Budget & Finance

Contra Costa County, the 19 cities and towns within, and the Contra Costa Flood Control and Water Conservation District are each Permittees under stormwater National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permits  issued by the California Regional Water Quality Control Boards (Water Boards).

The Permits require each local jurisdiction to implement specified activities year-round. They must incorporate stormwater pollution prevention into municipal operations; inspect local businesses and construction sites; enforce prohibitions against non-stormwater discharges entering creeks or storm drains; perform specified public outreach activities; require new developments to manage runoff pollutants; reduce the quantity of trash, copper, mercury, and PCBs entering creeks and storm drains; and, monitor water quality, among other activities. In addition, each municipality pays an annual permit fee, ranging from $9,594 to $48,285, to the state.

Some jurisdictions recover costs for business and construction site inspections, and for reviewing applications for development approvals, through activity-specific fees. However, costs for other compliance activities must be funded by municipal revenues.

Where the Money Comes From

In most Contra Costa municipalities, stormwater pollution prevention activities are funded by a stormwater utility assessment. The assessment is listed on property tax bills under “Special Taxes and Assessments.” The assessments were authorized in 1993 and range from $25 to $45 for a single-family home, depending on the municipality. Assessments for properties are based on estimates of impervious area. The Cities of Richmond and Brentwood do not have a stormwater utility assessment. In those municipalities, stormwater pollution prevention activities are funded by other revenues, including the General Fund. In addition, most municipalities that have the assessment for stormwater pollution prevention supplement those revenues from other sources.

Where the Money Goes

Revenues from the assessments are collected by the Contra Costa County Flood Control and Water Conservation District and total about $14 million per year. About 80% of these revenues are transferred to the local jurisdiction from which they originated.

Remaining revenues fund the countywide Contra Costa Clean Water Program (CCCWP). Each municipality’s contribution to the CCCWP is apportioned by population. Having no assessment for stormwater, the Cities of Richmond and Brentwood’s contributions to the CCCWP come from other revenues.

The CCCWP assists the municipalities to comply with the NPDES permits by providing guidance and staff training and by implementing some public outreach and water-quality monitoring that can be done more cost-effectively at the countywide level. The CCCWP has a staff of five, supplemented as-needed by consultants, and an annual budget of approximately $2.8 million.

Within this budget, the CCCWP pays dues, on behalf of the municipalities, to the Bay Area Stormwater Management Agencies Association, to the San Francisco Bay Regional Monitoring Program for Trace Substances, and to the California Stormwater Quality Association. These groups provide monitoring and research activities that are mandated under the NPDES permits, and/or provide representation, guidance and staff training at the regional and state levels.

Funding Shortfalls

Municipalities’ authority to raise taxes or fees to pay for governmental activities has been sharply constrained by voter initiatives. Each Contra Costa municipalities’ stormwater assessment has a maximum limit authorized in 1993; all municipalities that have assessments reached that limit in 2009, when the MRP was issued by the San Francisco Bay Water Board.

Also since 1993, each successive NPDES permit has added additional and more stringent requirements that are more expensive to implement. A 2011 study showed that, for most Contra Costa municipalities, the costs of implementing the current NPDES permits will considerably exceed available revenues. Most municipalities are unable to shift General Fund revenues to pay for stormwater pollution prevention, as those limited funds may be inadequate, now or in the future, to pay for services such as police and fire protection.

Consequences of Non-Compliance

The Water Boards derive their authority from the California Water Code and the Federal Clean Water Act. Those laws provide for substantial fines for non-compliance. The Water Boards have audited the municipalities’ local programs and have issued notices of violation for failure to implement the permit in the manner specified.

Under provisions of the Clean Water Act, Permittees can be the subject of lawsuits brought by third parties. Lawsuits by advocacy organizations have been resolved by court orders that have included additional requirements and schedules for compliance and have required municipalities to also pay litigation costs for both sides. Costs for some California municipalities have totaled in the millions of dollars. For example, under a 2012 settlement, the City of Malibu agreed to implement $5.6 million in retrofits to its storm drain system, pay $750,000 in legal fees, and allocate $250,000 toward additional monitoring of receiving waters. The settlement came shortly after the City completed a state-of-the art stormwater treatment facility, Malibu Legacy Park, at cost of $50 million.

Most permit-mandated activities—but not all—help improve the local environment and residents’ quality of life. They also further the multi-decadal effort to restore the San Francisco Bay/Delta Estuary and its tributaries.  The municipalities’ ability to prevent stormwater pollution is fiscally constrained to a degree that is slowing progress toward these goals.

Coordination with the Water Boards

The staff of the Water Boards and Water Board members alike are aware that funding constraints make it impossible for the municipal Permittees to implement all the requirements of their current NPDES permits. Based on 20 years of experience implementing their municipal stormwater pollution-prevention programs, municipal staff have proposed to prioritize actions that have proven most beneficial to water quality and have asked that permit requirements that are less beneficial be eliminated or reduced. However, the Permittees ultimately have no authority over permit conditions, and cannot guarantee that permit conditions are reasonable or implementable or that the prescribed actions are effective or worthwhile. Those decisions rest entirely with the Water Boards, which generally approve the recommendations of their staff.

Efforts to Secure Additional Funding

In 2012, the Contra Costa County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, acting on behalf of the CCCWP and the municipalities, sponsored a mail-in ballot initiative. The initiative would have added an additional fee to property tax bills to fund the rising costs of stormwater pollution prevention programs and NPDES permit compliance. The initiative required approval by 50% of responding property owners. It did not succeed.

In the absence of new revenues for stormwater pollution prevention, Contra Costa municipalities are exploring ways to improve cost recovery or to assign costs for controlling certain pollutant sources that originate on private property. They are also seeking community partners for trash cleanup, and aim to integrate stormwater treatment retrofits into some future transportation projects. The success of these innovative efforts, and whether they will enable municipalities to maintain compliance, remains to be seen.

Summary

Contra Costa municipalities stretch available money and resources to provide municipal services. These services include public safety, flood protection, libraries, and parks. The municipalities are also committed to preventing stormwater pollution, protecting local waterways, and preserving local environmental quality.  They balance this commitment with a parallel commitment to comply with Water Board Orders where the means exist to do so. However, revenues for stormwater quality protection have been level since 2009—while compliance costs continue to increase.

 

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