Why do we have a stormwater service?

The origins of stormwater service in the United States can be traced back to an incident which occurred on Ohio’s Cuyahoga River. In 1936, the river caught fire when the spark of a blow torch ignited the floating oils and debris. The Cuyahoga River caught fire again in 1952 causing over $1 million in damages to boats and a riverfront property.  During the 1960s, the lower part of the river had become saturated with debris, oils, sludge, industrial wastes, and sewage. National attention was brought to the river when another fire occurred on June 22, 1969. Time Magazine wrote and article about the fire and described the Cuyahoga River as the river that "oozes rather than flows" and in which a person "does not drown but decays." The national coverage led to a series of pollution control activities which ultimately resulted in the Clean Water Act and the creation of the federal and state Environmental Protection Agencies.

In 1972, the Clean Water Act was passed and remains today as the cornerstone of surface water quality protection in the United States. The goal of the Clean Water Act was nothing less then the restoration and maintenance of the nation's waters so that they could support "the protection and propagation of fish, shellfish, and wildlife, and recreation in and on the water."

The initial focus of the Clean Water Act was on the source of pollution. Discharges from industry and municipal sewage facilities as well as those which could be identified as coming from a specific source or point were the primary concern. The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) provides a permit program which continues address the pollution today. After years of issuing NPDES permits and regulating dischargers, it became evident that stormwater runoff was also a serious contributor to the problem of maintaining water quality.

In 1987, the Water Quality Act was passed, and the EPA required states to regulate stormwater runoff and to prepare nonpoint source management programs. The nonpoint programs were intended to manage nondirect sources of pollution such as stormwater. One of the biggest sources of pollution and the number one threat to surface water quality is stormwater runoff.

The City of Winston-Salem is a Phase I community (a population over 100,000).  As a result, the City of Winston-Salem has been mandated under the Water Quality Act of 1987 to develop a stormwater management program. The city received an NPDES permit and began its stormwater utility program in 1995.

Phase II expands the scope of the NPDES program to include smaller local governments serving populations of less than 100,000 (a population of 1,000 people or more per square mile). The stormwater Phase II program requires most municipalities and local governments to obtain NPDES permit coverage. These local governments have been mandated to establish a stormwater management program. The program indicates the development and implementation of six specified measures which assist in the reduction of stormwater pollution. These include the following: 

  1. Public Education and Outreach on Storm Water
  2. Public Involvement and Participation
  3. Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination
  4. Construction Site Storm Water Runoff Control
  5. Post-Construction Stormwater Management in New Development and Redevelopment
  6. Pollution Prevention/Good Housekeeping for Municipal Operations 

City Code Chapter 75  authorizes the charging of a stormwater fee

Sec. 75-43. Stormwater management system utility.

Pursuant to state law the city hereby designates the stormwater management system as a utility, enterprise activity of the city to be supported all or in part by the imposition of user fees on all developed parcels of property within the city which discharges stormwater to the storm drainage facilities or are otherwise served by the storm drainage facilities.

(Ord. No. 4536, § 3, 10-24-05)

For more information regarding the stormwater problem and the stormwater department, visit our webpage.

Show All Answers

1. Why do we have a stormwater service?
2. Where does the money go?
3. Which department provides the stormwater service?
4. How can a property owner find out more information about their bill?
5. How often will a citizen get billed for stormwater service?
6. Where is the stormwater fee located the customer's bill?
7. What happens if the stormwater fee is not paid?
8. Why has the stormwater fee changed?
9. Why did the residential fee change from a flat rate to a tiered rate?
10. What if a property owner thinks the impervious area of their property is incorrect?
11. Can a property owner reduce their stormwater fee?
12. How does the City determine the impervious surface area of a property?
13. Where can the impervious surface area value be found?
14. How is the billing tier for a location determined?
15. How is the stormwater fee determined?
16. What is impervious surface area?