Columbia stormwater utility needs work to avoid fines

Wednesday, June 2, 2010 | 7:16 p.m. CDT; updated 11:33 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, June 2, 2010

COLUMBIA — Columbia's stormwater utility needs some work, and utility customers will have to get used to the idea of paying for it.

A year ago, the city started a program to combat infiltration of stormwater into the sanitary sewer system, City Manager Bill Watkins said during his State of the City address Wednesday.

"It seeks the lowest point of exit that it can, which is usually somebody's basement," Watkins said.

Even more important is meeting state and federal regulations for stormwater, Watkins said. He pointed to Kansas City as an example of what could happen if the stormwater system isn't brought up to federal standards. According to a Department of Justice press release, Kansas City had to commit an estimated $2.5 billion over 25 years to eliminate overflows of raw sewage and reduce pollution levels of stormwater.

"That could easily happen to Columbia," Watkins said.

Columbia hired Environmental Rate Consultants to develop a rate structure analysis for the stormwater utility. The firm's analysis recommended that the city implement a system, known as the Gwinnett method, that bases stormwater bills on a property's total amount of impervious area. Impervious areas include roofs, parking lots, driveways and sidewalks. Such areas could be measured using Boone County's geographic information systems.

Environmental Rate Consultants included estimates for stormwater utility rates using the Gwinnett method. It studied one home with approximately 4,340 square feet of impervious surface. The owners' annual stormwater bill now is $16.20 per year. Under the Gwinnett structure, they would pay $123.84 per year.

"Frankly, the rate suggestions are way too high and would need to be phased in over a couple of years," Watkins said.

The City Council will discuss stormwater issues and the rate structure proposal at its retreat this weekend.

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