In July 2007, El Paso’s City Council adopted an ordinance that would transfer the responsibility for stormwater drainage to El Paso Water Utilities. EPWU, under the policy direction of the Public Service Board, began managing the stormwater system in March 2008. The priorities for the new stormwater utility are maintenance, planning, and the environment.
The City Council’s actions were consistent with recommendations made by a consulting firm that assessed stormwater management and organization following Storm 2006. The assessment found that stormwater needs had not been adequately funded, and stormwater management, which was shared among several departments at that time, would be better served by a centralized organization.
El Paso is situated in the Chihuahuan Desert. Rainfall averages nine inches annually, and residents enjoy more than 300 sunny days in a typical year. Perhaps this is why managing stormwater runoff has historically taken a backseat to other city needs.
However, priorities shifted following the torrential rains that residents experienced in 2006. El Paso was not prepared, and the system had not been well maintained. Some ponding basins, pump stations, channels and culverts were undersized, and others were in need of major maintenance or repair. As a result, stormwater runoff damaged much of the infrastructure. The damage to public and private property totaled more than $200 million.
Previously, stormwater services were funded by the City’s general fund. However, the consultants recommended establishing a separate user fee to fund stormwater management functions and the City Council agreed. Stormwater functions are now funded by a fee that appears on the monthly El Paso Water Utilities bill. This fee is used only for stormwater purposes. It cannot be used for water or wastewater functions.
The fee structure was recommended by a citizen’s advisory committee representing various organizations throughout the city. The concept was also discussed at meetings held throughout the city to ascertain customer acceptance and willingness to pay. The fee is based on impervious area square footage.
Nonresidential properties are charged according to the amount of impervious area, including paved parking lots and other areas that are impermeable to rainwater. A 25 percent credit is available to nonresidential properties with onsite stormwater retention ponds. School districts and nonprofit organizations are billed 10 percent of the regular nonresidential fee.
El Paso Central Appraisal District data is used to calculate fees for residential properties. The impervious area calculations are based on the ground floor of the house, garages, porches, patios, and any additional buildings, storage sheds or other areas than cannot be penetrated by rain. Turf, xeriscaped areas, driveways, walkways, and sidewalks are not included.
Residential properties are placed into one of three categories, based on impervious area square footage. Approximately 80 percent of residential properties are in the typical category, which includes parcels with impervious areas measuring between 1,201 and 3,000 square feet. Properties with less than 1,201 square feet of impervious area are considered small, and those with more than 3,000 square feet are considered large for fee purposes.
Increased Level of Service
The budget funds an increased level of service, and the number of people and equipment allocated for maintenance has substantially increased. Preventive maintenance is now scheduled throughout the year. Crews completed more than 1,200 work orders during the utility’s first year.
Open Space Acquisition
El Paso Water Utilities is committed to incorporating environmental stewardship into the management of stormwater. The use of concrete is minimized and certain arroyos are being purchased and kept in their natural state to the extent possible. The ordinance that created the stormwater utility requires that 10 percent of the stormwater fee revenue is used for projects that combine stormwater management with the preservation of open spaces, wilderness areas and park ponds. New facilities are designed using the criteria developed by the City’s subdivision rewrite process and as part of the master planning process.
Storm 2006 caused tremendous damage to El Paso because the existing facilities could not handle the runoff, and proper funding had not been made available. El Paso Water Utilities is now responsible for maintaining, operating and improving the stormwater system. This is vital for the safety and well-being of El Pasoans. The problem did not occur overnight and will not be solved overnight, but tremendous progress has already been made.
|Storm drain located near the Piedras exit (before)
||Stormwater crews clean up storm drain located near the Piedras exit (after)