Stormwater warning: P.E.I. municipalities eager for ideas

Some Canadian municipalities are turning to separate stormwater taxes to help prepare for the impact of climate change but so far the City of Charlottetown is focusing on raising awareness not fees.

'It matters because we're facing an uncertain future in terms of climate change'

The demonstration site next to Simmons Arena will demonstrate how a bioswale can retain and filter stormwater. (City of Charlottetown)

You can pardon the sewer and water folks with the City of Charlottetown if they took a moment to celebrate after the Thanksgiving storm. Four years and $18 million later, the Spring Park Combined Sewer and Separation Project had passed its first major test. After more than 74 millimetres of rain, there was no overflow at the city's treatment plant.

But there are more storm clouds on the horizon and stormwater will continue to be an issue into the future for all Island municipalities, as climate change brings more unsettled weather patterns.Stormwater is rain or melting snow that runs off the land into waterways instead of soaking in, carrying along whatever debris lies in its path, potentially causing pollution.

That's why representatives from Island municipalities, UPEI, the consulting industry, watershed groups, and the provincial government gathered Tuesday to talk about stormwater management.

Ramona Doyle, from the City of Charlottetown, leads a discussion at the stormwater management workshop. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

More stormy weather ahead

"It matters because we're facing an uncertain future in terms of climate change," explained Ramona Doyle, sustainability officer for the City of Charlottetown.

The bioswale next to Simmons Arena has already started collecting stormwater, including from the Thanksgiving storm. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

"We're looking at higher incidence of heavy rainfall so we'll need to be dealing with stormwater on a larger scale and it matters to the individual because they're dealing with things like flooding basements and flooding their property," said Doyle.

And it matters to municipalities because they need to find ways to manage the stormwater, and that costs money.

"Managing stormwater infrastructure is a major cost to the municipality and we have aging systems here on P.E.I.," said Doyle.

User fees an option for municipalities

Some Canadian municipalities, including the Halifax Regional Municipality, have opted for a stormwater user fee to tackle the issue.

"It is a practice that is used around the world," said Camilla Melrose, water program coordinator with the Clean Foundation, an environmental non-profit organization based in Dartmouth, N.S. 

Melrose was on P.E.I. for the stormwater management workshop, along with presenters from the Smart Prosperity Institute and Green Communities Canada. She points to Halifax Regional Municipality as a nearby example.

"Most recently HRM, through Halifax Water, has adopted a stormwater user fee which allows the municipality to develop a very transparent and separate funding pool for them to put into stormwater management," explained Melrose.

These examples of permeable pavers next to Simmons Arena will help demonstrate green construction materials. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

In Victoria, B.C., the city is now charging people separately for stormwater runoff that leaves their properties, with the average stormwater utility bill expected to be in the neighbourhood of $100 per property. 

"Always it comes down to finances, people are worried about how much it will cost, who's going to maintain it and what it'll cost to maintain it," said Melrose.

Demonstration projects raise awareness

There has been no discussion of a stormwater user fee for Charlottetown, says Doyle. 

But the city is focusing on raising awareness about stormwater management through a number of demonstration projects, including one next to Simmons Arena and another along Ellen's Creek.

The City of Victoria is hoping to encourage property owners to install landscaping that helps absorb stormwater, like this rain garden. (City of Victoria)

"This is a great opportunity when we're sharing information with Engineers P.E.I., or the consulting industry on P.E.I. as well as other municipalities, in terms of this is what it looks like on this scale and now we get to monitor progress so we get to see how does this work," says Doyle.