Frequently Asked Questions
About the System and System Maintenance
About Community Benefits
About Fees and Rate Structure
About the System
About System Management
Why do we need a stormwater utility?
The flooding in 2006 was the most destructive since 1881. El Paso received what amounted to a year’s worth of rain in two days, which caused serious damage throughout the city. Stormwater system improvements had been inadequate because of a lack of dedicated funding, leaving flood control projects to compete with other City priorities. In response to this problem, the City Council established a stormwater utility that would be operated and maintained by EPWU and supported by monthly user fees.
Why was the Public Service Board selected to oversee stormwater utility operations and maintenance?
In selecting the Public Service Board to oversee the stormwater utility, the City Council acknowledged the Board’s expertise in managing the region’s water resources and the city’s complex water, wastewater and reclaimed water systems. The Board also has a proven track record in financial management, which is evidenced by its superior bond rating. The Public Service Board has received national and international recognition for excellence in operations and management, while maintaining some of the state’s lowest rates for water and wastewater service.
What is involved in managing El Paso’s stormwater drainage?
Stormwater utility functions range from operating and maintaining the stormwater system to generating revenues through rate-setting. A key element was the preparation of a stormwater master plan and a long-term capital improvement plan.
What is a stormwater master plan?
A stormwater master plan outlines a long-term program to reduce the flood risk to city residents and their property by improving the drainage infrastructure. Many components of El Paso’s stormwater system cannot handle a storm event the size of the one in 2006, or even smaller storms. The master plan identifies deficiencies in the stormwater system and develops alternatives for addressing them. It also recommends system improvements and the priority for implementing the projects.
How was El Paso’s master plan developed?
URS, an engineering firm hired by the Public Service Board, identified and prioritized all stormwater capital projects proceeding into design and construction over the next 10 years and beyond. Public participation was a big part of the planning process.
What was the role of the Stormwater Master Plan Community Advisory Committee?
Over a series of meetings, the committee assisted EPWU staff and URS in developing the stormwater master plan. Members recommended the order of projects to be listed during the first three years of the capital improvement program. They provided input on open-space projects – drainage paths and arroyos that will be incorporated into the stormwater system, but preserved in their natural state. Park pond projects that function both as recreational venues and drainage facilities were also identified.
What will the master plan accomplish?
The master plan addresses long-standing stormwater system deficiencies that routinely cause flooding in some areas of the city, even with very little rainfall. The plan focuses on major threats, which is a more cost-effective method of addressing flood and drainage problems. Nearly 100 capital projects all over the city are identified at an estimated cost of $570 million. These improvements will be the basis for significant reductions in flood risk, economic, transportation and safety issues.
Will this actually prevent flooding?
More than 50 percent of the community’s flood risk is addressed in the first three years of the stormwater capital improvement program. The first 15 projects in the master plan will reduce flood risk for $1.1 billion in residential and commercial property.
Does El Paso’s master plan correct stormwater problems outside the city limits?
The Public Service Board is working with El Paso County to obtain the funding needed to develop a separate, comprehensive, master plan for areas of the county that are beyond the city limits and the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction. The plan will help alleviate flooding in Northwest El Paso County communities, as well as municipalities in the Mission Valley.
About Community Benefits
How does the stormwater utility benefit El Paso?
Because dedicated funding ensures that resources will be available for maintenance and construction projects, the stormwater system benefits from an increased level of service, and citizens are better protected in both the short and long term.
For the first time, long-range plans have been developed that include a comprehensive assessment of the city’s storm drainage shortcomings and future needs. Areas that have traditionally flooded have been evaluated, and solutions are being aggressively pursued. The system also benefits from increased maintenance. A new computerized work order system schedules preventive maintenance to keep stormwater flowing freely through the system. During the first year of operations, dedicated crews completed more than 1,200 maintenance projects.
How will the stormwater utility protect arroyos and open space?
Ten percent of annual stormwater fee revenue is used for green projects that combine stormwater management with the preservation of open spaces, arroyos and wilderness areas. The funds set aside for green projects also help fund City park pond projects.
About Fees and Rate Structure
Who pays stormwater fees?
