A new utility bill will arrive in Victoria mailboxes this month. The city is now charging people separately for stormwater runoff that leaves their properties.

Funds for dealing with stormwater in Victoria were previously collected through property taxes and were based on the value of a property. 

The new user-pay system ties the cost of managing stormwater directly to how much water is expected to run off a particular property.

"The ability of your property to manage stormwater has nothing to do with the assessed value of your home," said Fraser Work, the director of engineering and public works for the City of Victoria. 

"It has to do with the design configuration and characteristics of your home."

How much each property owner will pay is based on the size of hard surfaces such as roofs or driveways. Other characteristics such as how a property is used, and the length of street frontage also factor in. The amount of rain that falls in a given year is not part of the formula.

The average stormwater utility bill is expected to be in the neighbourhood of $100 per property, Work said. 

The city used geographic information systems technology, building plans and aerial photography to come up with the assessment for the new stormwater utility bills, Work said.

Funds collected through the bill will go directly to maintaining and upgrading the stormwater system, much in the same way separate utility bills are used to maintain the water or sanitary sewer systems, Work said.

"We are basically just making this more consistent with the way that we do utility billing and it's a user-pay, more equitable system," he said.

Good behaviour bonuses

The new billing system also allows people to reduce their stormwater bills by making improvements to their property to better manage water, Work said.

Financial rewards will be offered to property owners who add rain gardens, cisterns, green roofs or resurface driveways with a permeable surface that absorbs stormwater.

"The amounts that are on offer on the rebate program may not be enough for people to run out and go redo their properties now," Work said.

"But when you are looking at potentially replacing your driveway, when you are looking at doing some roof work ... you can look at this rewards program as a source of cost mitigation."

Polluter pay models working

Similar polluter-pay models for managing stormwater pipes are already in place in other Canadian cities such as Edmonton and London, Ont., and are working, said Calvin Sandborn, legal director at the University of Victoria's Environmental Law Centre.

"Taxpayers will be paying the same amount because property taxes have been reduced as these stormwater charges have gone on, but the dedicated funding will then go into fixing our pipes," he said.

"Hopefully this will be a very positive change."

Stormwater runoff, and the pollutants it contains, are a key factor in the loss of fish stocks in urban areas in Greater Victoria, Sandborn said.

Better management of stormwater will need to be combined with stream restoration programs to bring fish back, he added.