The Cost of Safe Drinking Water

Stormwater Permitting
Hermiston Assistant City Manger Mark Morgan explains the impacts of a new DEQ permit requirement during Monday's city council meeting.

[quote style=”2″]DEQ Requiring Cities to Meet Additional Monitoring Standards[/quote]

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) will soon be issuing a permit for Hermiston’s stormwater management system. It’s a federally-mandated action that will require Hermiston and other cities to meet additional standards and will have a financial impact on the city and possibly its residents.

At the heart of the matter is the federal Safe Drinking Water Act that requires all cities with more than 50 underground injection control (UIC) systems to get permits. Hermiston has about 250. UICs are used for stormwater management in which water flows into an enclosed underground box with sand, allowing the water to be stored off of street surfaces while it percolates into the ground and dissipates.

The Safe Drinking Water Act views all groundwater as a potential source of drinking water. By concentrating stormwater runoff into these UICs to drain into the soil, contaminants from the runoff could enter the groundwater.

“There will likely be a sizeable long-term fiscal impact to the city from UIC permitting, but the actual scope of that cost is not yet clear,” said Hermiston Assistant City Manager Mark Morgan.

Hermiston will be the first city in Eastern Oregon to go through the permitting process.

Morgan said the immediate impact will be the cost of monitoring and testing the runoff, which the city must begin within six months of receiving the DEQ permit. Testing alone, said Morgan, will cost the city about $15,000 per year. The bigger costs will come from necessary capital improvements to the city’s stormwater system.

One possible source of funding to pay for the costs associated with the mandated permit is a stormwater utility fee that would be charged to residents – a fee many cities are utilizing. Morgan said he recommends holding off on implementing the fee until the full scope of costs can be determined. In the meantime, the money to pay for testing and monitoring will come out of the city’s Street Department budget.

Hermiston Mayor Dave Drotzmann lamented what he said was another “unfunded federal mandate.”

“I can understand why cities are putting fees in place, otherwise how are you going to pay for it?” he asked.

The city is expected to receive the draft permit from DEQ by Nov. 4 and will provide comments on the permit by Nov. 17. The permit will then go out for public comment from Nov. 26 to Dec. 30. The final permit is expected to be issued by Jan. 8, 2015, with testing to begin next summer.

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