Numbers lag for runoff program

Property owners who keep storm water out of sewers get discount, but few apply

When the City Council approved a storm-water management fee in 1977, many Portland residents and business owners complained that they should not have to pay it — because they were already keeping rain out of the sewer system by allowing it to drain into their yards and fields. So the council responded by creating a storm-water discount program to reduce fee up to 35 percent who manage runoff on their own property. The fee is currently $16.82 a month for residential customers and $7.57 per 1,000 square feet of hard surfaces like roofs and parking lots for businesses. But now the city is facing an unexpected problem. Despite the public outcry that inspired the program, far fewer Portlanders than expected have signed up for it. Only about 12,000 residential and commercial customers have signed up to date, far less than the 112,000 ratepayers thought to be eligible. The city expected about 50,000 registrations from the inner east side between the Willamette River and 82nd, but has received only a little over 6,000 registrations from that area so far. “Registration is going slower than expected,” said Linc Mann, spokesman for the city’s Bureau of Environmental Services, which manages the city’s sewer system and collects both the sewer and storm-water management fees. The problem is not merely a matter of Portlanders paying higher storm-water management fees than necessary. Reducing the amount of rain that runs into the sewer system is also an important part of the city’s efforts to reduce pollution in regional waterways, including sewer overflows into the Willamette River. That’s why the fee was created in the first place. Sixty-five percent of it goes to managing storm water on public property, mostly streets. The remaining 35 percent of the fee is collected to manage runoff from private property. This is the portion the city will discount if customers manage their own storm water. Qualifying customers still must apply for the discount, however. The BES has taken several steps to increase participation in the discount program, including creating a Web site that explains how to register for it: The agency also has scheduled monthly meetings to help residential and commercial ratepayers learn how to manage storm water on their property. The west-side workshop runs from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on the first Tuesday of every month at the Multnomah Arts Center, 7688 S.W. Capitol Highway. The east-side workshop is held the same time on the second Thursday of every month at the East Portland Community Center, 740 S.E. 106th Ave. A workshop for multifamily, commercial and industrial customers is held from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on the second Tuesday of every month at the Hinson Memorial Baptist Church, 1137 S.E. 20th Ave.