Stormwater Management FAQs

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Stormwater Management Basics

What is stormwater?
Why do we need to manage stormwater?
What is a 'stormwater utility' and how is it different from a stormwater management program?
Why do we need a stormwater utility?
How does the stormwater management program benefit taxpayers, homeowners, etc?
What is a stormwater management master plan?
What is a watershed or river basin plan?
How can I contribute to the development of a master plan for the utility?
What is an impervious surface?

Stormwater Management Administration and Operation

Is the program an entity separate from the Town (like OWASA), or a department within the Town, or something else?
How can citizens receive information or provide input, complaints, etc. concerning the program?
What kind of public oversight or public involvement will this utility have?
What kind of state and federal requirements does the Town have to meet with regard to water resource issues?
Is there any cooperation with universities, state agencies, local governments, or other groups to address stormwater issues?

Fees & Funding
How is the stormwater management program funded?
Why are gravel roads and gravel parking lots considered to be impervious? 
Will the Town address drainage problems in my yard or neighborhood?
I live on top of a hill, and I don't ever have any drainage problems. Why would I have to pay for stormwater management services?

Stormwater Management Basics

What is stormwater?
Stormwater is runoff that is a direct result of precipitation. It flows in concentrated forms (pipes, gutters, channels, etc.) and diffuse forms (sheet flow) over or within all land forms. Stormwater infiltrates into the soil and becomes ground water, is used by vegetation, evaporates, or flows into lakes or streams as surface flow.

Why do we need to manage stormwater?
Urbanization causes significant changes in stormwater runoff characteristics, including increased volume and rate of runoff entering streams and the storm sewer infrastructure and reduced amounts of water filtering into the soil. Such changes cause increased erosion and formation of gullies in upland areas, increased in-stream scour and erosion, increased sediment deposition in lower areas, degradation of water quality, peak storm flows that are higher and faster, more frequent flooding, and negative effects on stream ecological communities. These impacts on both man-made structures and natural systems require continuous management, maintenance, repair and replacement of the Town's stormwater management system, and careful planning to mitigate existing and future problems.

What is a 'stormwater utility' and how is it different from a stormwater management program?
A stormwater utility is a legally authorized "public enterprise fund", adopted by ordinance and similar to a water or sewer utility. It is established to finance stormwater management program activities exclusively. The stormwater management program includes all activities and services for the Town of Chapel Hill.

Why do we need a "stormwater utility"?
With a utility, the Town can develop and plan for a cost effective stormwater management program. The utility allows for more a reliable and equitable source of funding that is based on the demand that a given property places on the stormwater management system. Alternative funding sources include general revenues, fees and bonds. However, general revenues are based on the value of property and not the demand placed on the stormwater system. General funds are less stable for long term stormwater management planning and programming activities. Year to year budget cycles cannot be counted on for adequate funding levels for stormwater management services. The Town now has significantly increasing regulatory requirements and local needs, and prior to the utility ordinance no increased resources were identified to meet these increasing needs.

How will the stormwater management program benefit taxpayers, homeowners, etc?
Based upon the level and extent of services being funded, the stormwater management program includes a wide variety of services and activities. The following are some of the primary services and activities:

What is a stormwater management master lan?
A stormwater management master plan is a comprehensive document that guides the stormwater management program. It takes a holistic approach by integrating all aspects and areas that may impact stormwater management. This includes decision-making tools, policy criteria guidelines, watershed or basin plans, services, regulatory and land use considerations, capital improvements programming and maintenance programming. The plan will be reviewed annually and any changes will be recommended through the Advisory Board.

What is a watershed or river basin plan?
A watershed plan is a comprehensive document that is specific to a discrete watershed (which is the land area draining to a selected point on a stream), its land uses and stakeholders with an interest in this area. It focuses on challenges, issues, conditions and solutions specific to the area within the watershed.

How can I contribute to the development of a master plan for the utility?
Even though the master plan has been completed, it will be periodically updated.  Stakeholders are asked to participate in the ongoing subwatershed studies, and to send comments or concerns to stormwater staff. Check the news and announcements on the stormwater homepage for updated information.

What is an "impervious surface"?
In general terms, an impervious surface is a hardened surface (concrete, rooftop, asphalt, compacted gravel, etc.) that does not absorb stormwater. Impervious surface areas cause increased pollutant loading, increased volume and rate of stormwater runoff, lower stream base flows, and decreased infiltration of stormwater into the soil.

