Category: Watersheds, Wetlands & Stormwater (page 1 of 11)

The State of Stormwater Fees in North Carolina

What is the average household stormwater fee in North Carolina? This is a harder question to answer than you might assume. User fees for stormwater management are influenced by many factors, including a utility’s service population, the importance of managing stormwater runoff to the community, and the amount of impervious surface. The Environmental Finance Center (EFC) recently completed a statewide stormwater fee survey in North Carolina. We collected and analyzed 73 different service area fee structures. These structures paint a picture of North Carolina’s stormwater management across the state.

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Conserving Water through Smart Growth and Density

Smart Growth programs—developing urban areas with a variety of building types and land uses in a concentrated space—are touted for their potential to spur economic development through the creation of more attractive, environmentally sustainable, and walkable communities. One underlying theme is that increased urban density allows people to access a variety of shops, housing options, and recreational areas without having to hop in their cars. The most commonly cited potential benefits of smart growth include improved public health, higher air quality due to reduced vehicle traffic, more efficient use of land, protection of valued natural or open spaces from sprawl, increased property values because of high demand, and often greater community involvement in the development process.

A recent post on the School of Government’s Community and Economic Development blog outlined some examples of Smart Growth programs here in North Carolina, and Glenn Barnes earlier wrote about five ‘tools’ included in the EPA’s Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities program. This post examines what I think is a sometimes overlooked benefit of Smart Growth and higher densities: water conservation.

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A Whole New World – of Stormwater!

Many of you know us for our Financial Sustainability and Rates Dashboards, but you may not know that these are not just limited to water and wastewater rates: there’s also stormwater! In recent years stormwater has perhaps not received the attention it deserves. Five years ago the EFC created stormwater fee dashboards for North Carolina and Georgia, and this year we’re taking them to a whole new level. For 2017 we are unveiling new stormwater dashboards for both Georgia and (eventually) North Carolina with a host of new features. The new dashboard comes at a time when  stormwater has been catapulted into the limelight as the hot topic of the moment in Georgia environmental legislation.

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Community Development through EPA’s Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities Program

Many of the local governments we assist at the Environmental Finance Center struggle to raise enough money to support their environmental services. Often, we work with these communities to improve the finance and management of their systems through better rate setting, cost controls, and long-term planning. But another solution for struggling communities is to increase and strengthen their customer base through community and economic development.

EPA has a number of programs and resources aimed to revitalize communities through “Smart Growth” economic development, which builds upon existing assets, takes incremental actions to strengthen communities, and builds long-term value to attract a range of investments. In previous posts on the School of Government’s Community and Economic Development blog, we looked at aspects of EPA’s Smart Growth initiative including their new Framework tool for Small Cities and Towns as well as Smart Growth efforts here in North Carolina. This post examines another aspect of the Smart Growth initiative: the Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities program.

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Expanding our Impact: Literacy in Environment and Finance

Here at the Environmental Finance Center, our key role is to increase the capacity of other organizations to address the financial aspects of environmental protection and service delivery. The majority of our Center’s work focuses on providing technical training and resources and direct assistance to communities to address financial and managerial challenges of providing environmental services. We take pride in building relationships with diverse stakeholders and establishing rapport with organizations that have environmental, but not necessarily financial, interests and expertise.

Schools are one group with which the EFC is striving to work more closely, specifically to engage teachers and students in the exploration of environmental issues, water and energy conservation strategies and environmental finance. Over the past year, I worked with the EFC as an AmeriCorps service member through the Conservation Trust for North Carolina, to develop, coordinate, and launch the ‘Literacy in Environment and Finance’ (LEAF) project. Through my year-long service term, I partnered with teachers to build resources that incorporate environmental finance topics into curricula, taught in the classroom in Triangle-area schools, and helped to implement the ‘Sustainability, Energy, and Education Development’ (SEED) grant competition in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School district.

Through this program, the EFC has developed great relationships with folks in the education community, helped high school students win more than $31,250 in grants, and engaged more than 400 students and community members in environmental finance lessons. But in my view, perhaps the biggest success of the LEAF pilot project has been developing environmental projects with student teams. Through regular lunch-time meetings, I was able to help kids think through project feasibility, how to identify and pursue outside funding resources, connect with varied stakeholders, pinpoint difficulties and risks, and eventually implement projects. Below are three student projects we’d like to highlight and give a shout out to the teachers and young leaders working hard to make them happen:

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