Rainwater becomes polluted runoff as it washes over the built environment picking up chemicals, bacteria, trash and sediment. Polluted runoff is a major factor pushing many of our state’s waterways – including the Chesapeake Bay - to the brink of death. That is why the federal Clean Water Act requires jurisdictions to protect and restore rivers and streams[DC1] by reducing and eliminating polluted runoff -- and why property owners pay a Water Quality Protection Charge, a.k.a. ‘stormwater fees’ to fund this longtime federal mandate.
The bigger your house and driveway, the bigger your fee, which is directly linked to the square footage on your property that is preventing rainwater from filtering naturally through the soil.
While under political attack as a ‘rain tax’, these stormwater fees finance critical infrastructure. Stormwater fees pay for programs that stem the flow of stormwater. This is critical to maintaining our roads, bridges and sewer lines in good working order, since these comprise our business-critical infrastructure that is regularly damaged by the raging floods caused or worsened by urban polluted runoff. Creating locally-controlled funds of hundreds of millions of dollars, the fees are an enormous opportunity to set our counties and cities on the path to real sustainability. That is why the Sierra Club’s State Water Team recently organized Clean Water Town Halls – entitled Leaving the Gray Behind: Clean Water, Green Jobs & Climate Resilience - in close collaboration with the Prince George’s and Montgomery County groups held earlier this month. “It is essential that the public understands the importance of the program as well as the excellent public benefits that result from investing these funds in smart green best practices,” said Linda Schade, who helped organized the Town Halls.
Clean Water Act requirements are implemented through MS-4 permits (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System) that set customized five-year goals for each county or large municipality. Both Town Halls emphasized the green solutions and positive benefits resulting from a green infrastructure approach to runoff reduction.