It's time for Hamilton to take a serious look at changing its unfair funding system for stormwater runoff management.
By Ian Borsuk
Published June 08, 2016
Stormwater runoff may not be in people's minds much, unless it ends up in their basements, but in the coming years that's going to change. Climate change is creating extreme weather across the globe, ranging from stronger hurricanes across our oceans to extreme droughts in places like Syria and California.
For the Golden Horseshoe, which Hamilton is part of, we're going to be seeing extreme rainfall events - or I should say even more of them. Heavy rainfall that cannot be managed naturally by slowly soaking into the ground ends up in our stormwater management system.
When that system is overwhelmed by runoff from impervious surfaces like parking lots, it not only degrades our infrastructure and floods basements, it pollutes our environment from our streams to our harbour.
Our stormwater management system already needs upgrades and constant maintenance. With increasing frequency of major storm events on the horizon, the system will see even more increased costs.
If Hamilton wants to be resilient in the face of climate change, we have to put aside talk of "rain taxes" and take a sober look at how we currently fund this system. As we do, it becomes apparent that the way we pay for stormwater management simply is not fair.
As it stands, the majority of funds our stormwater management system gets comes from our water bills. Homeowners, renters and business owners have been rightfully trying to conserve water through changing habits and installing things like low flow toilets.
The problem with this system is that those who contribute the most to the strain our management system through maintaining impermeable surfaces are contributing the least in funding. As director of Water and Wastewater Operations Dan McKinnon said to Council last October:
One of the fundamental reasons where I talk about equity in stormwater rate is where a Costco or a Home Depot has a tremendous influence on our stormwater system. Their contribution to stormwater system is significant, but I don't sell them very much water. So I don't think they're paying their share from a stormwater perspective.
If you go downtown Hamilton and you see a parking lot, I don't sell them any water. If it's paved, the contribution to the stormwater system is significant. So all the other folks who are just on a 50 by 100 foot lot getting a water bill every year, they're subsidizing all those other properties from a stormwater perspective.
This gets at the heart of the matter when it comes to cities preparing for climate change: change needs to happen but it has to be equitable.
We need cities to provide incentives for property owners of all kinds to reduce their burden on our management system, from something simple like installing rain barrels, to replacing impervious asphalt with porous materials.
Impervious paved asphalt parking lots in downtown Hamilton (Image Credit: Anita Thomas)
It's possible and preferable for the city to both adequately prepare our system while at the same time lessening the strain it will experience.
Other municipalities are doing just this. Kitchener, Ottawa, Mississauga, and others have either already changed their stormwater funding structure or are well on their way to doing so.
It's not just Hamilton City staff and environmentalists calling for changes either: insurers are keenly aware that we need to do more to prepare for flooding events.
We just need our city councillors to see this too. This is why Environment Hamilton is collecting signatures (physically and digitally) encouraging council to take up the task of pursuing fair fees for our stormwater management system in Hamilton. If we are serious about addressing climate change, this is a step we need to take.
More info and an online petition can be found here:
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