Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Business Killer

Let's examine some facts about stormwater runoff in Pullman:

  • No matter how much money we spend or what efforts we make, due to topography, soil, and agricultural land use, the South Fork of the Palouse River will run chocolate brown before it gets to Pullman and chocolate brown after it leaves Pullman. Our stormwater efforts are equivalent to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Pullman is a hundred miles or more upstream from the Snake River, roughly 300 miles upstream from the mouth of the Columbia River, and not connected to the Puget Sound drainage at all.

  • Name one endangered species that lives in the drainage of the Palouse River. Salmon and trout have not lived in the river since at least 12,000 years ago when the Glacial Lake Missoula flood formed Palouse Falls.

  • Much of the impairment of the South Fork of the Palouse River that we are being required to correct originated at the Moscow Sewage Treatment Plant upstream on Paradise Creek. Moscow was recently fined by the EPA for these numerous and egregious violations.

  • Despite all this, the Washington Department of Ecology proceeded with imposing the onerous Phase II stormwater permitting on Pullman anyway. Now, Pullman taxpayers have gotten a proposed bill.

    Homeowners may have to pay up to $80 extra a year. That's bad enough, but the impact on local business is going to be even worse. Gee, thanks, pencil-pushing bureaucrats in Olympia.

    From today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:

    Pullman stormwater fees could be significant for businesses

    Pullman business owners with more than one acre of property may be expected to pay more than $1,000 a year in utility fees to help the city recover costs incurred by a mandatory permit intended to clean up the state's waterways.

    Businesses with 10 acres could face annual fees of nearly $11,000.

    John Knutson, a consultant for Otak Inc., outlined estimated stormwater utility fees for business and home owners during a forum at Pullman City Hall on Monday night.

    The forum - which included a panel of speakers - was the first of many meetings to educate the public about the Washington State Department of Ecology permits, issued to municipalities across the state in January 2007.

    Knutson said the implementation of a stormwater utility was the most realistic way to raise roughly $800,000 a year to help pay for the first five-year cycle of the permit, which has been estimated to cost $4 million.

    Washington State University is a co-permittee and will be expected to address the same issues as the city. The university cannot employ a stormwater utility, and must seek other funding mechanisms to meet compliance standards.

    Knutson said most stormwater utilities are based on a property's impervious surface, which include impenetrable materials such as rooftops, asphalt and brick. These materials repel water and prevent precipitation from reaching the soil, leading to runoff. Otak was hired in 2006 to help pinpoint the city's strengths and weaknesses in regard to stormwater. Otak staff assessed 340 Pullman residences via air photos to calculate an estimated fee structure. On average, a single-family home in Pullman has 3,500 square feet of impervious surface, and that amount has been determined to be one equivalent billing unit at a cost of about $7 per month.

    For developed nonresidential property, the amount of impervious surface would be divided by 3,500 to determine the number of billing units.

    For example, Knutson said a drive-through restaurant on one-acre would likely pay in the neighborhood of $87.50 per month. A 10-acre commercial property would be billed close to $900 per month. He added that vacant or undeveloped property will not be charged a utility fee, and duplexes and triplexes will be considered half a billing unit because they tend to have less impervious surfaces.

    City Finance Director Troy Woo put the $7 billing unit in perspective, and said sewer and water utility fees for single-family homes are around $18 per month. [Gee, let's put that in another perspective: That's adding 39% to your monthly water bill. Not an inconsequential increase. But this is the government we're talking about here. - tf]

    Pullman home owner Paul Spencer said he can handle the $7 per month. The information in the meeting helped him become aware that nearly everything - even owning a car - can affect stormwater quality. [Oh, brother. - tf]

    "Anything we can do to help the situation is good," he said. "Being aware of the problem plays a big part in its solution."

    Pullman Stormwater Services Manager Rob Buchert said the utility is only one component of complying with the permits, which were designed to manage the quality and quantity of runoff from development and to control stormwater discharge into sewer systems. The requirements are intended to help municipalities detect and eliminate illegal discharges, reduce contamination of downstream waters, create good housekeeping practices for existing systems and educate the public.

    The utility fees will help create a new arm of the city maintenance department to oversee the nearly 1,000 stormdrains and roughly 80 pipes that discharge stormwater into area waterways. A new pumper truck also will be purchased to clean out storm drains, and miles of old storm-drain lines also will need to be replaced.

    The draft ordinance necessary to implement the stormwater utility is expected to be completed sometime in May. A public hearing will be scheduled, and the ordinance would be passed on to the Pullman City Council for adoption.

    Elaine Snouwaert, watershed coordinator for the Department of Ecology and a member of the panel at the meeting, said the permits are necessary to ensure area waterways are clean for animals and future generations. She explained that stormwater is not treated before it is discharged into streams and rivers.

    "Everything on the ground can become pollutants when it rains," she said.

    Snouwaert said recent water quality tests conducted on the South Fork of the Palouse River have shown the water temperature is high and there are high levels of dissolved oxygen, pH and fecal coliform bacteria. Paradise Creek and Missouri Flat Creek also have been deemed impaired.

    1 comment:

    April E. Coggins said...

    It's like a tax on civilization. If we would all go back to living in mud huts and caves, this would be unnecessary.

    The DOE has deemed itself owner of all water, in the ground or what falls out of the sky. They need to keep their rain from trespassing on my pavement.

    Also remember that the DOE is claiming that they need to clean the water to improve the habitat of suckers and norther pike minnow. Northern pike minnows are predators of salmon and steelhead. The taxpayer then pays to have the norther pike minnow killed further downriver to improve the survival of steelhead and salmon smolt. Does any of this make sense?