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Wednesday, September 27, 2017 by Jessi Devenyns

In a gesture of goodwill, the city wants to reward those who are reusing their stormwater

Most Austin residents are aware of the sometimes economically painful reality of fixed stormwater drainage charges adding up on their monthly bills. However, after years of operating under this system, the Watershed Protection Department is changing its approach by rolling out a stormwater discount program.

Currently, the program is in a pilot phase that has been in effect for two weeks. In a presentation to the Environmental Commission on Sept. 20, staff said a more robust launch will be executed after the holidays.

Of the Watershed Protection Department’s $93 million budget that is used to support projects that are associated with flooding, erosion and water quality, 95 percent comes from the drainage charge associated with individual homes’ impervious cover. Drainage charges are based on a rate determined annually by City Council during its budget process.

Despite stormwater drainage being the main source of income for the department, Anupa Gharpurey, the financial manager at the Watershed Protection Department, said that it had decided to implement discounts “to recognize efforts of Austin residents who want to reduce their impact of impervious cover and improve water quality.” Furthermore, she said that as it stood, stormwater drainage was the only utility that could not be reduced by usage.

Gharpurey emphasized that this initiative is not intended as a discount program to meet the city’s impervious cover mitigation requirement.

Co-presenter Stephanie Lott, who also works for the city’s Watershed Protection Department, said that applications for the discount will be assessed with more scrutiny as the amount of stormwater a resident claims to collect increases. “We wanted to strike a balance between the amount of discount you’re getting and the amount of effort you have to put into the application,” she said. This means that if each tank on the property holds 250 gallons or less, all the customer needs to provide is a photo, utility account number and the capacity of their tanks. For cisterns larger than 250 gallons, there is a more stringent verification process that includes a site map with dimensions.

To ensure compliance, discounts are valid for two years before customers must reapply and demonstrate the continued functionality of their stormwater harvesting system. “Everyone,” Lott said, “has to agree to maintain their stormwater measure to get this discount.”

Stormwater control measures can include rainwater harvesting systems, rain gardens, ponds and green roofs. Gharpurey explained that additional outreach programs will begin in January, at which point utility bills will include a link directly to the website where you can apply for the discount.

Chair Marisa Perales asked, “Will there be any efforts to see if any of these projects are reducing the impact on drainage?”

At this point, staff said, this is not an incentive-based project. “Our goal is not to create an incentive to go out and create rain gardens. We just want to acknowledge people who have already done this,” said Gharpurey. “We just want to give them kudos, so to speak.”

This article has been update to remove two mistaken references to wastewater rather than stormwater.

Photo by SuSanA Secretariat [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

City of Austin Drainage Fee: The City of Austin assess a drainage fee per household, per month to City of Austin residents.

City of Austin Environmental Commission: An advisory board to members of the Austin City Council. Its purview includes "all projects and programs which affect the quality of life for the citizens of Austin." In many cases, this includes development projects.

Watershed Protection Department: The city's Watershed Protection Department works to reduce the impact of floods, erosion and water pollution in the city. The department is mostly funded by the city's drainage fee.

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