Most of us are familiar with the concept of the carbon cap-and-trade for emissions control. The District Department of the Environment (DDOE) is the first city in the U.S. to establish a stormwater cap-and-trade market called Stormwater Retention Credit trading. Evan Branosky, the DDOE environmental specialist in charge of this program, tells us about this new trading market and the new RiverSmart Rewards program, with the goal of reducing runoff and pollution in our rivers. – Marlene Berlin
Are you interested in reducing stormwater runoff from your property to improve the District’s streams and rivers? Would financial incentives encourage you to install a rain garden, green roof, permeable pavement, rain barrel, or other Best Management Practice (BMP) that reduces runoff? If you answered “yes” to these questions, new programs from the District Department of the Environment (DDOE) may be for you.
In the District, approximately 43% of the land area is impervious. When it rains, those surfaces shed stormwater that collects pollutants and erodes soil as it runs off into streams and rivers. Runoff reduction or “retention” helps properties to mimic a meadow, where rainwater is captured by plants and soaks into the soil causing minimal runoff. Retrofitting this impervious surface is essential to the District’s long-term efforts to restore health to our waterbodies.
DDOE’s new Stormwater Retention Credit (SRC) trading and RiverSmart Rewards programs provide financial incentives to install retention BMPs. Initially, and especially for the SRC trading program, DDOE expects participation from mostly large commercial and multi-family properties due to the cost advantages of installing the BMPs over large areas. There are also costs to develop and submit the technical information required for program participation.
For the SRC trading program, the financial incentive comes from generating and selling credits to properties that are required to achieve new retention performance standards under the District’s recently revised stormwater management regulations. These regulated sites trigger the performance standards by undertaking large construction projects, and they have the option to achieve part of their requirement with credits.
Two types of development projects face retention requirements: Major land-disturbing activities (such as new construction) and major substantial improvement activities (renovation). Both involve land areas of 5,000 square feet or greater. The first must retain water volume from a 1.2-inch storm. The other must retain a 0.8-inch storm.
Retention requirements are expressed in gallons and must continue to be met on an ongoing basis. Once they meet 50 percent of their retention volume onsite, projects may use stormwater retention credits or pay an in-lieu fee (ILF) to meet any remaining obligation.
For example, a regulated site with a 10,000 gallon obligation that opts to achieve 5,000 gallons off site could use 5,000 stormwater retention credits per year. The alternative to using SRCs is paying fees to the DDOE, which is $3.50 per gallon per year.
Eligibility Requirements for Stormwater Retention Credits
–BMPS are installed after May 1, 2009;
–Achieve retention above existing retention or regulatory requirements;
–Be designed and installed in accordance with a DDOE-approved SWMP and the Stormwater Management Guidebook;
–Successfully complete final DDOE construction inspection and pass ongoing inspections by DDOE; and
–Have a current maintenance contract or document the ability/expertise to maintain the BMP.
To generate credits, property owners voluntarily install rain gardens, permeable pavements, and the like. The performance of these must be documented in a Stormwater Management Plan prepared by a professional engineer who is licensed in the District of Columbia and approved by DDOE. After construction and an inspection by DDOE, property owners can apply for certification of their SRCs. DDOE reviews incoming applications and certifies SRCs for BMPs that meet the program’s eligibility requirements (see box). Each SRC is equal to one gallon of retention for one year and receives a unique serial number that DDOE lists in its public SRC Registry. DDOE also lists contact information and asking prices for available SRCs to help connect buyers with sellers who want to negotiate trades.
Where SRCs provide revenue, RiverSmart Rewards provides a discount of up to 55% off the DDOE Stormwater Fee(1) collected on a property’s water and sewer utility bill. Property owners who apply and qualify for a RiverSmart Rewards discount will enroll automatically in the DC Water Impervious Area Charge (IAC)(2) Incentive Program and receive up to 4% off of their IAC. Under both programs,(3) discounts are calculated based on retention volume, with the maximum discount provided to properties with BMPs that retain volume from the 1.2 inch storm. Property owners who install BMPs that retain less than the 1.2-inch storm receive a proportionally smaller discount.
Property owners may now submit a standard application online for a RiverSmart Rewards discount through the same portal that contains applications for the SRC trading program. However, eligibility requirements differ between the programs. In particular, though the standard application requires technical documentation of the BMP’s retention, a formal SWMP is not required. Next year, DDOE will launch a Simplified Application, which is geared towards smaller BMP installations including those installed through DDOE’s RiverSmart Homes program. The simplified application will only be available to properties with BMPs that retain runoff from 2,000 square feet or less of impervious surface.
DDOE also offers a retroactive discount to properties that installed BMPs prior to the availability of RiverSmart Rewards. retroactive discounts are only available for the DDOE Stormwater Fee and calculated based on the date the BMP was installed or May 1, 2009, whichever is later. Those who apply using the standard application are eligible to request a retroactive discount through July 31, 2014. This deadline is extended for the simplified application to July 31, 2015.
The SRC trading program and RiverSmart Rewards are important pieces of the District’s strategy to reduce stormwater and improve waterbodies. DDOE encourages those interested in participating in SRC trading to attend a training session on the SRC trading program and SRC and RiverSmart Rewards online portal on either December 3, 2013 or January 7, 2014. For more information on the SRC trading program, please see ddoe.dc.gov/src or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 535-2295. For more information on RiverSmart Rewards, please see ddoe.dc.gov/riversmartrewards or contact Emily Rice at email@example.com or (202) 535-2679.
DDOE is accepting SRC trading and RiverSmart Rewards applications now. We hope that you will take advantage of these new programs to make money and improve the District’s streams and rivers!
1 DDOE’s Stormwater Fee funds the District’s implementation and administration of the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit issued to the District by the US Environmental Protection Agency.