Open house set as Enumclaw talks stormwater

Hoping for public input on a likely-controversial subject, the city of Enumclaw will host an open house to talk about stormwater.

More precisely, the discussion will involve the costs associated with collecting stormwater and who picks up the tab.

The two-hour session will begin at 5 p.m. July 18 in council chambers at City Hall, 1339 Griffin Ave.

Stormwater consists primarily of rainfall, but can include water from washing cars and sprinkling lawns and gardens. Essentially, it means any water that doesn’t percolate into the ground.

While water may seem rather benign, state and federal agencies certainly don’t see it that way. Because water picks up contaminants as it runs off impervious surfaces — roads, parking lots and driveways, for example — the federal Clean Water Act has, for decades, held communities accountable.

Most municipalities have paid for stormwater collection and treatment by creating a special utility. Locally, the cities of Buckley, Bonney Lake, Sumner and Orting have stormwater utilities. They operate just as any other utility, charging property owners a monthly fee.

Enumclaw has bucked the trend, paying stormwater costs through the general fund. While that approach avoids another charge to homeowners and businesses, it skims money that would otherwise be used for things like police protection, parks and services for youth and senior citizens. For 2017, the city figures to spent about $415,000 on stormwater.

The creation of a stormwater utility has floated around city government for years and was included when Mayor Liz Reynolds offered up her budget proposal for 2017. The notion has since gained political traction, culminating in the upcoming open house.

A stormwater utility exists to direct water where it’s supposed to go, treating it along the way to get rid of contaminants. In Enumclaw’s case, stormwater eventually makes its way to either the White River to the south or the Green River to the north.

While the city presently lacks a stormwater utility, there are still rules to follow. Operating under a Western Washington Municipal Stormwater Permit, the city is presently charged with meeting requirements including the detection of illicit discharge, controlling runoff from developments and monitoring nearby creeks, to name a few.

A city employee is assigned exclusively to stormwater issues, a move made necessary when Enumclaw was found out of compliance.

The city maintains an inventory of 22 detention ponds, more than 18 miles of drainage ditches and approximately 3,000 catch basins, all aimed at rounding up stormwater.

When they discussed stormwater a few weeks ago, members of the Enumclaw City Council were briefed on possible costs to the public. A rate analysis arrived at a monthly cost of $4.38 per single-family home, while businesses would pay $4.38 for every 3,200 square feet of impervious surface.

The council was told Bonney Lake charges $14 per household, Puyallup charges $10 and, in Auburn, the rate is nearly $20 monthly. The rate is more than $21 in Buckley, $22 in Orting and $14.58 in Sumner.

A crucial part of the stormwater equation is fairness, a topic that puts private homeowners at odds with the business community. The council was told that private property owners — under the current system — are paying a disproportionate share of the stormwater cost.