In 2009, the NH Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) Watershed Assistance Grants Program provided funding from Clean Water Act Section 319 funds from the USEPA, for studies in Dover, Portsmouth, and Nashua to determine the feasibility of stormwater utilities as a funding source for their municipal stormwater programs. Feasibility studies help a municipality determine if pursuing a stormwater utility approach to funding is appropriate. The results of the studies and the experiences of the participants were documented throughout the process. Summaries of the lessons learned include:
- Involve the Public: The public must be involved from the very beginning. They should have the opportunity to learn about how a stormwater utility works, be able to ask questions, and voice concerns in order to make an educated decision on whether or not they think a stormwater utility is a good option for their municipality. Without public support, it is very unlikely that there will be the political support to pursue and approve a stormwater utility.
- Invite the public, including the highest potential rate payers, to informational meetings and to participate on utility working groups.
- Encourage early involvement in establishing that there is a stormwater funding need before the actual funding method is determined.
Dover Stormwater Committee Resolution for possible participants.
- Ensure Political Understanding and Support: It is essential that municipal decision makers fully understand the purpose and function of a stormwater utility in order to be able to speak about it to their constituents and answer any questions that arise. Open communication between the public and political leaders about a stormwater utility is necessary in order for both parties to feel confident supporting it.
- Have a meeting with the local press up front to explain the program and identify gaps in information.
- Include local decision makers in on determining the best way to fund a stormwater program.
- Continuously identify additional stakeholders for outreach efforts.
- Ensure all supporters communicate why they support the stormwater utility and invite them to speak at public forums.
Dover City Council Stormwater Presentation for example of outreach.
- Provide Real Numbers and Full Disclosure: In order for the public to better understand how they would be personally impacted by a stormwater utility fee, actual examples of rates based on various rate structures should be developed and available for public review.
- Make the rate structure, potential revenue from fees, tax offset, potential fee abatement, and other economic factors public and easily available.
- Don’t base your program costs or needs on hypothetical situations.
NH Stormwater Utility Feasibility Studies for real numbers data.
- Identify and Communicate the Need: It is important to identify and communicate local stormwater needs that could be funded with revenue from a stormwater fee. Highlighting examples of potential fixes to ongoing stormwater concerns focuses on the solutions.
- Make messages about impacts from stormwater, not stormwater.
- Present a compelling case related to local issues or concerns.
Portsmouth Compelling Case Backgrounder for details.
- Consider Timing: During a stormwater utility feasibility study, use the process to identify the best time to move forward with getting approval. Be flexible and respond to external factors.
- If there is a stormwater or flooding problem the funding will help fix, identify and respond to related events.
- If program costs are based on draft permit requirements, wait for the final permit to come out.
- Consider elections and the best time for incumbents or candidates to support the funding program.
- Consider the local economic situation and avoid recent downturns.
Portsmouth Stormwater Regulation Article for example of tying message into new federal permit requirements.
- Don’t Assume Anything: No matter how aware your community is about stormwater and how much support appears to exist, do more communication and outreach than you think you need to.
More details from the municipalities’ experiences are documented in the Stormwater Feasibility Studies’ Final Reports or contact Barbara McMillan, Outreach Coordinator, NHDES Watershed Assistance Section firstname.lastname@example.org, (603) 559-1517, or Jillian McCarthy, Stormwater Coordinator, NHDES Watershed Assistance Section email@example.com, (603) 271-8475.
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