Alcosan Should Adopt Philly’s Anti-Sprawl Stormwater Pricing Strategy

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Arletta Scott Williams at the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority says she doesn’t have the authority to force municipalities to use “green infrastructure” that cuts down on stormwater runoff.

That may be true, but she does have authority over billing, and that’s where the real leverage is. Alcosan could choose to charge higher rates to properties with a larger stormwater footprint like Philadelphia does:

In Philadelphia, your water bill used to be based only on your water consumption, as in most cities. Now, under the city’s Green City, Clean Waters initiative, your bill is a more accurate reflection of your water footprint, including the amount it costs the city to manage stormwater runoff from your property. This has been a hard pill to swallow for owners of parking lots and other entities that spread a large swath of asphalt on the city.

Katherine Gajewski, Philly’s sustainability director, says the change was a shock to the system for some people. “Imagine a car rental shop with acres and acres of impervious pavement,” she said, “but it only has three employees in the office and so they’ve always had a low water bill.” But now, with the city factoring in a company’s larger water footprint, its water bill could go from $400 to $2,500. Meanwhile, a skyscraper’s water bill could go in the opposite direction, with its high consumption mitigated by its slender footprint and a high surface-to-volume ratio.

Like attempts at market rate parking or congestion pricing, the stormwater effort forces people to pay the true costs of their behavior, including environmental impact. And though advocates for transportation options may not think about sewer overflow on their list of environmental hazards caused by the automobile, car-based infrastructure poses one of the biggest threats to sound stormwater management.

This would do two things. In the present, it would more fairly charge property owners based on how much strain their properties put on the sewer system through stormwater runoff. And in the future, it would create an incentive for more compact development with higher floor area ratios for new residential and commercial buildings.

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