The 2013 update to the 1994 WEF special publication on user-fee funded stormwater utilities provides a summary of best practices and lessons learned from developing stormwater fee programs based on advances in technology, industry insight, and more. A case study with the city of Portland, Oregon demonstrates the effectiveness of using a user-fee-funded mechanism to paying for the city’s stormwater program.

By: Mike Matichich, CH2M HILL Principal Technologist and Laurens van der Tak, CH2M HILL Vice President and Principal Water Resources Engineer

Mr. van der Tak and Robert Fraley from the City of Portland will present the related paper, “User-Fee Funded Stormwater Programs, 2013 Update to the 1994 WEF Manual,” during the American Water Works Association and Water Environment Federation’s annual Utility Management Conference in Savannah, GA on Wednesday, February 26.  The paper was co-authored with Mr. Matichich and Michelle Virts, formerly with the City of Richmond, VA.

For a complete schedule of CH2M HILL’s participation in UMC 2014, click here.

User-fee funded stormwater utilities are increasing in number and offer one way to pay for the rising costs of stormwater management in communities across the United States. Changing requirements for stormwater programs have increased the need for stormwater utilities, and 20 years of industry insights have improved both stormwater utility management and the way utilities manage stormwater.

The latest released update to the 1994 Water Environment Federation’s (WEF) manual on user-fee funded stormwater utilities includes lessons learned and best practices for developing stormwater fee programs, such as using advanced billing systems based on GIS and developing creative credit programs. Additionally, the manual includes a comprehensive review of the study process for evaluating the feasibility of a user-fee funding mechanism.

The 2013 User-Fee-Funded Stormwater Programs manual includes a series of case studies, including a unique one with the city of Portland, Oregon. Portland, a city known for its rainy weather, receives 37 inches of annual rainfall, which generates approximately 10 billion gallons of stormwater runoff each year. Situated near the confluence of Willamette and Columbia Rivers, Portland is comprised of 145 sq miles of land area, half of which is impervious. To prevent flooding and pollution and to improve the health of the local and regional watershed, the city initiated a stormwater program in the early 1990s.

The Bureau of Environmental Services operates the city’s stormwater program which has evolved from providing basic flood control functions supported by local taxes into a multifunctional set of stormwater services that include integrated water resource management, environmental enhancement, pollution prevention, and recreational services. All of these services are the result of a complex public finance system, for which significant funding comes from stormwater user fees (approximately 179,000 active ratepayer accounts) to cover capital and operating expenditures.

Capital improvement programs and projects are planned on a 5-year basis, funding for which occurs annually based on each project’s ranking for funding and scheduling priority. Beyond overseeing the city’s stormwater infrastructure systems, Environmental Services works with private property owners in Portland to reduce runoff and manage stormwater through green infrastructure projects such as installing rain gardens, stormwater planters, swales, ecoroofs, and pervious pavement. (Learn more about Portland’s Grey to Green initiative.)

In addition to the case study on Portland, the manual includes 10 additional studies to provide unique perspective and reflection of local policy choices and program needs. Looking across the diverse studies conducted, four top trends to take note of include:

  1. Revenue needs: Utilities are leveraging fees with bonds to spread capital costs over time; utilities are using asset management principles to manage capital projects
  2. Impervious area data: Utilities are using GIS, imagery, and remote sensing to collect data on impervious areas
  3. Equity and Incentives: Most utilities charge fees based on tiers (ranges of impervious area)
  4. Accountability and Public Outreach: Utilities report on annual performance metrics; advances in technology have made it easier to engage stakeholders and increase focus on customer service

With recent trends in stormwater program implementation driving a renewed interest in the development of new stormwater programs, as well as the refinement of existing ones, the 2013 manual and the series of case studies will be beneficial to helping utilities think through creative and strategic financing approaches for implementing and funding stormwater programs.

Copies of the 2013 manual can be purchased from the WEF bookstore at here.

Michael Matichich, Principal Technologist and CH2M HILL’s Technology Leader for Financial Services in Water

Mike Matichich has more than 30 years of experience in managing and conducting strategic financial planning, rate studies, management consulting, policy analyses, facility planning, and infrastructure management studies for water, wastewater, and stormwater programs.


Laurens van der Tak is a Vice President and Principal Water Resources Engineer with CH2M HILL in Silver Spring, Maryland. He has 25 years experience on projects involving: hydrologic, hydraulic and water quality monitoring and modeling; stormwater and watershed management; wastewater collection systems; water resource systems; and GIS applications.

Mike and Laurens served as co-chairs of the WEF author task force that developed the 2013 update to User Fee Funded Stormwater Programs.