WALLA WALLA -- A new stormwater fee has kicked up a storm among Walla Walla County residents.
Callers have flooded phone lines to county offices with questions and complaints about the $36 fee notices, which began arriving in mailboxes this week.
How many calls?
"Hundreds," said Randy Glaeser, county public works director. Phones have also been ringing at the county Assessor's Office, Treasurer's Office and county commissioners' offices with questions and sometimes angry comments about the new charge.
Glaeser said he understands why people are frustrated, but he said he hopes they understand the fee is because new requirements for stormwater management imposed by the state Department of Ecology and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, "came with no funding to do all this."
The county now spends $340,000 a year from its road fund on stormwater management, but the additional requirements will add significantly to that cost, Glaeser said. Revenue from the stormwater service charge will be used to pay for the expanded stormwater management requirements. Although the county has received several small grants from Ecology to help start the program, there is no sustained or long-term funding available from the state or federal government.
If the county fails to comply with the new requirements, state and federal penalties could exceed $10,000 per day, said Joy Bader, county stormwater program manager.
Along with new stormwater management measures, the requirements demand monitoring and testing to ensure stormwater flowing into streams and rivers does not contain pollutants, inspections to spot runoff sources not already noted, additional documentation to prove the county is in compliance and education and outreach programs.
"These aren't things we chose to do, these are things we were told to do," Bader said.
The new state regulations stem from the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Phase II permit the county has operated under since 2007. Along with Walla Walla County, seven other counties and 18 cities in Eastern Washington fall under the permit's jurisdiction.
Callers also question why they should have to pay a stormwater fee when they don't have a catch basin, dry well or culvert on their propert, Glaeser said.
"The point is, stormwater affects everyone," he said. The ditches, basins, dry wells, culverts and other structures the county maintains makes sure stormwater "doesn't flood your property or wash out a road that you need to drive on."