FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
- What is a watershed and how is stormwater generated?
- Why is storm water runoff a problem?
- Why do we need to manage our storm water runoff?
- What is a storm water conveyance system?
- Are sanitary sewers and storm sewers the same thing?
- Who owns the storm water conveyance system?
- What is the City’s responsibility for storm water?
- What is a Storm water Fee?
- Who authorized the fee?
- Why has the Storm Water Fee been recommended as the funding mechanism for storm water management?
- What would the Storm Water Fee pay for?
- How much is the storm water fee?
- Will the money collected through the storm water fee be enough to cover all storm water management costs?
- What are the immediate benefits of the adjusted fee ordinance?
|1. What is a watershed and how is stormwater generated?|
Look down at your feet when standing outside. You and everyone around you is standing in a watershed. A watershed is that area of land where all of the water that falls as rainwater and drains from it goes to a common outlet, which in Birmingham that outlet is not a wastewater treatment plant but flows untreated as “Stormwater” to a surface water stream. Stormwater, also known as stormwater runoff, is the rain water that flows off natural ground cover like grass surfaces and wooded areas that does not percolate into the soil. As development increases, the amount of natural ground cover is replaced with hard surfaces like roofs, driveways, parking lots, streets, and even swimming pools or other hard surfaces to increase the amount of stormwater runoff to occur from rain events and snow melt. See the diagrams below.
Stormwater runoff for the most part does not receive any treatment to remove pollutants before entering our local waterways (streams, creeks, lakes, & rivers) and is an obvious conveyance of pollution sources into the City’s streams, lakes, and rivers.
The City of Birmingham is located within five watersheds, which includes:
- Five Mile Creek Watershed
- Village Creek Watershed
- Valley Creek Watershed
- Shades Creek Watershed
- Cahaba River Watershed
|2. Why is storm water runoff a problem?|
As rain falls on land, it primarily percolates into the ground or slowly runs off into streams, rivers, or other water bodies. Development creates rooftops and paved areas, also known as impervious surfaces, which prevent water from percolating into the ground and creates a faster and higher runoff rate. Excessive storm water can carry harmful pollutants, erode topsoil and stream banks, and destroy property and natural habitats.
|3. Why do we need to manage our storm water runoff?|
Stormwater runoff needs to be managed just as water, sewer, roadway, and solid waste systems are managed. Alabama’s waterways are famous worldwide for the diversity of wildlife they support. Alabama has more crayfish, fish, snails and mussels than any other state in the nation. Indeed, many of those species unique to Alabama are also found in the streams in and around Birmingham. For example, the Cahaba River is home to more than 131 species of freshwater fish, including 18 species found nowhere else, like the Watercress Darter. There are dozens more rare mussels, snails, and a huge variety of plants, like the Cahaba Lily.
Because most of the water generated by a watershed ultimately flows to a stream or river in Birmingham, the stream also carries with it sediment, nutrients from fertilizers and decomposing plants, and minerals that dissolve from sediment and rocks associated with the streams. Metals from industrial point sources and from roadways, in addition to metals, add also oil and grease due to automobile traffic that contributes to the pollution of our streams and rivers throughout Birmingham. In Birmingham’s streams the most obvious source of pollution is the result of trash, debris, and floatables that makes its way into our streams, rivers, and lakes. Waterbodies like rivers and streams are able to assimilate a certain amount of pollution over time. But when the volume of flow or the amounts of pollutants are excessive, the stream is not able to assimilate those pollutants and pollution is the result. That pollution can look bad, smell bad, can contribute to fish and wildlife kills, the devaluation of adjacent property values, and in the extreme can also cause public health problems. This latter occurs mostly where the drinking water source also happens to be a polluted stream. Protecting Birmingham’s waterways and lakes is every ones business, so become involved. If you see illicit dumping or spills, call 311 and report the address and license plate number or company name from off the side of the truck whenever possible. Doing your part in this way is extremely helpful to the City to curb pollution whenever and wherever possible.
|4. What is a storm water conveyance system?|
The storm water conveyance system includes natural and manmade structures/systems that facilitate the travel of storm water runoff to natural water bodies such as lakes, wetlands, streams, rivers, ponds, etc. Storm water conveyance structures/systems include roadways, curbs, gutters, storm sewers,
|5. Are sanitary sewers and storm sewers the same thing?|
No. They are two completely separate drainage systems. Sewage in the sanitary sewer system receives extensive treatment prior to being discharged into streams. Storm water flowing through storm sewers on the other hand, receives no treatment before entering streams
|6. Who owns the storm water conveyance system?|
Just as with the sanitary sewer system, parts of the storm water system are owned by private parties and other parts are owned by the City or other governments. Ownership can often be difficult to determine from a visual observation. Storm water systems have to be maintained, just as sewer systems to ensure that they continue to function properly.
|7. What is the City’s responsibility for storm water?|
The City is responsible for managing all aspects of storm water management within its jurisdiction, which means it is only responsible for the parts of the storm water system that are in City-maintained street rights-of- way, permanent storm water easements conveyed to and accepted by the City, or otherwise explicitly stated in a written agreement with the City. The City does not maintain storm water systems that are located on private property, in easements not dedicated specifically to the City, or that fall under other governmental jurisdictions. The City does inspect private storm water systems with recorded maintenance agreements to confirm the facilities are functioning properly.
|8. What is a Storm water Fee?|
The City administers a Storm Water Fee to provide a dedicated source of funding for the City’s storm water program. A Storm Water Fee is a “fee for service” approved by the Birmingham City Council in accordance with state laws and regulations.
|9. Who authorized the fee?|
|10. Why has the Storm Water Fee been recommended as the funding mechanism for storm water management?|
Storm water fees establish a dedicated funding source to accomplish the goals of the storm water program. The fee provides a stable source of funding that enables capital project planning and implementation related to storm water management. Storm water fees must be placed in a special fund that can only be used for storm water management.
|11. What would the Storm Water Fee pay for?|
The Storm Water Fee is a dedicated fund to pay for the City’s projects to manage storm water runoff. This fund is dedicated to paying for the City’s storm water program above and beyond those activities that are funded by the City’s General Fund and is not used for any other purpose. The fee pays the cost of program administration, the development of watershed management master plan, the sediment and erosion control program, the City’s public education and outreach, and all required water quality monitoring of our City streams.
|12. How much is the storm water fee?|
The present state law allows the City to only establish, levy, or impose an annual flat fee, charge, or assessment of no more than ten dollars ($10) on residential property, and the City may only establish, levy, or impose an annual fee, charge, or assessment on commercial property of no more than one-half of one cent ($0.005) per square foot of commercial space on or within the property regardless of actual square footage of commercial space on or within the property, no such annual fee, charge, or assessment can exceed three thousand dollars ($3,000).
|13. Will the money collected through the storm water fee be enough to cover all storm water management costs?|
No. The amount collected through the storm water fees will not cover all the storm water management costs. The City will prioritize the financial needs of the storm water program and then fund those needs according to their priorities. When necessary, the City will continue to supplement the storm water management costs from the General Fund.
|14. What are the immediate benefits of the adjusted fee ordinance?|
The ability to better manage the operations and maintenance of the system and the planning of capital program activities through infrastructure condition assessments, a comprehensive work order system and financial reporting. The Department of Planning, Engineering and Permits will also be able to get additional human resources to meet the anticipated regulatory requirements of the NPDES program, and will continue the development of the watershed implementation approach for each watershed in the City.