In 2011, we wrote about the innovative stormwater fee adopted by Kitchener, Ontario, following English and American precedents. Instead of funding storm water management through fees for municipal water, which penalizes heavy water users such as laundries, these municipalities fund the cost of managing stormwater through taxes on those who create storm water management problems by having large impervious surfaces, such as flat (non-green) roofs and parking lots. You pave, you pay.
Not only are stormwater fees a fairer way of charging for stormwater management, they also create an important financial incentive for property owners and tenants to reduce the impervious surfaces on their land. This has major environmental advantages.
Since 2011, many American municipalities and an increasing number of Ontario ones have adopted or enhanced stormwater management charges.
For example, Kitchener and next-door Waterloo increased the effectiveness of their program with a Stormwater Utility and Credit Program in January 2013. The credit program offers local property owners financial incentives for reducing the amount of stormwater runoff and pollutants that enter the municipal stormwater-management system from their property. The program offers incentives – including lower monthly stormwater management fees – to all ratepayers who demonstrate best practices in managing stormwater runoff. The stormwater credits can offset up to 45% of the stormwater portion of each property’s utility bill.
Mississauga, the sprawling suburb just west of Toronto, will have its own stormwater charge effective January 1, 2016.
Why stormwater fees?
There are numerous environmental advantages to storm water charges, and to the incentive they provide to reduce impervious surfaces in urban areas. The fast, polluted runoff from large paved areas not only costs municipalities of fortune to manage, it also pollutes surface water and is a major cause for closing public beaches. Large impervious areas also create urban heat islands in summer, exacerbating the effects of climate change, and create heat stress both for wildlife and for humans, especially the disadvantaged.
Designated storm water charges are also more likely to provide adequate funding for wet weather management, because the funds come directly from the storm water charge, and need not be drawn from general revenues or compete with the cost of drinking water supply or of sanitary sewage treatment.
Staff at the City of Toronto told me that they are well aware of these multiple advantages, but that there has been no political will to adopt stormwater fees based on impervious areas here. But if Mississauga can do it, why can’t Toronto?