Stormwater flows within the Kitchener, Ontario area are directed towards the Grand River, with Lake Erie acting as the ultimate receiver. Additionally, about 70 per cent of the drinking water for Kitchener residents comes from groundwater sources, with the balance from the Grand River; therefore, source water protection is critical, not only for the City, but across the watershed. In this respect, Kitchener is representative of many mid-sized Canadian communities. Located in southwestern Ontario, Kitchener has stormwater management (SWM) infrastructure assets valued at $300 million, covering a land mass of about 137 square kilometres.
Property taxes are still the primary source of SWM program funding for Ontario municipalities. However, many municipalities recognize that some form of user pay approach needs to be developed in order to fairly and equitably distribute the increasing costs associated with this municipal service.
Implementing user pay
The City of Kitchener, along with the adjacent City of Waterloo, collaboratively completed the SWM Program and Funding Review Study. AECOM was the lead consultant who undertook the feasibility study which included an extensive public consultation and review over the course of five years. Both councils agreed to the study recommendations, and both adopted the overarching principles of a user pay approach. The implementation of a rate structure that rationally assigns costs of service to users is an innovative and important step forward and demonstrates the feasibility of an equitable and defendable stormwater rate structure.
Under the tax model of funding SWM, properties contributed SWM funding based on the assessed property value and no system existed to provide financial incentives for property owners to use onsite controls to reduce stormwater and pollutant loading to the municipal system.
Under the utility structure, the impervious area is used as a surrogate to determine the amount of stormwater loading discharged to the municipal system and a credit policy provides financial incentives for property owners to implement and maintain private SWM best management practices (BMPs) to reduce stormwater loading.
A tiered flat fee stormwater rate model has been in place since January 1, 2011. A rate tier is assessed to each land parcel based on their impervious area. The charge appears on the monthly municipal utility bill and is itemized as a SWM service. Moving to this type of funding model has allowed Kitchener to make significant improvements to the municipal stormwater infrastructure such as the Victoria Park Lake Improvements project completed in 2012. Other municipalities that fund stormwater programs in a similar fashion include the City of Waterloo, Ontario, the City of Edmonton, Alberta, and the City of Portland, Oregon, amongst hundreds of others in the United States.
Rewarding property owners for BMPs
A key issue that arose during public debates related to the provision of credits for the adoption of BMPs by private property owners. The public wanted to be acknowledged and compensated for implementing BMPs such as vegetated swales, infiltration trenches, pervious pavement, extended detention stormwater basins, constructed wetlands, and other low impact development (LID) techniques.
The objective of the city’s stormwater credit policy is to encourage the implementation of measures on private property in order to reduce total runoff volume and pollutant loading discharged to the city’s stormwater management system. Property owners qualify for stormwater rate credits when they demonstrate that their existing or proposed stormwater facilities or applied best management practices are functioning as approved. This policy enables the city to reward private property owners who are good stewards, in the implementation of SWM best management practices while supporting the municipality’s SWM and sub-watershed policies.
The implementation of a user pay stormwater utility at a sustainable level of funding is a fair and equitable approach not only ensuring the proper operation and maintenance of existing SWM infrastructure, it also ensures the ability to carry out capital improvements in areas where no stormwater infrastructure exists or where existing infrastructure has deteriorated beyond repair. Coupled with a credit policy to encourage the installation and proper maintenance of private SWM infrastructure, this approach is on the leading edge of forward looking water stewardship in Canada. WC
Nick Gollan is manager of the stormwater utility at the City of Kitchener.
Making It Rain
The City of Kitchener has partnered with the City of Waterloo and Green Communities Canada to develop a community engagement program called RAIN!, a community-based social marketing program that motivates action to reduce non-point source pollution entering Ontario’s lakes and rivers via stormwater pipes.
Through funding from the Ontario Ministry of the Environment Showcasing Water Innovation program, the program helps local green community organizations build demonstration projects, organize events, and host workshops on solutions like rain barrels, pervious paving, dog waste composters, rain gardens, and other LID techniques. They also organize tours of model stormwater projects and mobilize individuals and neighbourhood groups. The program works to transform community norms and grow source reduction expertise among related businesses and professionals, such as landscapers, engineers, architects, builders, and paving companies.
By developing a replicable model for mitigating flows, reducing pollutants, and helping to relieve pressure on over-stretched municipal capital and operating budgets, RAIN! provides leadership to Canadian municipalities where urban stormwater management is a concern. WC