City of Victoria Stormwater Utility – A Primer

In 2014 the City of Victoria will be rolling out its new Stormwater Utility. Modeled in part on a similar utility in Kitchener-Waterloo, the utility will remove the portion of money that comes to the City from residents and businesses from the property tax bill (about $4.5 million per year). Instead, people will receive a utility bill based primarily on the percentage of non-permeable surfaces on a property. The good news? This is a user-pay system, you pay for what you use. And, it’s possible to get up to a 40% credit on your stormwater bill by implementing rainwater cachement solutions on your property. The bad news? It’s all a little bit complicated to understand! This blog post is meant to provide some resources to help.

A few weeks ago, City staff updated Council on the roll out of the proposed Stormwater Utility. This powerpoint presentation contains a great deal of detail, including a list of solutions that property owners can implement to get a rebate on their bill. This CBC interview I did with Jo-Ann Roberts on All Points West explains in a bit more detail how the utility will work. And this Times Colonist article has a helpful infographic that details what people can expect based on the class of property they own.

To be clear, and to clear up some more confusion around the issue, the Stormwater Utility isn’t a new tax. The City will charge $4.5 million less in property taxes in 2014; this is the amount that the City currently spends on the storm water system. Instead the City will charge residents, businesses and institutions for the portion of the storm water system they actually use. It’s more fair that way. Right now, large institutions, like the provincial government for example don’t pay any property taxes or any grants in lieu of taxes but there is still stormwater runoff that comes from their properties. Currently, everyone who pays property taxes is subsidizing this.

Finally, the Stormwater Utility is something that makes the City of Victoria a leader in Canada. It’s innovative because it encourages people, at the level of their own properities, to take responsibility and leadership for creating solutions – like rain barrels, cisterns, raingardens, bioswales – that are good for the planet and good for the City’s stormwater system.

In the twentieth century we put lots of pipes in the ground to deal with the City’s stormwater runoff. In the 21st century we are implementing smaller-scale solutions. In the long-term, this will produce a savings for the City and taxpayers. If property owners, from single-family dwellers to large developers embrace the rainwater management techniques outlined in this powerpoint presentation, in the long-run we will have more above-ground infrastructure which is less expensive to build and maintain, mimics what the earth already does, and can also be really beautiful (check on the raingarden at Fisherman’s Wharf Park) and enhance public and private spaces.

Stay tuned at the City’s stormwater site for more information including information sessions.

On Deep Sustainability

I received an email this week from someone working on economic development and entrepreneurship in the region. His work shows that the general public wants to see a more socially inclusive and clean economy. He wrote to me concerned that I’m being perceived as ‘anti-sustainability’ in the eyes of some people who are vocal about sustainability in the region. Allegedly, I’m being grouped in with people who would sell the region’s resources and its future. It seems an explanation of my approach to sustainability is required.

I’ll begin with a story. It was the mid 1980s. I was thirteen years old. A group of friends and I were tired of seeing garbage on the roadside as we biked back and forth between each other’s houses. So we bought plain white t-shirts and fabric markers and founded T.I.M.E. – Teens Interested in Maintaining the Environment. We never did more than pick up garbage. Yet from that early age, the sustainability of the planet and its people has been one of my core commitments. 

Sustainability for me is a common sense way of life. It’s why I convinced my landlord to let me dig up the entire front lawn to grow food. It’s why I travel by bicycle. It’s why I keep backyard chickens. It’s why I help to create a strong local economy as the founder and Executive Director of Community Micro Lending. It’s why I started a backyard business – The Backyard Project – with a friend. And it’s why I’ve worked as a facilitator with Lifecycles Project Society, the Good Food Box Society, the Moss Street Market and other organizations to help focus their visions and actions.

The problem that the people who think I’m anti-sustainability have is that I’ve been advocating to do away with the City’s Sustainability Department since I was elected. I just don’t think having a sustainability silo alongside all the other silos is the way to go. But, I had a conversation recently with a young local change-maker, Jill Doucette of Synergy Enterprises. She sang the praises of the Sustainability Department and pointed out what an important point of contact it is for her and others working on green economy initiatives. Others in the community working on green economy and other sustainability initiatives laud the Sustainability Department for taking leadership on these issues.

I appreciate the leadership of the Sustainability Department. And I’m starting to realize that maybe we’re just not sustainable enough yet and a stand-alone sustainability department is necessary. (An internal City E-Bulletin a few weeks ago noted that the Department of Legislative Services is now accepting reports printed on two-sides of the paper!) So let me be clear: I’m not against sustainability; I think sustainability must be interwoven into the practices of each and every department. I think that each decision request that comes to Council should outline how the proposed project furthers the sustainability goals – financial, social and environmental – of the City. I think the City of Victoria itself should be the department of sustainability, all departments working interdependently to achieve the vision laid out in the City’s Official Community Plan.

If the City and its residents and businesses are to achieve this aspirational vision, the goal of the Sustainability Department should be to embed sustainability in every nook and cranny of the City and to work itself out of existence.