Proposal would raise stormwater utility rates

Monthly stormwater utility rates would nearly double in the next five years for property owners in unincorporated Thurston County under a proposal being considered by county water resources officials.

Today’s monthly base rate of $2.75 would climb to $3.70 per month in 2010 and reach $5.33 by 2014.

The rate increase is necessary to expand stormwater monitoring and pollution prevention programs required by the federal Clean Water Act, said Cliff Moore, the county director of resource stewardship.

Stormwater runoff has been identified by the state Department of Ecology as one of the leading causes of pollution to Puget Sound. Stormwater is a conduit for pesticides, fertilizers, motor oils and other pollutants to reach waterways and groundwater.

The 2009 budget for the storm and surface water utility is $2.6 million with about $2.1 million derived from the monthly base rate and $540,000 from the capital rate also charged to property owners. The capital costs are not subject to the proposed rate increase.

The combined stormwater fees for an average residential property in unincorporated Thurston County range from $36 to $51 per year and appear on annual property tax statements. Capital fees vary and are higher in the more urban areas of the county.

Commercial properties in the county are also subject to the rate increase, but a stormwater fee credit of up to 50 percent is available to property owners who take extra steps to manage their stormwater.

An example of a stormwater utility project can be found in the Tanglewilde neighborhood near Lacey where the utility is constructing 20 rain gardens, repairing 83 dry wells and building 5.5 miles of grass-lined swales to keep stormwater pollution out of Woodland Creek and Henderson Inlet.

“It’s extremely expensive to clean up pollution,” said Jim Bachmeier, manager or the county’s water resources program. “Prevention is a much more affordable.”

Funds collected by the utility are also used to:

 • Provide on-site advice to ratepayers with drainage problems on their property.

 • Support stream restoration projects through Stream Team and other community efforts.

 • Develop basin plans to keep future development from increasing the potential for flooding and other stormwater problems.

More than 139,600 people live in unincorporated Thurston County, according to the 2008 census estimate.