Fees, Sites, and Credits: Alternative Stormwater Compliance in San Francisco
The San Francisco Stormwater Management Ordinance (SMO) was adopted by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 2010 to reduce stormwater runoff rates, volumes, and non-point source pollution from new development through stormwater management controls. The SMO mandates that new developments and major redevelopments that create and/or replace more than 5,000 square feet of impervious area must comply with the performance standards, including the use of green infrastructure measures, set forth in the City’s Stormwater Management Requirements and Design Guidelines (SMR).
The SFPUC envisioned implementing several alternative paths of compliance for highly constrained projects required to comply with stormwater regulations to identify the best methods to leverage funds for the highest performing water quality projects. The flexibility created by these alternatives assists to “Connect the Drops” by providing the development community with multiple options to comply and matching project benefactors with the most effective outcomes. Starting In 2013, the SFPUC developed its first alternative compliance path, a Modified Compliance program to allow development projects with proven site constraints to modify volume and peak rate reduction requirements, therefore creating a more fair and flexible standard. Qualifying site constraints include high groundwater, shallow bedrock, poor soils, contamination, and zero lot line development. This program applies only to the projects that are served by the SFPUC’s combined sewer system with existing imperviousness of greater than 50%.
The SFPUC has now undertaken a study to determine the technical and financial basis for additional alternative compliance paths for both their combined and separated sewer systems, including: a fee-in-lieu option, offsite compliance option, and the potential for engaging in a stormwater credit trading program. Through these options, proponents for eligible projects would pay a fee to the SFPUC, or enter into an agreement to build water quality projects elsewhere with greater or equivalent benefits, or enter into a local or regional stormwater credit trading market to achieve compliance. In addition to providing a mechanism to achieve water quality benefits more cost-effectively, revenue generated through alternative compliance programs potentially becomes a funding source for building up an agency’s stormwater program portfolio.
The development and eventual implementation of alternative compliance options helps to clarify policies and advance stormwater regulations toward a more holistic, watershed-based approach. Projects complying via alternative mechanisms will be required to have a better cost-performance ratio than those constructed on highly constrained project sites because they can be strategically located to more easily achieve the SFPUC’s, and potentially the region’s, stormwater runoff reduction goals in less constrained areas. Exploration of regional cooperation in meeting water quality goals sets the stage to address the most critical water quality needs by receiving water and achieve the greatest benefits.
The focus of this presentation will be to share how the SFPUC and their team have: calculated the cost basis for an in lieu fee, developed the site and water quality performance criteria for offsite compliance, and engaged other regional stormwater permit holders to facilitate the potential creation of a regional stormwater market focused on addressing the water quality challenges of the San Francisco Bay in the most effective and efficient manner. The presentation will also solicit feedback from attendees regarding other agencies’ experiences, obstacles, and successes with alternative compliance programs, as well as feedback regarding green infrastructure unit costs and program structures.