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What Is a Storm Water Utility?

When it rains in La Crosse County's cities and towns, water runs off of roofs, driveways, parking lots and other hard surfaces into storm drains. Then it flows through pipes, culverts, water retention areas, swales and ditches to the Mississippi river. It moves faster on pavement than on the ground and it picks up chemicals, trash, leaves and soil on its way to the river.

The result is: 1) the river is polluted; 2) it's more apt to flood, and 3) the water we need to replenish deep ground water drinking supplies is carried away.

We can improve the situation with some pretty simple changes. The work boils down to this: shaping lawns, gardens, driveways, patios, parking lots, playgrounds, sidewalks, streets and parks so rain and snow soak in where they fall. Home owners, business owners, schools, nonprofit groups, government agencies and local governments are making this happen.

Storm water utilities are part of this effort. They are established locally, by cities and towns, to meet local needs. Essentially they hold us accountable for our own places—the more square feet of hard surface we have on our property, the more we pay. Why? It's equitable. If our property is shaped so water sinks in on site, we use city systems less and we pollute less.

Where does storm water utility money go?

It's used to maintain and improve public drainage systems, carry out good water quality practices like street sweeping, maintain stormwater detention basins, enforce erosion control standards, and reduce the risk of flooding.

Ultimately the wise use of storm water utility income by cities and what we do as citizens to reduce runoff improves health, ensures clean drinking water, cleans rivers, and makes cities better places to live.

CITY OF LA CROSSE

In La Crosse, water from the city's storm system drains directly to the La Crosse River, Lower Black River, La Crosse Marsh, or Mississippi River.

The City's storm water utility was activated in 2012. All policy and budget decisions are made by the La Crosse Common Council.

La Crosse storm water utility fees are based on an Equivalent Runoff Unit (ERU)—2,841 square feet—which is the average hard surface area of a La Crosse residential property.

Home owners are billed for one ERU annually, which is $13.48 every three months. Residential property is defined as property used or zoned exclusively for living purposes, with three or fewer units—single family homes, duplexes, triplexes and twindos.

Non-residential properties are are billed based on actual square feet of impervious area divided by 2,841 (carried to the nearest .1), at $53.92 per ERU. Measurement of impervious areas was determined by the City using aerial photography and GIS technology. Non-residential properties include condominiums, multi-family apartment buildings with four or more dwelling units, parking lots, and all properties zoned or used for commercial, industrial, institutional or governmental purposes.

Property owners can reduce the user fee up to 80% by installing rain gardens, porous pavements, rain barrels, stormwater ponds or bio-retention cells. Up to 50% of the credit can come from stormwater quality improvements and a maximum of 50% of the credit can come from stormwater quantity reductions.

To learn more detail and apply for credit, visit the City's website.

CITY OF ONALASKA

In Onalaska, water from the city's storm system drains directly to the La Crosse River, Lower Black River, Lake Onalaska, or Mississippi River.

The City's storm water utility was activated in January 2010. All policy and budget decisions are made by the Onalaska Common Council.

Onalaska's storm water utility fees are based on an Equivalent Runoff Unit (ERU)—3,888 square feet—which is the average hard surface area of one Onalaska residential property. The rate per ERU approved for 2013 is $59.63 per year.

Home owners are billed four times annually. Residential property is defined as property used or zoned exclusively for living purposes, with two or fewer units—single family homes, duplexes, and twindos. Each home is billed one ERU, or $$14.90 per quarter.

Non-residential properties are are billed based on actual square feet of impervious area divided by 3,888 (carried to the nearest .1), at $59.63 per ERU. The impervious area for nonresidential and multifamily parcels was measured from an aerial photo and supplemented using site plans. Non-residential properties include commercial, institutional, manufacturing, tax-exempt, mobile home parks, and multi-family dwellings with three or more units.

Single-family homes and duplexes are not eligible for a fee reduction. Non-residential property owners can reduce fees by installing rain gardens, porous pavements, rain barrels, stormwater ponds or bio-retention cells. To be eligible for a credit, a property must meet the criteria set in the City of Onalaska Stormwater Utility Credit Policy.

To learn more or apply for a credit, visit the City's website.

TOWN OF CAMPBELL

The Town of Campbell is situated on French Island in the Mississippi River on a flat sand prairie. Water not absorbed on individual properties runs from roofs, driveways, parking lots and streets to storm sewers in some areas and ditches in others.

Campbell does not have a storm water utility. The cost of managing storm water for this community of 4300 people is part of the Town's general expenses. The Town works to reduce runoff in cooperation with the La Crosse Urban Storm Water Group. A primary goal is helping property owners control runoff on site.

TOWN OF HOLLAND

The Town of Holland is situated on a flat sand prairie. Water that's not absorbed on individual properties runs from roofs, driveways, parking lots and streets to ditches, then to holding areas where it's absorbed into the ground.

The cost of maintaining the town's ditch system is part of the Township's general expenses. In other words, in this town of just over 3000 people storm water is managed, but the situation does not require a separate storm water utility.

