problems as the infrastructure continues to degrade. For example, a section of pipe in Millcreek almost completely degraded. The only part that was left now sits in Millcreek’s City Hall and has been named Susie. 

In addition, part of the infrastructure adopted from Salt Lake County included buried manholes that were not recorded adequately. 

“It causes problems within the system because it can’t vent properly and increases deterioration,” said Shipp.

With the amount of buried manholes, the current city crews can’t get to the infrastructure so it’s difficult to maintain or even know what’s happening. 

Originally, the only concern of storm drain infrastructure was to keep public streets from flooding. It was widely unregulated. However, the Clean Water Act implemented regulations of storm drains. 

“It took a few decades to ramp up, but now there’s heavy regulation of storm water systems to keep water clean—biologically and chemically,” Dietrich said. 

Dietrich explained how storm water runoff notoriously pollutes natural resources with hydrocarbons as storm water floods from parking lots and other public spaces into natural water sources, like lakes and streams. 

Under the Clean Water Act, six requirements are outlined for each MS4 permitted area including inspections, enforcing violations, water quality testing and reporting, audits, educating the public and doing outreach, street sweeping to keep contaminants out of the storm water system, and working with some residents to inspect the systems of private systems. Within the state of Utah, all municipalities are under one state regulation in MS4. 

“We need capital improvements in the system,” said Dietrich. He explained how regular and proper maintenance is necessary as well as issues are identified before they become problems. Maintenance protects city property from flooding and road collapses. 

Historically, Cottonwood Heights funded storm water maintenance through regular taxes. “Cities collect taxes and a portion of those taxes go to all of the different activities of the city, including storm water,” explained Dietrich. “Back when there were just a few things to clean out and when the system wasn’t so old, that was easier to do.”

With increased costs associated with federal regulations, maintenance from a deteriorating system, and capital improvements, expenditures related to storm drain infrastructure are beginning to outweigh the tax funding. 

All cities in the area except Cottonwood Heights, South Salt Lake, and Alta have implemented a storm water fee. Even the unincorporated areas have a fee schedule pending. 

One of the main benefits other cities have identified is “everyone pays, including the tax exempt,” said Dietrich. It’s a more fair way to distribute the water fee because it’s based on impervious area. The cost is heaviest on those who impact the system the most.

“We can take the storm water master plan and rate study to create a fee that meets the needs of the city, is defensible and easy to administer, and ready to implement,” reported Dietrich. 

In the next few months, Bowen Collins & Associates working along with city staff members and the city attorney, will prepare a final deliverable in the form of a policy manual. “We will identify how the policy will need to be put together for the city specifically so it’s not a copy and paste from somewhere else. It will be workable for you,” Dietrich said. 

In addition, there will be a public process where the city will be asking for public input.