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New state mandate, protecting Puget Sound drive proposed Surface Water Management fee increase

Under a new state mandate on cities and counties to do more to clean up stormwater, and with increasingly less revenue due to annexations into cities, King County is proposing an increase of $36 a year to its Surface Water Management fee for stormwater projects in unincorporated areas.

“This is one of the most important things we can do to clean up Puget Sound,”

said Christie True, director of King County’s Department of Natural Resources and Parks. “New, more rigorous stormwater requirements are helping trigger this proposed increase, but with what we know about what is choking our rivers, streams, lakes and the Sound, there can be no doubt that adequately funding programs to improve water quality is the right thing to do.”

Toxics carried by stormwater into water bodies are why the Washington State Department of Ecology ranks stormwater runoff as the No. 1 pollution threat to the Puget Sound. All of the most populated areas of the state are required to manage their stormwater under the federal Clean Water Act.

True said 82 percent of the proposed increase, or nearly $30 of the $36, is attributable to factors outside the County’s control: a state-mandated permit, the effect of annexations, and inflation. She said the remainder of the Surface Water Management (SWM) fee will fund repairs to aging pipes that could fail in the near future, and address long-neglected projects such as installing stormwater controls where they don’t exist, in roughly two-thirds of the County’s developed unincorporated area.

“We need to reinvest in replacing infrastructure that is reaching the end of its useful life,” True said, adding that the County will also press forward to recover salmon classified as threatened with extinction while sustaining programs that help farmers protect clean water and keep their fields drained to be productive.

Residential property owners in unincorporated King County currently pay a SWM fee of $133 a year. They would pay $169 with the increase, a fee that still falls in the middle range of what other cities and counties in the region are charging in 2012 (see attachment) from low of $66 (Algona) to a high of $261 (Seattle).

The fee proposal must be approved by the Metropolitan King County Council.

Residential property owners pay a flat annual SWM fee to cities and counties, based on the amount of impervious surface on their properties. Commercial owners pay on an incremental scale based on how much of their parcel is impervious or hard-surfaced, (buildings, roads, parking lots, etc.) and the size of the parcel.

As part of the proposal, the County revised its discount program to enhance incentives for stormwater management on commercial properties. Low-income senior citizens and the disabled remain exempt, and agriculture land owners would continue to be charged single family rates.

County revenues to run SWM programs are declining as cities annex the more densely populated and commercially developed areas of unincorporated King County.

At the same time, the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) will soon issue a more stringent and environmentally protective Municipal National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Stormwater (NPDES) permit for County management of stormwater runoff and water quality in the unincorporated area. Ecology ranks stormwater runoff as the No. 1 pollution threat to the Puget Sound.

“Our way of life is centered around the waters of Puget Sound. Making it healthy again is a top priority for our region,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership, the state agency leading the cleanup and restoration of Puget Sound, and which ranks stormwater runoff as a primary cause of pollution. “We applaud King County’s commitment to clean water by better managing pollution that flows from roads, parking areas, rooftops and lawns into the waters of Puget Sound.”

To learn more about King County’s Surface Water Management program, visit http://www.kingcounty.gov/environment/wlr/surface-water-mgt-fee.aspx.

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