Properties paying the fee include privately owned parcels and property owned by organizations, El Paso County, the City of El Paso and El Paso Water Utilities, as well as commercial, industrial and residential properties. Federal properties, State properties and public institutions of higher education are exempt, as well as undeveloped lots and agricultural land. School districts and nonprofit social service agencies are billed at a reduced rate.
What are stormwater fees used for?
The stormwater fee funds system operations, maintenance and capital improvements projects, as well as open space and park pond projects. Fees are based on the amount of impervious (non-porous) surface areas. They are used only for stormwater utility expenses.
What is an impervious surface?
Impervious surface includes any area that has been disturbed from its natural condition in a way that reduces the ability of the surface to absorb water into the soil. Examples include, but are not limited to, compacted soils, buildings, pavement, parking lots, driveways, sidewalks, and any other man-made structure or surface built or laid on the natural surface of the land that increases, concentrates or otherwise alters stormwater runoff so that flows are increased. For billing purposes, xeriscape landscaping is considered pervious.
How is the amount of impervious area calculated?
The impervious area of properties is determined by using aerial photographs and information in EPWU’s Geographic Information System, along with El Paso CAD (Central Appraisal District) Real Property Information.
For residential property, impervious area refers to the ground floor of the house, garages, porches, patios, and any additional buildings, storage sheds or other areas that cannot be penetrated by rain; however, driveways, sidewalks, turf and xeriscaped areas are not included in the calculation.
Is the stormwater fee affected by the amount of rain?
No. The stormwater fee funds ongoing maintenance and improvements to the storm drainage infrastructure. These items are not affected by the amount of rain.
Does the money I pay for water service fund stormwater needs?
No. The stormwater utility was created to be a stand-alone, self-sufficient utility. Stormwater system management, maintenance and improvements are funded by stormwater fees. Water and wastewater revenue, which is accounted for separately, is not used to fund stormwater needs.
Shouldn’t stormwater improvements be financed through bonds to ensure funds are spent for their intended purposes?
All stormwater fees are used to improve and maintain the stormwater system; however, some projects will be financed from outside sources such as bonds.
Why are fees assessed to properties that do not contribute to the stormwater runoff?
As with all public infrastructure, the stormwater system benefits all citizens since all travel El Paso’s streets and highways and benefit from stormwater control. Therefore, all citizens pay to improve and maintain the system; however, credits are available for properties with onsite ponds that capture and retain stormwater.
Why are school districts billed stormwater fees when El Paso Community College and UTEP don’t have to pay?
El Paso’s school districts are billed 10 percent of the non-residential fee. It is appropriate for schools to pay a fair share for stormwater services, as they also do for water, electricity and other utilities necessary for their operations; however, state law exempts public institutions of higher education such as El Paso Community College and UTEP.
About the System
What makes up the stormwater system?
El Paso’s current stormwater system has the following major components to help prevent flooding:
- 275 ponding basins (1,347 acres)
- storm drain conduits (100 miles)
- channels (69 miles)
- agricultural drains (39 miles)
- 16 pump stations
- 39 dams (2,390 acres)
What is the difference between a storm drain and a sewer?
Sewer pipes capture and transport used water and liquid waste from homes and businesses to wastewater plants where it is treated and cleaned. Treated wastewater (reclaimed water) is used for landscape irrigation, industrial and construction purposes. It also helps sustain the aquatic habitat of the Rio Bosque wetlands and provides water for farming in the Mission Valley.
Storm drains are separate from the sewer system and, unlike wastewater, stormwater is not treated and reused. Storm drains carry runoff to the Rio Grande and retention basins. Some storm drains are under streets, but much of the system consists of open canals, street gutters, and other features that collect, channel and divert stormwater runoff.
What infrastructure problems are facing the storm drainage system?
Following Storm 2006, an evaluation identified extensive damage to the stormwater system. The City has repaired the most severely damaged items. The stormwater utility is responsible for the remaining projects and the major construction projects needed to improve flood protection.
What is the timeframe for the capital improvements?
We expect the greatest portion of the capital improvements to be completed within three years.
What will happen if there is another flood before the projects are completed?
Major efforts to complete deferred maintenance projects have been underway since March 2008 and will continue until the job is done. At that point, regular maintenance will keep the system clean. While we cannot say with certainty that a major storm will not bring flooding before the capital projects are completed, we can say that hundreds of maintenance problems have been addressed that will enable the system to function more effectively than it did in 2006.