Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Water Cycle, or...another ride we're being taken for

Well, Spring has sprung. You may have read the nice bit in the RT-D this week: "Wilder proposal raises water, sewer fees", but even if you don't live inside of Richmond city limits, it still pertains to you. Although the blow was lessened by the subtitle "the increase would be less than was approved previously in Richmond", there's a false sense of hope in that, for sure.

The article is talking about something other 'the old in-out water' fees- it's getting at something bigger. Charging us for for rain.
The "water cycle" in question isn't the Edwardian type (pictured below), it's actually much, much older...

What Wilder is talking about are the new rates that could come on top of a proposed new charge to improve Richmond's stormwater system, which is now up before City Council for consideration. Here's the RT-D's take from Staff Writers Kiran Krishnamurthy and David Ress:

"If the stormwater system is approved, city homeowners and other property owners could expect to get bills in August for new fees ranging from $45 to $135 per year.

Before that, in June, all property owners also would receive notices of what their stormwater assessment would be, based on the square footage of property surfaces that are impervious to water -- roofs, driveways and parking lots that allow water runoff.

Most city households fall into a category that would pay $90 per year, based on 1,000 to 2,400 square feet of impervious surface, according to the administration...

Businesses, nonprofit organizations and city schools also would be assessed, as would state and federal government properties, said Chris Beschler, the city's deputy administrative officer for operations.

Each would pay a set rate for every 1,425 square feet of impervious surface -- the equivalent of the average for a single-family home in the city, or roughly the amount for a 40-by-25 foot house with a 12-by-15-foot shed and a small patio or short paved driveway."

There's also a set rate for nonprofits, such as churches, and other like organizations, equalling $45 for each 1,425 square feet. But for commercial and industrial "users" (as the article called them), the rate would be much higher. $90 per increment!

In other words, a Richmond business with 14,250 square feet of roof and parking space would pay $900 per year! Tell us this isn't coming soon to a Henrico County mailbox near you. Go ahead, write in- we dare ya.

As you may have heard. water is said to be THE commodity of the future, but few people remember that when they're sudsing up the station wagon. You may think how you use the water "you pay for" is your business alone, but other people are making it theirs too. Let's look at this for a minute... (you might wanna turn off that tap while you read this though.)

Local water demand has been exceeding available supply for some time, as noted wonderfully in
local blogger "P. Keip's Hype" last November. Keip, who bills himself as a resident of Richmond's suburbs must live in Henrico, because he wrote about the comic value of Henrico Supervisor's Jack and Jill-like solution to last fall's water restrictions.

Restrictions have been put in place off and on for years in Henrico as a result of dwindling water supplies which are brought on by drought. As far as we can tell, Henrico purchases water from the City of Richmond, which draws it from the James. When the river's down, the restrictions go up, so to speak.

As a well-read resident of Henrico, Keip noted in his blog that the County had let us all know via the Times-Dispatch that an even and odd system, where you can water your lawn or wash your car, was based on your street number (even or odd) and the date. But Keip's real gripe was about HC Supervisors change of heart last November.

The BoS' 'new deal' was what Keip considered comical. We agree, but prefer tragi-comical. Supervisors then proclaimed that "Watering by bucket is allowed anytime." WHAT? A bucket? Yep- here's what the paper reported:

"Henrico County has tweaked its water restrictions to allow residents to irrigate trees, shrubs and other plantings three times a week.
Officials say the changes clarify the mandatory restrictions that took effect Oct. 25 and say they are not expected to significantly increase demand because lawn-watering is still prohibited, except up to 5 gallons a day by bucket.

Still don't get why we're talking about surfaces in the city? Why are we writing about water restrictions from last Fall? Well, because it's Spring, and we all pray for rain year-round here now, but in the city, they're gearing up to pay for rain.

Charging residents for the amount of impervious surfaces is always a possibilty for Henrico too, that is- IF we're ever to have any kind of storm water run-off system.. or maybe it'll be added as another form of tax- who knows. But in the end, it's a knee-jerk response to a much bigger problem. The amount of impervious surfaces in the county has grown exponentially in the last decade.

Think about all of the new construction in Henrico. All of that has the potential to pollute. In Henrico we have a continuous history of water restrictions due to drought- and if there isn't enough for us to water the lawn now, well- what are all of those new residents going to drink- for starters?

"Impervious" means surfaces into which water will not soak. So you can count your asphalt driveway, that lanai you built over your deck, and well- hopefully the roof of your McMansion or farmette. All of this run-off seeks it's own level- it goes down-hill. Like all of that water that sloshed the cars and trucks
in Shockoe Bottom around like rubber duckies in the not so distant past, most of it is supposed to go through storm drains, into sewers and much of it ends up in the river.

But with it goes plenty of silt, that clogs up the James and the Bay. Blocking light from getting to plants that help filter pollutants is only one of silt's many ill effects. The run-off also carries with it that plastic barrette you dropped in the flower-bed, the six-pack holder dropped by your pal, and the fertilizer from all of your neighbors lawns. How do we deal with this?

Well, they now make concrete and pavers which will allow water to soak through the surface and into the ground, where we need it. You could employ these measures yourself if you chose to. This could help stop some people from having to tell you to water that new sod with Jill's bucket, on an 'even-Thurdsay', but..

The wisest solution would be to write and or call your Supervisor. You could also contact County Planning, even call the local papers (if you really care), and ask that a new ordinance be written 'requiring only pervious surfacing be used for all new driveways, sidewalks and footpaths in the county.'

You could tell them that
what we need is "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."Now that's what we call 'sustainable growth'!!

Or, you could always just look forward to more growth, expansion, or 'progress'. What you call it doesn't matter, all you need to remember is that you will be footing the bill,
and even worse- you'll be PAYING to POLLUTE.

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