Commonly Used Policies and Programs


There are many types of policies and programs municipalities can implement to assist with the installation and adoption of a city-wide stormwater management plan. Some of these policies and programs are mandatory and others are incentives. Many cities across the United States have been using these tactics and have seen success.

Types of Policies and Programs

Stormwater Regulations

The most basic and immediate approach used by municipalities is to create stormwater regulations. Regulations that are being increasingly adopted to encourage better stormwater management often require new and redevelopment projects to employ stormwater BMPs to capture and treat stormwater runoff on site. The emerging focus on stormwater quantity control recognizes that the increased volumes of stormwater runoff from urbanized areas are the primary factor in the pollutant loads and physical impacts that degrade the water quality of receiving streams. Water quality cannot be improved without stormwater quantity control. Other requirements state that there must be no increase in stormwater runoff from new development, and that the peak flow rates must be reduced not only to protect receiving waters, but also to protect downstream properties from flooding and erosion.

Examples of stormwater regulations in U.S. cities include:

  • Portland, Oregon: On-site infiltration must be adhered to the maximum extent practicable.
  • Seattle, Washington: Projects must amend topsoil and implement Green Stormwater Infrastructure BMPs to the maximum extent feasible. Peak flow rates and discharge durations to CSO, creeks and lakes must be controlled.
  • Olympia, Washington: Quality control is required from 91 percent of runoff infiltrated through on-site BMPs. Post-development flow rates must be equal to predevelopment.
  • Chicago, Illinois: Imperviousness must be reduced by 15 percent or 0.5 inches of runoff from all impervious surfaces must be infiltrated or captured and reused on site.
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: One year storm must be controlled, post-development conditions must be equal to pre-development, and the first 1 inch of runoff from impervious surfaces must be managed.

The implementation of stormwater regulations should be only one part of a larger plan to control and improve land use patterns and development practices. Making significant impact on protecting and preserving water resources will require a combination of strategies and governmental support of mix-use development and controlling urban sprawl.

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Local Code Review

When a new or revised stormwater regulation comes into play, municipalities should conduct an in-depth review of their existing development codes and permits to ensure flawless incorporation. A review of other ordinances, such as those pertaining to landscaping, parking, or street design, is a prudent way of removing any potential barriers that may arise during implementation of a new stormwater regulation. This should be done before a stormwater regulation goes into effect so that inter-departmental coordination can play a role in the success of the new regulation. As a municipality's stormwater program unfolds, it is important to periodically conduct program audits to identify possible obstacles and opportunities, and to keep city officials, stakeholders, and the public informed on the progress of the effort.

Demonstration and Pilot Projects

Demonstration and pilot projects are an effective means of introducing the concept of stormwater BMPs and explaining their role in a city's stormwater management. Installing small projects in public areas for the community to view is a good way to showcase ideas and gain momentum and support. It also serves as training for relevant professionals in designing, constructing, and maintaining these practices. The performance of these projects is monitored and the practices are revised as necessary. This allows for the development and refinement of a better program or policy for city-wide implementation.

Capital and Transportation Projects

Roadways, railways, sidewalks, and alleyways often account for the greatest amount of impervious surface in a given community. Transportation systems receive a large budget to fund repairs, maintenance, and improvements. Municipalities are realizing the value of leveraging these funding sources, and requesting that stormwater BMPs be incorporated into standard transportation projects. Some cities have mandated that stormwater BMPs be incorporated into all new capital projects. Other capital projects include the purchasing of properties to save them from development, to construct BMPs on them, or to protect ecologically sensitive lands that are essential for water quality protection.

Education and Outreach

Spreading awareness is an important step in a city-wide adoption of a sustainable stormwater management plan. Many cities highlight the value of stormwater as a resource to the public through forums, workshops, campaigns, and other events. Another step cities have taken is to establish a program that updates citizens on how public funds are spent on capital projects and to protect the local watershed. The most effective method of informing the public is to install educational signs wherever stormwater BMP projects are present. This attracts attention to the sites, where citizens are provided with written information and a visual example of what they can do to protect and improve water quality.

Stormwater Fees

Stormwater fees emerged to help alleviate the fiscal burden that stormwater management has become to municipalities. The demands for new infrastructure to meet population growth and changing regulatory requirements, in addition to increased repair and maintenance costs, has been tough on city budgets. Stormwater fees in some municipalities, which often used to be meter-based or flat fees, are now calculated more equitably; they are based on lot size and percentage of impervious area, as measured through GIS and orthographic flyover image data. Stormwater fees are often added to water, sewer, or utility bills, or they are charged as a monthly or annual tax. This system provides a continual, dedicated source of funding for a city's stormwater management efforts.

Stormwater Fee Discounts

Stormwater fee discounts encourage property owners to reduce the amount of stormwater runoff leaving their property. When private property owners make changes to manage their own stormwater runoff, the public collection systems are less burdened, and the likelihood of flooding and erosion is reduced. Decreasing the amount of impervious surface or using BMPs that reduce stormwater runoff are ways in which property owners can qualify for fee discounts and credits. Discounts are commonly capped at a percentage, and credits may vary based on the goals the city has for private lands. Several approaches have been used to calculate fee discounts, with some examples provided below.

Goal of Discount Mechanism for Fee Reduction Process for Implementation
Reduce Imperviousness
  • Percent fee reduction
  • Per-square-foot credit
  • Percent reduction in imperviousness
  • Square feet of pervious surfaces
On-site Management
  • Percent fee reduction
  • Quantity/Quality credits (performance-based)
  • List of practices with associated credits
  • Total area (square feet) managed
Volume Reduction
  • Percent fee reduction
  • Performance-based quantity reduction
  • Percent reduction in imperviousness
  • Performance-based
  • Total area (square feet) managed
  • Practices based on pre-assigned performance values


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