Stormwater Management Administration and Operation

Is the program an entity separate from the Town (like OWASA), or a department within the Town, or something else?
The stormwater management program is in the Engineering Division of the Public Works Department . It coordinates stormwater management activities of multiple Town departments using both Town resources and contract services.

How can citizens receive information or provide input, complaints, etc. concerning the program?
You can subscribe to stormwater e-notifications on the Town's main webpage. Other ways to contact the Town stormwater management staff:

Telephone: 919-969-RAIN (7246)
Fax: 919-969-7276
e-mail: stormwater@townofchapelhill.org

What kind of public oversight or public involvement will this utility have?
The enacted ordinance establishes a nine-member Stormwater Management Advisory Board, similar to other Town Advisory Boards, that meets quarterly to review program development and policy recommendations. Board representation will include three single-family residential property owners, five owners or employees of companies owning commercial, multi-family, or non-profit property, and one representative from UNC. Responsibilities of the Board include:

  • providing recommendations for identifying and implementing new stormwater management activities,
  • reviewing and providing recommendations on the stormwater management master plan,
  • providing recommendations on gaps or inconsistencies in Town stormwater management activities and recommending alternatives,
  • providing recommendations on watershed master planning activities,
  • assisting Town staff in working with stakeholder groups, and
  • assisting Town staff with public outreach activities.

What kind of state and federal requirements does the Town have to meet with regard to water resource issues?
The Town participates in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) that requires administration of the federal regulations pertaining to floodplain management and other flood study related issues.

The Town has submitted its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System - Phase 2 (NPDES Phase 2) stormwater permit to the NC Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ). This permit requires the Town to meet the measures outlined in the permit to reduce and mitigate non-point source stormwater pollution. More

The Town administers the state's Water Supply Watershed development regulations.

The Town ensures that state and federal jurisdictional waters and wetlands are not impacted without proper certification from the Army Corps of Engineers and the state's Wetlands Certification Unit.

Is there any cooperation with universities, state agencies, local governments, or other groups to address stormwater issues?
The Town works in cooperation on a local and regional basis as well as with state and federal agencies in a wide variety of water resources-related issues. All units of government, institutions and agencies will continue to work together to meet the challenges and regulations facing all of us within the Upper Cape Fear River watershed.

Fees and Funding

How is the stormwater management program funded?
Stormwater Management Utility Fees and Funding 

Why are gravel roads and gravel parking lots considered to be impervious?
Typical gravel materials (including "Chapel Hill gravel") used for roads and parking lots are laid down to withstand heavy loads. Vehicles driving over these graveled areas compact both the underlying clay soil and the gravel, forming a seal through which water will not readily infiltrate the soil. Some landscaping or stormwater management applications involve un-compacted, washed stone that would not be considered impervious. This is a uniform grade aggregate that has been pre-washed and is of sufficient depth to promote infiltration into the soil.

Will the Town address drainage problems in my yard or neighborhood?
One element of the stormwater management program is to complete drainage maintenance projects on a public/private partnership basis when drainage problems involve Town properties or rights-of-way. The drainage assistance program assesses, ranks and prioritizes drainage problems. Drainage problems between property owners is a civil matter and must be worked out between neighbors. However, stormwater engineers will be happy to offer technical advice for resolution of the problems.

I live on top of a hill, and I don't ever have any drainage problems. Why would I have to pay for stormwater management services?
Impervious surface on your parcel places a certain demand on the stormwater system. Stormwater runoff generated by your property must be controlled and conveyed once it leaves your property so that it does not create problems for others.

Stormwater management activities with broad benefits include keeping the public streets drained and cleared, making necessary stormwater infrastructure upgrades, reducing erosion and other pollutants that enter streams and lakes, protecting and restoring streams and other aquatic habitat areas and collecting and conveying stormwater safely through all parts of the Town. A portion of the fees would also provide for compliance with federal, state, and local regulations for water quality improvements; administration of the Land Use Management Ordinance (LUMO) through development review, inspections, bonding, and stream classifications for the Resource Conservation District; public involvement and educational programs; and responding to public health and safety issues that benefit all property owners. The Town's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) activities and National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) flood map activities and associated administrative duties would also fall under the utility.

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