Watershed studies reveal costly repairs, but the City is developing a holistic plan
By John H. Larch III
The City of Fayetteville Stormwater Program will take an enormous step forward next year in its efforts to control stormwater runoff, prevent flooding, and address stormwater issues within the City. The recent passage of a stormwater fee increase will allow for the development of a citywide stormwater master plan.
The City has experienced localized flooding and stormwater runoff problems as a result of record growth and expansion. Fayetteville has been attracting more residents and businesses every year. This trend is expected to continue as the City adds a minor league baseball stadium and a Civil War & Reconstruction museum. Fortunately, the City is very forward thinking in its management of new growth and associated stormwater impacts. In fact, Fayetteville was recently recognized as the most innovative city in the country for its use of data analysis to guide decision-making, management, and long-term planning.
The community’s battle with localized flooding and stormwater runoff problems has gone on for many years due to increased urbanization and development. The problem was magnified in 2005, when the City annexed a large number of residential subdivisions from the unincorporated portions of Cumberland County contiguous to the City. Along with the subdivisions came aging drainage infrastructure not designed to current City standards.
The City of Fayetteville implemented a stormwater utility in 1995, providing a mechanism to fund a federal mandate resulting from the 1987 Clean Water Act. The Stormwater Program was born and efforts began to conduct creek cleaning, street sweeping, system maintenance, and water quality programs to maintain City infrastructure and comply with environmental regulations. In 2007, the Fayetteville City Council recognized the growing stormwater infrastructure needs typically inherent to an urbanized area and made a serious commitment to future funding. An additional stormwater “drainage” fee was implemented for properties within the City limits to address capital projects that were not previously funded. Over the years, the fee has been increased to meet the growing needs of the community.
With the passage of the fiscal year 2019 budget, the City Stormwater Program will be accelerating its watershed study program, and eventually its capital project program, to help reduce flooding on local roads and reduce the potential for damage to property. This will be the largest effort ever undertaken by the City Stormwater Program and promises to create a long-term plan for the development of the City’s Stormwater utility.
The stormwater fee, currently $4.25 per month for a single-family household, will be raised to $6.00 per month beginning in July 2018. The increase will generate approximately $3.2 million to be utilized for the capital portion of the stormwater program. During the first four to five years, this revenue will fund the completion of watershed studies and a master plan. Following the study phase, the fee increase will provide an additional $3.2 million toward capital projects, allowing for a total investment of over $6 million annually. The City currently spends $2-3 million annually on both design and construction for its stormwater capital improvements program.
The first phase will involve the completion of the 15 watershed studies throughout the City. The majority of Fayetteville watersheds have remained unstudied due to funding constraints. Under the funding model in place before the fee increase, only one watershed study was planned every other year, leaving some areas of the City unstudied for nearly 24 years. The remaining 12 studies will now take place over the next five years, beginning in 2019.
A watershed study conducts surveys of primary drainage systems (creeks & streams) and secondary drainage systems (constructed systems such as catch basins and detention ponds). Studies gather historic data, identify problem areas, and perform modeling and analysis. The result is a list of proposed projects to solve stormwater-flooding issues. The studies also identify water quality issues within the City and provide information for future grant opportunities. All of the information will be aggregated into a citywide Stormwater Master Plan. The projects from each study will reside in an integrated list, prioritized based on safety, property protection, and traffic movement. A preliminary cost estimate will be developed to provide a proposed plan of action and allow elected officials to make informed decisions and allocate necessary funding.
It is estimated that the City may need over $200 million in stormwater capital improvements to design and build the projects that are uncovered through the study. Elected officials and financial staff must determine how to address this need. Options may include additional increases in the rate fee, a revenue bond, a general obligation bond, or low-interest loans.
The City is well positioned with the new fee increase to develop a holistic plan for stormwater management. These efforts reflect the progressive and forward-thinking nature of Fayetteville by showing a commitment to infrastructure investment and improvement. Staff, consultants, City management, and the City Council have pledged to tackle stormwater strategically for the long-term benefit of the community. The path ahead will contribute to the City’s goal of a high quality built environment and a strong infrastructure program for many years.
John H. Larch III is the Assistant City Engineer and Stormwater Manager for Fayetteville, NC. For more information, visit www.faypwc.com