Ratepayers could soon see an increase in their stormwater fees because of stricter California requirements in the city’s storm water discharge permit. Businesses could also be burdened with additional costs.
Under the proposed new permit, the city would have to pay an additional $1 million a year to comply with the requirements, city spokesman Jeff Hood said. The city currently spends $650,000 a year to comply with the permit, so the increase would almost triple the budget, Hood said.
With the new regulations, the city and businesses would be required to study all of their parking lots and buildings to find out what runoff is coming from those areas and entering the storm drains. Then, the businesses and city would have to assess the best way to manage any pollution before it hits the waterways.
While it is good to know what is in the city’s runoff, the requirements are too much for small cities to handle, said Kathy Grant, who is the watershed education coordinator.
“It’s just going to kill us with the limited staff we have and what they are demanding. It’s not realistic,” Grant said.
The state issues the city a permit in order to let it discharge storm drains into the Mokelumne River and the Woodbridge Irrigation District.
The previous permit expired in 2005, but the conditions have remained the same since then. Now, the state Regional Water Quality Control Board is working on a new permit for cities and agencies in the area that is likely to be required in early 2012.
The state has already taken comments on the first draft of the permit, and will release a second version of the proposed permit in October.
The regulations would also require the city to do more outreach to the community and then measure the results, which Hood said he is not sure if that is even possible.
“How do you measure human behavior?” Hood said.
For businesses, it could result in not only costs, but drastic changes. For example, if a company stores wood outside and runoff from that area is polluted, the business might have to find a new place to store their supplies or find a way to eliminate the chemicals.
The city will have to look at all of its parks, parking lots and buildings, and then find a way to manage the storm water. It could be a challenge, Hood said, in places like public parking lots because the city has no control over who parks there.
“We can’t control if a car is leaking oil or not, but we would be responsible to make sure the oil doesn’t get into the storm drainage,” he said.
The paperwork alone to study the runoff, make changes and then monitor the changes at all the city’s facilities would require more staff or a consultant.
Hood said the positive side is it would make the water entering the rivers cleaner.
“But it’s a balancing act between the impact on the rivers and the cost,” he said.
Storm water is currently not tested before it goes into the waterways. The city discharges at 16 points to the Mokelumne and at two points to the Woodbridge Irrigation Canal.
The city already does a variety of activities to meet the state’s storm drain permit requirements, Hood said. For example, the city is required to do continuous street cleaning.
“It minimizes the sediment and vegetation that might wash into the Mokelumne. We hear people say the streets are not dirty, it doesn’t need to be swept. Whether you can see dirt or not, street sweeping is a requirement of the permit,” he said.
Everything that Grant does in her part-time job with the city helps satisfy the requirements, including organizing the Lodi Lake docents to teach people about storm water as they go on tours.
She also organizes the annual Coastal Cleanup and the Storm Water Detectives, a group of high-schoolers who monitor the lake’s and river’s water quality.
Mayor Bob Johnson said it is frustrating that the city is dealing with another state requirement that could dramatically raise the city’s cost immediately, without providing a source of funding.
“No one wants to see the river and ground table polluted, so storm water runoff is very important and has to be handled appropriately. But when people pass down these regulations, I don’t think that they take the cost into consideration,” Johnson said.
He said he wishes the state would offer a framework that gradually phases in the new requirements.
“You take a quantum leap from ‘A’ to ‘B,’ and there is no phasing,” Johnson said.