The High Cost of Stormwater Runoff

Storm on Lake Michigan

The affluent village of Winnetka, outside Chicago, needs a new storm water drainage system. Parts of the village are flooded regularly. The high price tag has some residents complaining.

Winnetka sits on the shores of Lake Michigan. It’s a small village, with a little more than four thousand households. On the 2010 census, the per capita income was $277,371.

Storm water runoff is created largely by residential and industrial development. Impervious surfaces, such as driveways, sidewalks, and roads, decrease the amount of soil that can absorb rain water. The increased runoff picks up pollutants from lawn chemicals or cars and washes it into nearby bodies of water. In this case, the storm water runoff is taking pollutants and dirt into Lake Michigan.

The increased runoff can also cause flooding problems if drainage is inadequate. Chronic flooding affects only parts of Winnetka, but it would take better storm drainage throughout the village to fix the flooding problem.

The city is trying to finance the cost of the storm water drainage system by charging a fee based on the proportion of impervious surfaces on a property. The more square feet of driveways, basketball courts, and walkways on a property, the higher the fee. The idea is that those residents and companies that produce more storm water runoff will pay more for the new drainage system. The less impervious surfaces on a homeowner’s property, the less of a burden on the drainage system, and the lower the fees.

The total cost of the proposed storm water drainage system is $48.2 million. With financing, the cost would be $66 million over twenty years or $72 million over thirty years. It ends up being about $600 per household per year. A quick look at Google Maps shows some lots are simply a large house surrounded by pavement. While it saves on lawncare cost and maintenance for that household, it is affecting neighbors and flooding roads. Those homeowners would likely pay a higher fee than the average $600.

There are many ways to decrease the effect of runoff. Rain gardens,rainwater harvesting, and permeable surfaces for pavements are just a few ideas. It sounds like the residents of Winnetka (and many other suburbs) could put some of those ideas in place to decrease the amount of stormwater runoff and reduce the pricetag of the new system.

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