The city of Ann Arbor, Mich., wants its residents to know the importance of stormwater.
“People don’t normally think about stormwater until it floods their house, and we are trying to keep it prevalent in their mind,” said Robert Kelly, communications specialist for Ann Arbor. “We understand that most people don’t know what stormwater is or what it does. We need to explain what (the stormwater system) is, what it does and what we need to do to maintain it.”
The city recently developed a program called “Stormwater Smart” to help educate and guide residents to make beneficial decisions surrounding stormwater in the city.
“When you turn on your tap, it’s an immediate, intimate connection. With (stormwater), you don’t have that same connection unless it floods your house, but the fact is stormwater and the system is ever present, and it’s under your house.”
Ann Arbor is one of nine municipalities in Michigan with a stormwater fee already accounted for in its monthly consumer fees. Service fees are regularly calculated and changed based on the city’s needs.
Each parcel of land is charged based on the impervious surfaces present. Installation of mitigations, such as rain barrels, give a credit to the customer’s bill. The fee collects around $12 million per year for the city; however, the capital improvements plan has an estimated $80 million worth of necessary improvements toward the city’s stormwater infrastructure, which includes over 200 miles of pipes and 300 miles of conveyance, ditches and channels that move stormwater. The city also has over 23,000 catch basin structures and close to 55,000 street trees, which it includes as a part of the stormwater system and continues to plant roughly 1,000 each year.
“The pipes alone, if you laid only the pipes end to end, you could make it from Ann Arbor to just outside of Chicago,” said Lawson. “Just the pipes that we have staff managing and maintaining is a lot of system, but you don’t see them because they’re underground, and we wanted to make sure our community knew that’s what their fee is going to pay for.”
The customer-centered program also highlights some of the principal employees of the city’s stormwater management department. Barely half a dozen workers are in the field managing the day-to-day necessities of the system, but there are 19 full-time equivalent positions that help manage the stormwater system.
In addition to educating the public about the importance of the stormwater system and ways they can help, Ann Arbor staff is also seeking to improve the system as a whole.
“Basically, we are talking about revamping a system that is 120 years old,” explained Keller. “There was a lot of impervious surface built. The days of just paving over a parking lot are over in Ann Arbor. That also means we have programs in place to help residents deal with water as a general flooding issue but also as an environmental issue. Now the same rain that we used to get over two days ago, we’ll get over two hours, and our system was not designed for that. We’re also having to enlarge the stormwater pipes we do have.
“You can’t stand pat on the system. You have what was built for the storms of 120 years ago when the city was very different, and the climate was very different. (Without change), people are not going to have a very good quality of life.”
One way the city is doing this is to ensure every building project within municipal boundaries takes stormwater into account.
The green streets policy states any major road requires the city, homeowners and developers to treat the stormwater falling on the reconstructed road surface, including in the right-of-way. This is important because the roadways are 25% of the impervious surfaces in the city.
“We’re looking at capturing and treating at a minimum the first inch of rainfall when a street is reconstructed,” Lawson said.
In addition to the city’s funds, they also work with other municipalities and the county to develop bigger, more expansive projects.
“Stormwater doesn’t follow municipal boundaries. Inherent to stormwater management is that you do need to work with those around you,” Lawson said.
The Stormwater Smart program also offers ideas for activities for families, as well as ideas for how individuals can make a difference in protecting the Huron Watershed that runs through Ann Arbor.
“If you’re going to ask the public to make these investments, they should know what they’re paying for,” said Keller. “It’s very basic good consumer practices. You should not ask your customer to pay for something without knowing what it is. Investments in any part of our community should be understood.”