The City of Sequim is preparing for a new flood of regulations. When the federal stormwater regulations hit home, they’re going to have a huge impact.
Just ask Port Angeles, which has spent millions to meet the federal mandates. Because Sequim is smaller, the city has had a few more years to prepare.
The rules are imposed when an urban population hits 10,000, which can be larger than the city limits.
“We know that it’s coming because we’re growing,” said Sequim Public Works Manager Paul Haines.
That leaves city officials with two choices: get the jump on the regulations, and perhaps shape the regulatory regime that emerges, or, Haines said, “we can be a victim of it.”
The folks at Public Works have chosen the first route, including the recent hiring of Ann Soule as the city’s new Water Resource Specialist.
Soule, a 22-year veteran of Clallam County’s Environmental Health Services and Department of Community Development, has been charged with getting a handle on all of the issues surrounding stormwater, including a six-month survey of the city’s current stormwater facilities. She’ll also gather data on pollution sources and inventory the areas that flood or transport stormwater runoff — including those that simply hold standing water.
Soule also will be seeking solutions to these issues from the experiences of other cities.
Soule described the value of her work, saying, “It’s easier to manage stormwater than the regulations.”
She said the city even may be able to “put the elements in place” to delay the imposition of the new rules.
Haines says being pro-active isn’t just a matter of preparing for the regulations; Sequim, which has a unique climate and a unique stormwater management system, may be able to establish a new way of meeting the rules, one that could cost effectively serve the requirements of the EPA while providing certain advantages to the city.
Haines said they will be examining an important question: “How do we turn stormwater into a resource?”
Haines and Soule noted that the city currently has to meet a number of regulatory controls, including the federal Clean Water Act and Washington’s water quality standards for streams and groundwater.
Developers have for some years been required to meet the latest rules and regulations when building new infrastructure.
But the new stormwater rules could require the city to go back and retrofit the current system to bring it all up to date.
That would be expensive. Currently the city provides a minimal amount of treatment for stormwater, removing trash and rocks and skimming off oil.
Under the new rules, it may be required to further treat the water. “If it’s an asset for drinking water, we have to do more,” Haines said.
It’s also complicated, not least because Sequim uses a groundwater control system that may be unlike any other in the state, and especially in Western Washington.
City Engineer David Garlington said most stormwater systems are designed to “convert fresh water into saltwater.” That is, to funnel the stormwater into a stream leading into the sea or to dump it directly at the shore.
“In Sequim we don’t have any of that. Even at our plant we’re trying to put as much back into the ground as possible. It’s hugely more efficient than most cities.”
Haines added, “Our soils are so inviting in most parts of town that we can percolate it back into the groundwater, which opens up possibilities.”
In a time when water rights are tied to “mitigation credits” — which are earned by returning water to the aquifers or streams — that’s important, Haines said. He wants the city to get credit for its efforts.
He and the others have big plans, saying that the stormwater might even be made to pay. “Wouldn’t it be great if the city bought the stormwater from property owners, put it into the purple pipe (reclaimed water) system and re-sold it for operations and maintenance?”
And then of course there are the irrigation ditches, which already play a role in collecting stormwater. Garlington said they could play an even larger role. “We need the capacity when the irrigators don’t,” he said.
Soule has also been asked to further nurture the relationship between the city and the irrigation companies.
Haines said there’s a second question that needs answering. “How do you pay for all of this?”
Currently the city pays for its stormwater service needs and capital with funding provided by the city’s water and sewer program.
Haines said it’s an open question as to whether that’s equitable. “Should it be isolated?”
He said setting fees also is difficult. Because it’s part of the city’s water and sewer services, the city could use water meters to determine fees for homeowners.
“Should we?” Haines asked.
The city’s operating budget currently includes $103,000 annually for stormwater, with most of that in labor. The operations include street sweeping and cleaning the catch basins, ditches and ponds.
There’s an additional $40,000 in capital in 2013 to pay for Soule’s ongoing assessment.
In 2014, they’ll begin in earnest on the stormwater plan and have $150,000 budgeted for that purpose.
Haines said it’s still likely a bargain. “We are choosing to do as much in-house as possible with local expertise rather than going to a consultant.”