Stormwater Treatment, or the “Rain Tax”

The EPA requires everyone whose water drains into the Chesapeake Bay to treat their storm water to remove pollution. Gaithersburg will be required to treat 20% of our storm water within seven years. Our staff estimates that this is going to cost nearly $30 million, and this is not a project we’ve been saving for already.

Although the regulation focuses on improvements to water quality in the Bay, the money we spend will actually result in big improvements locally. The cities streams get runoff way too fast and have regular problems with bank undercutting. This makes the channel wider, which exposes it to sunshine in the summer. That combined with heat from the pavements raises water temperature excessively.  The erosion also leads to a muddy bottom,  which doesn’t provide the stability and habitat of a pebbly bottom. The benefits will be seen in our own back yard as well as in the Bay.

Some of the properties in the city have already been paying for some storm water treatment. The mayor and council were presented with a plan to pay for this project through an increased fee that would apply to all properties in the city. The proposed fee was based on the amount of “impervious” space on each property – your building is impervious, and so is your driveway and any parking lots, etc.

While this is the most fair (everyone pays proportionately to how much water runs off their property), it also represents a big hit on properties that had not paid in the past, and especially on large commercial properties.

Our staff presented a number of alternatives, and I voted for the scenario where 1/3 of the cost is paid out of the general fund (mainly, your current property taxes) and the rest according to the amount of impervious space. That formula was chosen by a 3-2 vote of the council.

We need more jobs and more shopping in the city, and if we can be a little less expensive it should help us get where we need to be.