The Stormwater Utility

The City of La Crosse Stormwater Utility was established by the Common Council of La Crosse on July 14, 2011. (La Crosse Municipal Code Chapter 23) The Stormwater Utility was created in response to the 2006 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandated reductions in stormwater from cities throughout the nation, including Wisconsin, in the Clean Water Act. In response, the Wisconsin DNR enacted regulations that required improved stormwater treatment of any run-off leaving the City of La Crosse’s storm sewers, roads, or other “conveyances”. The City currently holds a DNR required permit in order to discharge storm water from the City of La Crosse into the Mississippi (WPDES Permit No. WI-S050075-1). The Clean Water Act requires the establishment of a stormwater management program to reduce stormwater pollution from any runoff leaving the City’s storm sewers, roads or other conveyances in a manner beyond just capital improvements.

The City chose to create a Stormwater Utility as a means to equitably charge for the mandated improvements. A stormwater utility is an enterprise fund for which stormwater related revenues and expenditures are separate from the City of La Crosse’s general tax levy. A stormwater utility is a more equitable way to fund stormwater treatment because the user fees are based on how much run-off the user produces, not their property’s value or tax status. Prior to the development of the Stormwater Utility, residential properties paid over 50% of stormwater costs but only produced 28% of the run-off, and tax exempt properties did not pay anything for stormwater infrastructure and treatment. A stormwater utility creates financial incentive for users to reduce the volume of runoff they produce on site (which is cheaper than treating stormwater in regional facilities). A stormwater utility also provides a source of funds that can be borrowed against to fund and payback larger scale stormwater improvement projects.

Every property owner within the City is charged a fee on all developed property that has impervious surfaces. This spreads the burden of paying for these new costs to all users rather than being paid for entirely by the taxpayers of La Crosse.

WHY SHOULD CITY RESIDENTS BE CONCERNED ABOUT STORMWATER RUNOFF?

In La Crosse hard surfaces have replaced soil and plant life that absorb rainwater. Instead, rainwater drains from roofs, roads, parking lots and driveways into the storm sewer system which travels untreated directly to the Mississippi River and other local streams. As it moves, the water picks up oils and grease, fertilizers and pesticides, impacted sediments, trash, grass, leaves, and chemicals that end up in the river. Stormwater runoff is one of the leading contributors to surface water pollution in the US. In La Crosse impervious surfaces inundate the storm sewer system and create localized flooding issues in various parts of the city.

HOW ARE STORMWATER UTILITY FUNDS DIFFERENT FROM THE GENERAL TAX FUND?

Stormwater utility funds are dedicated to the planning, maintenance and construction of stormwater facilities necessary to reduce runoff pollutants to meet the WDNR mandates. Stormwater facilities include detention ponds, storm sewer maintenance, street sweeping and erosion control. All properties within the city, including nonprofit organizations such as schools and churches contribute to the fund based upon the amount of impervious surface on their property.

WHAT ARE IMPERVIOUS AREAS OR IMPERVIOUS SURFACES?

Impervious area, or impervious surface, is defined as a surface that has been compacted or covered with a layer of material so that it is highly resistant to infiltration by rainwater. Several examples of impervious surfaces include roofs, sidewalks, parking lots, playgrounds, tennis courts, compacted gravel or dirt surfaces, and other similar surfaces. Pervious areas are those that absorb rainwater and primarily consist of lawns and other grassy surface areas.  While these areas do absorb rain water, pervious surface areas may generate some runoff, primarily during heavy rain events.

HOW ARE STORMWATER UTILITY FEES DETERMINED?

Stormwater chargs are developed based on an Equivalent Runoff Unit (ERU) of a property. To determine the ERU, aerial photography was used to outline pervious and impervious areas to determine the amount of pervious and impervious area. An average was determined for single family homes, which came to 2,841 square feet of impervious surface. Therefore, the La Crosse Stormwater Utility value for one (1) ERU is 2,841 square feet.

Residential properties would be charged based on this calculated average at one (1) ERU per quarter. Residential properties include any property zoned or used exclusively for residential purposes with each structure containing three or fewer housing units within a structure, and not more than 9 living units. Therefore each single family home, duplex (Excluding "Super-Duplexes"), triplex (Excluding "Super-Triplexes") and twindo will be charged one (1) ERU per quarter. Those duplexes and triplexes with multiple water meters will have the one (1) ERU divided among the number of meters.

Non-residential properties include any developed property not defined as “residential property” by the Stormwater Utility ordinance, such as condominiums, multi-family apartment buildings with four or more dwelling units, parking lots, as well as all other properties zoned or used for commercial, industrial, institutional or governmental purposes. The number of ERU’s assigned to non-residential properties is based on the actual impervious area (in square feet) divided by the value of an ERU at 2,841 square feet (carried to the nearest .1).

HOW CAN I REDUCE MY STORMWATER FEES?

For Non-Residential parcels:

  1. Property owners can reduce the amount of impervious surface on the parcel by removing unused structures, pavement, or other impervious areas, and replace it with grass.
  1. A Stormwater Change Form Application must be completed if impervious area is removed from a parcel, and this will actually reduce the impervious surface on the parcel, which then will reduce the total Stormwater Utility Fee since it is based on this factor.
  1. Property owners can implement stormwater best management practices that reduce the quantity of or improve the quality of stormwater runoff from the parcel.
  1. A Stormwater Credit Application and turn it in to the La Crosse Utilities Office.  Once reviewed and approved by the Engineering Department, a credit will be added to the utility bill. This in essence will reduce the total amount due, even though the total impervious area did not change.

For Residential parcels:

  1. Property owners can implement a select set of stormwater best managemnt practices that reduce the quantity of, or improve the quality of stormwater runoff from the parcel to quality for "quick credits". This includes, but is not limited to, installing a minimum of four (4) rain barrels, constructing a rain garden or a combination of the two. Residential parcels are more limited as to the types of credits since the impervious area is not measured and they are charged an "average".
  1. A Stormwater Credit Application and turn it in to the La Crosse Utilities Office.  Once reviewed and approved by the Engineering Department, a credit will be added to the utility bill. This in essence will reduce the total amount due, even though the total impervious area did not change.

The maximum credit that is available to all parcels is 80% of the stormwater fee. 50% of this credit may come from water quality improvements and up to 50% from water quantity reductions.

DEMOLISHING A PROPERTY:  The only way for a property to have no stormwater charges, would be to completely demolish all structures and remove all impervious surface on a property, leaving only grass on the vacant lot.  If this is done, the property owner is responsible for completing a Stormwater Change Form Application in order to provide the required documentation that no impervious surface remains on the property.