One measure of successful water management is how many "suspended solids" are found in water that moves through a community. "Suspended solids" are soil particles, sand, and manufactured stuff in the water. In the Town of Holland the amount of suspended solids in runoff water is significantly lower than the 40% maximum allowed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. No water runs directly to streams.

For more detail about Holland's policies, visit their website.

TOWN OF ONALASKA

Town of Onalaska storm water drains to the La Crosse River, Lower Black River, Lake Onalaska, and the Mississippi River through smaller streams/creeks/marsh areas that ultimately flow to these larger bodies of water. The Town adopted a Storm Water Utility in 2005 by ordinance and created a Stormwater Utility Board, which consists of members of the Town Board of Supervisors.

Stormwater Utility fees are calculated using ERUs (Equivalent Runoff Units) based on total impervious surface of any parcel. On improved parcels, one ERU equals $24.00. Vacant land is assessed at $1.00 per acre. All types of properties—residential, commercial, industrial, institutional or governmental—are billed annually for storm water utility fees, which vary based on total hard surface on a parcel. The Township contracts with a storm water utility consultant to provide data that supports ERU calculations for each property. The Stormwater Utility Board works with the consultant to determine and prioritize all necessary stormwater management issues in the Town.

Owners of any type of property are eligible to apply for up to a 50% refund of stormwater utility fees, based on demonstrated measures to manage runoff from their properties. Typical measures are installation of rain gardens, retention or detention ponds, porous pavement systems, rain barrels, culverts, etc.

For additional information, or to receive an application for refund of any stormwater fees paid, please contact the Town Clerk at 608-783-4958 or stop by the Town Hall at W7052 Second Street, Onalaska.

VILLAGE OF HOLMEN

In Holmen, water from the city's storm system drains to an extensive infiltration system and Halfway Creek.

Holmen's storm water utility was activated in 2006. All policy and budget decisions are made by the Village Board.

Holmen's storm water utility fees are based on an Equivalent Runoff Unit (ERU) equal to the average hard surface area of one Holmen residential property. The annual rate per ERU is $12.25, paid quarterly.

Every residential property pays an equal stormwater fee. Residential property is defined as property used or zoned exclusively for living purposes, with two or fewer units—single family homes, duplexes, and twindos.

Fees for commercial, governmental and institutional properties are based on the amount of hard surface on the property. Fees for multi-family properties are based on number of dwelling units. The amount of hard surface on each property is determined by the Village engineer using data supplied by the Village Assessor, the property owner, tenant or developer, aerial photography, or on-site measurement.

Single-family homes and duplexes are not eligible for fee reduction. Owners of commercial, institutional and multi-family properties can reduce fees by installing rain gardens, porous pavements, rain barrels, stormwater ponds or bio-retention cells.

To learn more or apply for a credit, visit the Village's website.

WEST SALEM, WISCONSIN

Stormwater in the Village of West Salem discharges into the La Crosse River and Lake Neshonoc. The Village of West Salem formed a Stormwater Utility in March, 2007, in order to comply with stormwater management requirements imposed by the Department of Natural Resources.

The Stormwater Utility is managed by the Village Administrator and decisions/rates are made by the Village Board of Trustees by Resolution.

Stormwater utility fees are based on Equivalent Runoff Units (ERU), which for the Village of West Salem has been determined to be 2,400 sq. ft. This is the average hard surface area (impervious area) of a West Salem residence. Residents are billed for one ERU annually, which is divided into quarterly amounts on the water/sewer/stormwater bill.

Revenues from this Utility Fund, if more than expenditures in a given year, are kept in escrow to be used only for the Stormwater Utility. The Director of Public Works prepares an annual budget to manage this utility.

Learn more or apply for a credit

TOWN OF SHELBY AND OTHER AREAS OF LA CROSSE COUNTY

At this time, these communities do not have storm water utilities





Soak It Up! On Your Property

Learn To Manage Runoff At the Habitat ReStore

See for yourself how managing stormwater can improve a property, help build business, and benefit our rivers. This learning site shows all kinds of things you can do to capture and use runoff.

Stormwater


Here's What Local People Are Doing

Parking Lot Rain Garden

Schmidty's Restaurant's parking lot includes a landscaped rain garden. Check it out at 3119 State Road,
La Crosse.

rain garden



Garden Protects Marsh

Master Gardeners are planting prairie in a large basin that collects warm, dirty water from the parking lot, roof and trails at La Crosse's EcoPark, 789 Park Drive.

Eco Park raingarden



Backyard Nature Area

At this La Crosse home a backyard rain garden captures water from the roof and driveway, but is also a fun play area.

Backyard Nature Area



Simple Basin

2012 was a dry year, but at Sitara Salon's new site, W6822 Hilltop Drive, Onalaska, this rock and grass basin keeps polluted water out of the nearby Mississippi River and will become an attractive lawn feature.

Sitara basin



Telling Why

At Wisconsin Technical College's central courtyard, 319 7th Street North,
La Crosse, see how runoff helps create a beautiful place. Always teaching, signs explain how.

WTC sign



Native Plants

This lawn in La Crosse has been reshaped to hold water from the house roof. Native plants will add beauty and absorb water.

Native plants


See more local rain gardens
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