Montgomery’s Water Quality Protection Charge and Fund: Crucial to All Who Need Clean Water

By: Diane Cameron, former ANS Conservation Program Director
Do you drive on roads that are free from major flooding problems even during heavy rains?  Do you rely on having clean water when you turn on the tap?  Do you support the restoration of local streams with constructed wetlands, rain gardens, and other solutions, so that they are not wiped out by heavy stormwater gushers?  If you answered Yes to any of these questions, then you benefit from the Water Quality Protection Fund.  Did you know it’s in danger of being reduced in scope and thus weakened in its ability to fund needed water infrastructure?  Read below to learn more! Since 2002, Montgomery County has had a local stormwater fee and fund.  It’s called the Water Quality Protection Fund, which is funded through the Water Quality Protection Charge (WQPC). The Water Quality Protection Fund finances the construction and maintenance of water infrastructure projects. These include Green Streets, Stream Restorations, and Stormwater Pond Retrofits.  For a video, and photos, of the beautiful and functional Sligo Park Hills Green Streets project, click here and here.

As we’ve learned from Clif Grandy, a resident of Fenwick Creek watershed and a certified Watershed Steward, Fenwick suffers from high influxes of polluted stormwater runoff that cause massive erosion and scouring of the creek’s channel.  It’s only through a dedicated stormwater fee and fund that these problems are able to be addressed and resolved with stormwater infrastructure projects to capture and reduce runoff.

Montgomery was an early adopter of dedicated stormwater funding, and other jurisdictions have initiated their own stormwater fees inspired by Montgomery’s model.

A few facts about Montgomery County’s Water Quality Protection Charge:

  • First enacted in 2001 based on stakeholder group recommendations; effective in 2002.
  • Includes residential and non-residential properties, based on amount of impervious area.
  • Amended by the Council in 2013.
  • Each tax year, the County determines the Rate of the “Equivalent Residential Unit.
  • This year’s rate is the same as for 2014: $88.40.

Ginny Barnes, a longtime leader of the West Montgomery County Citizens Association, was a participant in the meetings of the 1999-2001 Stormwater Financing Working Group. This Working Group’s recommendations formed the basis for the WQPC. Ginny recalled:  “We had a very diverse group, including the Department of Transportation and the Taxpayers League, and I feel really proud of that. The diversity of the Working Group helped to ensure a more representative outcome.  We wrestled and wrangled, and worked out a consensus, which was to have a fee charged to each property based on its amount of imperviousness.  That fee system was the only way to provide both fairness — and ongoing stormwater management.”

The WQPC is based on how much impervious (hard, paved) surfaces each parcel contains, along with a set of potential fee credits that depend on whether a landowner has reduced their stormwater pollution “footprint.” Actions that can reduce your fee include replacing conventional driveways with permeable pavement, or installing a rain garden. Landowners who install and maintain such practices are eligible for up to an 80% fee reduction. Large landowners, including developers, are interested in reducing their WQPC annual fees. In addition to the “Environmental Site Design” practices noted above, Montgomery County offers other ways to reduce the fee, including performing and documenting regular maintenance of pre-existing stormwater facilities. These issues are part of recent litigation brought against Montgomery’s stormwater fee system by a developer, Paul N.Chod, who sought to eliminate his stormwater fee entirely. 

The decision by Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Rupp on July 22, 2015 in this case, in favor of the plaintiff against the County, and its ramifications, will be the subject of my next blog post. 

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