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Atlanta Proposes Charging for Collected Rainwater

(APN) ATLANTA -- A currently proposed City of Atlanta ordinance would begin to charge residents who use rainwater catchment systems, raising concern among some Atlanta citizens who see the ordinance as taxing the water which falls from the sky.

Ordinance #11-O-0740, Potable Rainwater Ordinance for Residential Use, was sent from Mayor Kasim Reed's office to the City Utilities Committee in early May 2011, and is currently held in Cmte, where it is awaiting a public hearing, which has yet to be scheduled at this time.

"Customers will not be charged for non-potable rain catchment systems, such as rain barrels," the City of Atlanta's Office of Sustainability wrote in a Frequently Asked Questions memo issued on June 06, 2011.

"Rain barrels tend to be smaller (most are 55 gallon containers), and used for non-potable tasks such as watering gardens and lawns.  Charges only apply [under the proposal] when residents choose to install potable rainwater catchment systems that ultimately discharge wastewater to the City’s sewage system," the memo states.

Most Atlanta families and businesses who rely on treated water from the City of Atlanta pay for the treated water they consume, as well as for the used water they return to the system as sewage.

Currently, those who have a potable rainwater catchment system--and use the rainwater for things like showers and washing dishes, for example--do not pay to consume the water [which they collected themselves], but also do not pay for returning used water to the sewer system where it must be treated.

The City argues that while potable rainwater catchment systems already exist, they need to be regulated for health and safety.

"Current City of Atlanta (City) code does not currently allow harvested rainwater to be used for drinking, otherwise known as 'potable' use.  The proposed Potable Rainwater Catchment System Ordinance would allow these systems, require health and safety specifications for these systems, and implement an alternate sewer fee structure for users of these systems to ensure their safe use and operation," the memo states.

"Because potable rainwater is used indoors, it will be discharged to the sewer system and eventually be treated by the Department of Watershed Management’s (DWM) sewage treatment plants.  In order to avoid charging all customers the sewage use of a select group, the ordinance includes a provision to bill for sewer charges," the memo states.

"This ordinance is important because Access to the public water supply must be carefully monitored to prevent the introduction of contaminants.  Therefore, DWM will be available to recommend a back flow prevention device that will keep the City water supply completely separate from water supplied by rainwater catchment systems.  DWM will issue applicable permits and conduct inspections as necessary.  If DWM determines at any time that a serious threat to the public health exists, the water service will be terminated immediately.  These measures are in place for public safety and protection,” the memo states.

Concerned citizens held a press conference on Monday, June 20, 2011, at 2pm in front of Booker T. Washington High School.

Kwabena “Cubby” Nkromo, a candidate for City Council District 4 who is challenging incumbent City Councilwoman Cleta Winslow, questions the public policy rationale of the proposed ordinance.

"The pending Rainwater Catchment system ordinance needs explicit and unambiguous exceptions for all uses other than the indoor potable consumption," Nkromo said.

Moreover, advocates and participants in the local urban agriculture movement are concerned about possible "legislative creep, which might allow city agencies to harass, tax, or disrupt rainwater catchment intended for urban agricultural irrigation," Nkromo said in a statement.

Steve Williams was among a small handful of citizens present at the press conference.  Williams installs rainwater systems and has an informational website, TheRainSaver.com, which focuses on rainwater conservation.

Williams is supportive of the legislation overall.  "Legislation is needed, and the proposed ordinance is well-written," he said.

But he adds, “Kwabena is correct, and the proposed legislation could be more clear regarding what type of systems are included.  Although the intent of the ordinance is not to effect the average person with a rain barrel, unless the ordinance specifies that, there could be a problem down the road.”

Nkromo feels these regulations are excessive.  Williams says “the regulations are reasonable, but the pricing is questionable.”

The pricing for the proposed new charges is explained in a memorandum dated May 31, 2011, sent to Atlanta's Neighborhood Planning Units (NPU's), from Bill Hosken, Interim Director of Sustainability for the City of Atlanta, and Jenah Zweig, Project Manager for the City of Atlanta – Office of Sustainability.  

"The billing methodology is a tiered annual permitting fee.  This tiered annual permit fee will be based on the size of the rainwater tank, with a $6.56 base rate for all systems plus $9.74 per 75 gallons of storage capacity per year," the pricing memo states.

"Since the size of rainwater tanks is correlated with residential rainwater use, this billing methodology is tailored to provide residents with a fair, flat annual fee, while minimizing the City of Atlanta’s administrative costs," the memo states.

But advocates worry the high fees will be cost prohibitive and will discourage people from capturing and using rainwater, despite the environmental and economic benefits [treatment of water provided by the City of Atlanta requires chemicals, electricity, and money].

"The high fees associated with the new requirements will make it too expensive,” Nkromo said.  

"The fee schedule should be revised," Williams said.  "The proposed pricing is expensive, and our City should look at the billing system for potable rainwater in Orange County in California, which exempts systems which are 3000 gallons or less, and does not have additional administrative charges, which are added in the proposed fee structure.”

“The Watershed Department says that conservation is important, and the City is aware of the damage that storm water has on our infrastructure.  If that is the case, why not charge a reasonable rate, so that more people can afford to conserve?" Williams asks.

