City of Victoria Stormwater Utility — "We have designed the utility so that it will be one of the most fair and representative stormwater utilities in North America," stated Adam Steele
Caring for the Environment: Victoria’s Stormwater Utility – Moving towards a Water-Resilient Future
In 2013, the City of Victoria embarked upon a comprehensive engagement process to implement a design with nature vision for Sustainable Rainwater Management.
- The City’s goal: use rain as a resource and mimic the function of natural systems.
- The outcome: a user-pay Stormwater Utility complete with a Rainwater Rewards Program.
Over time, the Stormwater Utility provides the City with the capability to foster a watershed stewardship ethic and influence landowner actions on the ground for the common good. Property owners received their first utility bill in October 2016.
To Learn More:
Information on the City of Victoria’s stormwater utility and Rainwater Rewards program can be found at:
What Happens on the Land does Matter
“In the late 1990s, there was considerable interest and enthusiasm on the part of numerous BC municipalities to establish stormwater utilities,” recalls Kim Stephens, Executive Director,the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia.
“But few followed through with action, and those that did merely added to the scope of their existing sanitary sewer utilities to ensure dedicated funding for drainage purposes.”
“Fast forward to 2016. The City of Victoria has shown leadership by establishing a Stormwater Utility AND a Rainwater Rewards Program that looks to the future. The City’s accomplishment merits celebration.”
“With implementation of its Stormwater Utility, the City can ‘make real’ its Caring for the Environment mantra.”
“What happens on the land does matter. Hence, the City’s Rainwater Rewards Program is the means to an end – restore respect for water, the water balance (cycle) and interaction of water with the urban landscape,” concludes Kim Stephens.
To Learn More:
To read an Op-Ed by Kim Stephens that was published in the Victoria Times-Colonist on October 15, click on Victoria’s stormwater utility looks to the future
A Shift Towards the Environment
“In 2001 the City of Victoria began to explore a shift in stormwater management towards a revenue-neutral model, and away from billing proportional to property value,” states Fraser Work, the City’s Director of Engineering and Public Works.
“This idea was put into action in 2011 with endorsement from Council, and a team was assembled to develop the program.”
“Staff and Council saw the new utility as an opportunity to achieve multiple outcomes in parallel.”
“The utility is both an equitable and proportionate billing system. It also builds awareness of how to reduce our environmental and utility impact and find ways to incentivise more sustainable choices for water management.”
“Reducing pollutants that enter our water system as well as building climate change resilience is the responsibility of everyone!”
“Informed by public engagement, we have developed what we believe to be a fair and representative stormwater utility. It is based on property impervious area, length of street cleaning frontage, and property use.”
“In response to public feedback, we have provided low density residential property owners with tools to successfully implement their Do It Yourself rainwater management projects. We have also provided professionals with similar but more complex tools.”
“Both versions of tools are designed to help projects be effective, safe, and receive ‘Rainwater Rewards’ financial incentives.”
“We look forward to working with community stakeholders to improve this system as it matures, and help the community lead in the development of sustainable, effective and affordable rainwater infrastructure,” states Fraser Work in providing a perspective on desired outcomes.
A Starting Place for Incremental Change
“The Rainwater Rewards incentive program is designed to help property owners make a more sustainable choice when considering new construction or improvements to their property,” adds Adam Steele, Stormwater Management Specialist.
“Whether it’s a ribbon driveway in place of traditional repaving, a rain garden rather than a landscaping berm, or a cistern instead of a potable water irrigation system – a property owner can achieve the desired improvement with added benefits, including knowing that they have contributed to the greater good.”
“The City also benefits from this slowing, capturing and cleaning of rainwater, and can pass benefits back to property owners in the form of financial incentives.”
Role Played By Community Engagement
“During Rainwater Rewards program development, we engaged with the public on a proposed version. We also evaluated this version using case studies on a cross section of property types.”
“We incorporated the feedback received and study results into the program launched in the spring of 2015, a year and a half before issuing the first bills. The early launch provided property owners with an opportunity to take advantage of the program before receiving the first bill.”
“Also based on feedback study results, we incorporated upfront rebates for low density residential properties, more flexibility, and tools such as a simple application process with online access, step by step DIY instructions and help from City staff.”
“We also developed a professional version of our Rainwater Management Standards, and an online Rainwater Management Planner to help plan projects, see available Rainwater Rewards and the utility bill amount.”
The New Business As Usual
“One of the program goals is to help increase the number of successful, effective installations of rainwater management methods.”
“The City is also looking for opportunities and taking advantage where they make sense. This ranges from building rainwater management features in public rights of way to partnering with educational facilities to both install and evaluate effectiveness and impacts.”
“It is these types of individual small changes that over time we anticipate will have noticeable, cumulative effects.”
“Cumulative benefits encompass cleaner waterways and beaches, reduced peak flows, and potential for less system maintenance and increased resilience to climate change.”
“The more rainwater management features such as rain gardens are installed effectively, the more noticeable and desirable they become, and the more their numbers will grow.”
Awareness Leads to Action
“With implementation of our stormwater utility and Rainwater Rewards Program, we have provided a basis to facilitate and grow a change in thinking, so that increased awareness results in action.”
“The program foundation resulted from listening to feedback. We intend to continue listening and incorporating this feedback where possible. This approach will lead to positive changes for property owners, our stormwater system, and our receiving waters,” concludes Adam Steele.