Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Halifax Water Stormwater Fee

There has been much attention paid to the recent stormwater fee that is being charged to residents and businesses in serviced and unserviced areas of HRM[1].  Service in this case refers to water and wastewater services.  Residents in unserviced areas of HRM who would not otherwise be receiving a water bill are particularly upset. At first glance, this is understandable, as their drinking water comes from a well and their wastewater is managed onsite with a septic system.

However even properties in unserviced areas of HRM generate stormwater runoff.  Stormwater is the rain or snowmelt that flows off a roof, driveway, parking lot, paved walkway or any other hard surface on a property.  Outside of peninsular Halifax, stormwater runoff ends up in nearby streams, rivers and lakes without prior treatment.  Since stormwater comes into contact with litter, gasoline, oils, brake pad dust from our cars, pesticides, waste from our pets and many other toxins along its journey, stormwater is a significant source of pollution to our water ways.

There is no question that Halifax Water needs to improve the way it manages stormwater in HRM.  We cannot continue to treat our lakes and rivers as a wastewater facility.  Many of our urban lakes such as Lake Banook, Lake Echo and Oathill Lake have reached, or are quickly reaching, their carrying capacity.  Our enjoyment of these water bodies for fishing, swimming, boating and aesthetic value is being compromised. 

Halifax is not unique in charging a stormwater fee.  Other Canadian cities like Victoria, Edmonton, Kitchener, Mississauga and many others have recognized the need to charge a fee for stormwater management.  The principle that HRM and numerous other cities have recognized is simple: if you receive a service you should pay for it.

The Ecology Action Centre conditionally supports the stormwater fee being collected by Halifax Water in order to address inadequacies in our current stormwater management system.  The conditions are:
  • The stormwater fee is used to maintain and improve stormwater infrastructure, especially where it has been neglected or under-maintained.
  •  Halifax Water starts using low impact development (LID) approaches, such as rain gardens, bioswales and constructed wetlands for managing stormwater (others discussed on this blog) .  LID approaches are more cost effective and achieve better environmental outcomes than conventional approaches, and
  • Residential, commercial and institutional customers can receive a fee assessment and rebate if they use stormwater management techniques that infiltrate 100% of runoff on site and do not contribute any additional stormwater to the system.  Financial incentive systems such as the ones implemented in Waterloo and Kitchener, ON are excellent examples.
Rain garden built on Dahousie campus, summer 2013
We need to do better than piping and ditching for stormwater conveyance.  We need to implement innovative stormwater options that act as treatment systems, recharge groundwater and provide habitat for birds, pollinators and other urban wildlife.

Adopting LID approaches would lead to many direct environmental benefits such as improved flood control, increased fish populations, water quality that meets recreational swimming standards, and enhancement of future drinking water supplies through increased groundwater recharge.

The Ecology Action Centre is organizing an educational and hands-on workshop series to help property owners understand the breadth of LID options for managing stormwater on-site.  The first workshop is a walking tour of a rain garden and other stormwater options on Thursday April 24th at 6 PM.  Please click here for more information. 


  1. The storm water drainage has really gotten a makeover lately. I didn't know they started charging to use it though. That is a surprise to me.

    Aaron Carter | http://www.bettacrete.com.au/stormwater-a-electrical

  2. My front yard in in a big flood plain. I am doing landscaping this summer to find a drainage solution. I would hate to have a problem occur down the road. I would much rather do preventative work than restoration.

    Alena | http://www.bettacrete.com.au

  3. I was wondering if you could get in touch with me, I'm at k_elliott at ducks.ca. We're doing some work with naturalized stormwater retention ponds, and I'm interested in some of the photos that you've taken for your blog. Thanks!

  4. Is there any further reading you would recommend on this?

    Waste Water Services

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