1. Where can I learn more about the City’s Stormwater Management program?

    Visit the City's websites to learn more.

    Stormwater Management Program: https://cob.org/services/planning/environmental/stormwater-program

    Draft Surface and Stormwater Comprehensive Plan Update: https://cob.org/draft-stormwater-comprehensive-plan

    2. What is in the City's stormwater comprehensive plan update?

    The City's consultants assisted with an evaluation of the City’s current operations and facilities, gathered information, mapped the needs, estimated the costs of future work, and calculated options for rates and fees through a rate study. Stormwater plan updates in 1995 and 2007 were more limited in scope than the Stormwater Comprehensive Plan approved in 2021. 

    • Chapter 1 – Outlines the comprehensive approach used and the reasons a plan is needed.
    • Chapters 2 and 3 – Provide background on the City’s terrain and how runoff is calculated and managed to protect homes, businesses, and public facilities.
    • Chapter 4 – Projects the impacts from climate change on stormwater systems and management.
    • Chapters 5 and 6 – Examines the current condition of the City’s stormwater system and the status of its stormwater management program. This includes an evaluation of the City’s compliance with federal stormwater permit requirements.
    • Chapter 7 – Identifies opportunities to improve stormwater and stream flow along with improving fish habitat. Heat maps are shown in section 7.2 to show how projects with the greatest overall benefits are identified.
    • Chapter 8 – Includes an overall project list as part of the Capital Improvement Program (CIP). The projects are arranged under three categories: water quality improvement, infrastructure renewal and replacement, and fish passage. At the end of the chapter, the projects are prioritized and organized into cost scenarios.
    • Chapter 9 – Outlines the recommendations for improvements by Public Works based on the rate study results.
    • Chapter 10 – Shows proposed utility rates for citizens and businesses in the City for current and future stormwater and surface water management needs based on the recommended levels of improvement as described in Chapter 8.

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    3. What does a Surface and Stormwater Comprehensive Plan do?

    • Identifies needed capital improvements for stormwater runoff (conveyance pipes, stormwater detention and treatment, and habitat improvements)
    • Delineates program management requirements and actions to satisfy state regulations
    • Provides background information on the City’s stormwater infrastructure, water bodies, stormwater modeling, and planning
    • Specifies climate change considerations
    • Outlines the City’s fish passage prioritization program to address fish barriers
    • Provides information about water quality, facility retrofit, and stormwater conveyance improvement projects
    • Details an in-depth review of the City’s stormwater financial policies, program funding, and rate structure
    • Includes the results of a rate study and outlines a cost-based surface water management rate adjustment that adequately funds existing and future surface water management utility operations, outlines a prioritized Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) to meet service level goals, and addresses regulatory (NPDES) requirements.

    4. When was the City's last surface and stormwater comprehensive plan updated?

    This is the City's first major surface and stormwater plan update since 2007. 

    • The 2007 Stormwater Comprehensive Plan updated the 1995 Watershed Master Plan. The work done under the 2007 plan focused on the development of a hydrological model of the City’s stormwater drainage system. 
    • The 1995 Watershed Master Plan provided practical and environmentally sensitive solutions allowing for responsible growth and maintaining valuable natural resources for the City’s urban/suburban fringe areas. This first comprehensive watershed management plan also included a Design Criteria Handbook as a separate guide for the use of the Washington Department of Ecology's Stormwater Management Manual for the Puget Sound Basin.
    • Utility rate studies and subsequent rate changes were done in 2005 and 2012.

    5. What are the three primary types of surface and stormwater fees?

    There are three primary types of fees:

    • permit fees
    • system development charges
    • monthly utility fees

    The fees do not cover the full cost of service. Permit fees cover the cost of permitting and inspection. System development charges pay for pipe replacements and upsizing. Monthly utility rates pay for everything else. The difference, or subsidy, is made up by the monthly utility rate payers.

    Collectively, the funds pay for:

    • Operations and maintenance of drainage facilities and structures and/or replacement of aging facilities
    • Improvements to address flooding and water quality
    • Improvements to fish access and aquatic habitat
    • Compliance and planning processes for ongoing state and federal permit requirements of the City
    • Plans for restoring impaired waters that identifies the maximum amount of a pollutant a body of water can receive while still meeting water quality standards
    • Public education about stormwater

    6. What are the City's responsibilities regarding stormwater?

    The City’s responsibilities include: 

    • Maintaining existing surface and stormwater infrastructure
    • Ensuring systems have the capacity to handle new growth 
    • Addressing flooding and erosion issues 
    • Planning for climate change
    • Meeting state and federal permit requirements 
    • Improving water quality
    • Protecting and restoring aquatic resources

    7. What is a Capital Improvement Plan (CIP)?

    One of the components of the Draft Plan is a Capital Improvement Plan which identifies needed capital improvements for stormwater runoff (conveyance pipes, stormwater detention and treatment, and habitat improvements).

    A CIP is a tool that can be used by a municipality to prioritize which stormwater maintenance or capital projects should be funded next when funds become available. At a minimum, a CIP should include:

    • A list of proposed projects prioritized according to a city-approved ranking system
    • A description of each proposed project
    • A description of the problem(s) each proposed project addresses
    • Estimated total costs to design, permit, and construct each project

    The stormwater CIP in the Draft Plan is unique to Bellingham and addresses the City's specific needs and priorities. The ranking system in a CIP is customized to Bellingham and is meant to be a “living document” that the City can update as projects are completed and new ones are added.

    8. What are the City's stormwater requirements?

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identifies stormwater runoff as a nonpoint source of pollution and has, since passage of the federal Clean Water Act, enacted regulations to offset the impacts of polluted stormwater runoff on the environment. EPA has delegated authority to Ecology to implement the rules and regulations for managing stormwater in Washington State. Bellingham is a NPDES Phase II permit holder which requires the City to enforce the quantity and quality of stormwater runoff discharging from the City’s municipal separate storm sewer system to the “waters of the state.”

    Phase II Permit elements for the City of Bellingham include the following:

    1. Stormwater Planning
    2. Public Education and Outreach
    3. Public Involvement and Participation
    4. MS4 Mapping and Documentation
    5. Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination
    6. Controlling Runoff from New Development, Redevelopment and Construction Sites
    7. Operation and Maintenance
    8. Source Control Program for Existing Development

    9. How does the Federal NPDES program impact Bellingham's stormwater management?

    The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program, created in 1972 by the Clean Water Act (CWA), helps address water pollution by regulating point and nonpoint sources that discharge pollutants to waters of the United States. 

    The NPDES permit program is authorized to state governments by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to perform many permitting, administrative, and enforcement aspects of the program. In Washington, the Department of Ecology works with communities to meet the federal permit requirements.