"The current price schedule... is based on how large your system is, which will cause people to be charged for sewage, even if the water is for the lawn, which does not use city pipes," Williams said.

Overall, Williams encourages more Atlanta families and businesses to consider collecting rainwater, both for potable and non-potable uses.

“A basic system can cost some upfront money [from ten thousand dollars on up], but the benefits are tremendous.  The water from a rainwater system, when done properly, has no harsh chemicals, and is much healthier.  How much money do we spend on bottled water, and how much waste are the plastic bottles?  Having a rainwater system will help conserve water, and in the case of a drought, you will have water to drink, and save thousands on lost plants.  The other advantage of a rainwater system is the relief from the damage on our infrastructure, from run off storm water," Williams said.

Williams believes the effects of climate change may get worse, and the weather is no longer predictable.  Not having a rainwater system is short-sighted, and not fair to our children.  Williams is one of a handful of professionals who provide rainwater harvesting systems, and he hopes these systems will be included in all future home renovations and new construction.

(END / 2011)


Comments (10)

Said this on 6-28-2011 At 09:43 am

We are continuing to seek supporters to sign on to our petition for revision of this ordinance in order to protect urban agriculture and create more logical public policy in relationship to water management for the metro Atlanta region. Contact information is below:

Committee to Elect "Cubby" for City Council, District 4
964 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd., Box 10
Atlanta, GA 30310 
404.587.2227 , future.metro.atl@gmail.com

Said this on 7-2-2011 At 03:36 pm

Please see the video for the press conference: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p3CULOcY1xM

Harvey L. Cooper
Said this on 6-28-2011 At 12:23 pm

I can not understand liberals.  A few years ago they scared parents about acid rain dangers.  Children were afraid to come out to play after a rain shower.  Now, here we go again, tax rain water!  We have left the climate "warming hoax" behind.  Only to have  the City of Atlanta Tax Rain Water.  What a Joke!

Said this on 6-28-2011 At 02:36 pm
Please join the fight. Affordable Water is a basic right. Humans can only live without water a maximum of 5 days before they die. Clean and Affordable Water should be a basic Human Right!

Share this with your friends and encourage them to post their own effort!
RT @ATLWATER Join the fight! Atlantans for Affordable Water Service Fan Page. https://www.facebook.com/atlwater
Jeff
Said this on 6-28-2011 At 08:49 pm

Move Government involvement.  More Bureaucracy.  And of course, more taxes.  It's the Liberal way.  It's the Liberal politician's answer for everything.

Why don't they have the nads to just come right out and say what they REALLY want to say, but can't, that they're ticked off that folks are capturing their own water and not buying as much of the city's water as a result?

Said this on 6-28-2011 At 11:37 pm

Great article, but a few things that may not be clear. As mentioned a rainwater harvesting system for potable use may be $10,000 or more, but smaller systems are available for less money. The other item is that the new code charges sewer based on the size of the tank not the use of the water allowing the city to charge sewer for irrigation or other outdoor use that does not use the sewer.

Gene Kelly
Said this on 6-29-2011 At 09:38 pm

This is really disturbing.

At a time when the City of Atlanta should be spending time and energy on getting the school system repaired and it budget in shape, they want to increase payroll by having to hire more inspectors and creating an even  larger government.

Are you going to tax all of the people who drilled personal wells for the same purpose over the past drought years? And how are you going to do it?

Are you going to tax organic gardens because they decrease grocery and restaurant purchases taxes during their peak?

The people and businesses who purchase rainwater harvesting systems are actually doing us all a favor by slowing down the speed of stormwater entering the drains.

Go ahead and tax it, and there will not be any more installed.

Gene Kelly, The Rain Barrel Depot

Lee Gore
Said this on 7-22-2011 At 09:18 am

These Einstiens can start taxing rain water when they fix the leaks in the Atlanta water system the spews out more water a day than rain water collextion would ever catch.  What kind of backwards logic is this??? No wonder northern Fulton co wants to beak away into its own county.  Unbeliveable!

Elliander Eldridge
Said this on 7-27-2012 At 01:56 pm

I really hope my city of Alton, IL doesn't go this route. I have plans of installing a 3000 gallon underground rain collection system to supply water to both my 1 acre vegetable garden and for my home. I will use a grey water purification system to recycle water used in the home by the sings, bathtubs, and washing machines (which would also only use all natural plant based biodegradable soaps) which all together means that the vast majority of the water used by the tank will be used in the garden with substantially less water than the average citizen going down sewage due to the design.

 

If my city went this route I would have to pay $396.16 a year for water primarily intended for use by the garden. That is excessive when you consider that in most cities the annual cost of sewage is half that for twice the sewage usage that this system would use.

Alton, IL currently has a plat monthly sewge bill for all residents that ends up costing about $200.00 a year. The problem we have though is that the water usage and sewage bill appears on the same bill and the city requires that there be a running water hookup to be eligable for occupancy, so we have our own beurocratic loops to jump through just to use a rainwater collection system to begin with.

Ryan
Said this on 11-28-2012 At 04:39 pm

The city cannot charge residents to collect rainwater because the resident does not own the water that falls on their property.

If the city wishes to collect additional revenue they should examine water rights agreements, determine who owns runoff and come up with a plan to charge the owner of the water and not the resident who happens to be next to where the water falls or passes.

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