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Evaluation of the Role of Public Outreach and Stakeholder Engagement in Stormwater Funding Decisions in New England

In 1999, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued rules under the Clean Water Act that required many small communities with municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s) to obtain permit coverage for their stormwater discharges. These MS4 communities face significant fiscal and other challenges in implementing stormwater management programs to comply with Clean Water Act requirements, control flooding, and protect local water resources. A critical element of an effective stormwater management program is adequate and sustainable funding. MS4 experiences across the country suggest that development of support among community stakeholders is an important step for communities seeking to adopt and implement stormwater funding strategies.

Nationally, MS4 communities have considered several options to fund their stormwater programs. However, the public funding discussions often center on whether to fund stormwater management costs through the communities’ general fund (i.e., property taxes), create a dedicated funding mechanism like a stormwater utility, or use a combination of the two approaches. Stormwater utilities typically raise funds by assessing user fees to residential, commercial, industrial and non-profit property owners. The user fee is generally based on the total square footage of impervious surface area of their properties.

This evaluation report describes lessons about the role and design of public outreach and stakeholder engagement strategies related to community stormwater funding decisions. The evaluation is based on the experiences of eleven small and medium-sized communities, primarily—but not exclusively—in New England. The evaluation has two complementary goals: first, to evaluate whether and how public outreach and stakeholder engagement efforts (including the use of consensus-building protocols) influenced the adoption of stormwater funding mechanisms; and second, to draw on the communities’ experiences to identify lessons for other MS4 communities considering stormwater program funding solutions.

The evaluation report focuses on stormwater utilities because they are the most prevalent funding mechanism nationally. Further, utilities were the primary funding mechanism considered by the communities evaluated.

The geographic focus of the report is New England, where stormwater utilities are much less prevalent than in other regions of the country. Of the approximately 500 New England communities subject to stormwater requirements for MS4s under the Clean Water Act, only 10 have established stormwater utilities.

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