Storm Water Management Planning
Storm water, or urban runoff, is rainfall that is channeled into ditches and storm sewers rather than infiltrating back into the soil. How we deal with storm water also has a huge impact on aquatic system. (See Storm Water and Sewage).
Integrated storm water management planning is a proactive process to apply land use planning tools in order to protect property and aquatic habitat from stormwater flows, while at the same time accommodating urban growth. It is distinct from flows and pipes storm water management because it is intended to mimic a naturally vegetated watershed, rather than simply rapidly removing storm water to streams where extreme flows cause erosion. It is generally done at the local government level with guidance from the province. It can be used both in the context of upgrading existing systems in urban areas, or for new greenfield developments.
Under the Local Government Act (in effect as of April 2, 2003) and the Community Charter (introduced in the Legislature in March 2003, but not yet passed as of April 2, 2003), municipalities are responsible for provision of drainage. Regional districts may also have powers or responsibilities related to drainage. There are a number of reasons local governments want to participate in storm water management planning.
Reasons for Storm Water Management Planning
There are several reasons for local governments to engage in storm water management plans:
- Storm water management planning can help to protect the aquatic environment. Implementation of good plans can improve water quality, protect habitat from flooding or drying, and protect natural stream flows.
- Storm water management can help protect water supplies, e.g. recharging groundwater needed for summer stream flow and human use)
- Storm water management can help protect aesthetic values and recreational uses by ensuring water quality and quantity.
- Courts have found municipalities liable for flooding of homes located below a new development, where the flooding was caused in part by municipal approval or building of inadequate storm sewer systems. Planning helps avoid liability.
- Storm water management planning, as well as plans to deal with combined sewage overflows have to be a component of Liquid Waste Management Plans (LWMPs) under the Waste Management Act. Although municipalities are generally not required to have LWMPs, LWMPs are often preferred by municipalities because they can enshrine very long time frames for remedying environmental problems such as inadequate sewage treatment.
Storm water management planning process
The process recommended by the province in stormwater planning guidebook involves the following stages:
1. Identifying at-risk drainages. This prioritization is based on future land use change, high value ecological resources and flooding problems. This stage normally involves a roundtable with experts in these areas, One of the main tools for storm water management is drainage bylaws to regulate drainage. 2. Setting performance targets. Development of watershed performance targets based on site-specific information. 3. Selecting appropriate site design solutions, e.g. requirements for permeable paving, restrictions on permeable surfaces, requirements for swales that store storm water and allow natural infiltration overtime. 4. Test results and adapt plans.
The end result includes regional or watershed level objectives and priorities, integration of these objectives into community planning, and implementation of on-site practices that reduce volume and rate of run-off and improve water quality. The plan will involve a scientific consideration of the watershed and its challenges; capital investments in infrastructure – e.g. upgrading drainage; regulatory changes (see below); and education and consultation.
Federal & Provincial Tools for storm water management
Storm water management is only formally required as a part of Liquid Waste Management Plans. Liquid waste management plans are one of several mechanisms used by the province to regulate storm water in BC. (see Local Governments and the Waste Management Act).
Other and provincial and federal laws may provide an incentive for local governments to engage in integrated storm water management plans. The federal Fisheries Act prohibits deposits of deleterious substances into fish bearing waters. The Waste Management Act also prohibits discharge of waste into the environment unless it is authorized under a permit, by regulation or by a waste management plan (See Storm Water and Sewage).
Local Governments’ Legal tools for storm water management planning.
There are many legal tools that local government can be used to manage storm water. These include:
- Drainage bylaws. These bylaws can specify drainage to be provided by developers (See Land Use Zoning);
- Zoning. Storm water management plans need to be integrated with official community plans and zoning bylaws that regulate location of development, density of uses and use. Zoning can requiring setbacks from streams, and limiting uses or densities.
- Impermeable surface and run-off bylaws. Bylaws can set maximum amounts of impermeable surfaces, and require land owners who pave an area or build a roof to manage surface runoff and storm water.
- Development permit areas. Development permits areas are a tool to create site specific requirements. If established to protect the natural environment, and if official community plans include appropriate guidelines, develop permits can include requirements to keep areas free of development, maintain or plant vegetation and trees, and build works to protect water courses.
- Development approval information areas. Bylaws can require developers to provide local government with information on the local environment.
- Stream protection bylaws. Bylaws can prohibit polluting or obstructing waterways on private property.
Making watershed plans stick
Plans are of little value if ignored. Plans by themselves are not legally binding. Plans can be given more legal weight if they are incorporated into Official Community Plans, but contents of OCPs need to be specific if they are going to bind municipal councils. Also, municipal councils can easily amend OCPs although public hearings are required before they do so. Plans can be given more weight by incorporating specific portions of the plan into Regional Growth Strategies and the Regional Context Statement portion of Official Community Plans.
Related Guide Pages:
- Development permit areas.
- Implementation of Local Government Plans
- Land Use Zoning
- Local Governments and the Waste Management Act
- Local Government Act
- Local Government Planning
- Official Community Plans
- Storm Water and Sewage
- Waste Management Act Municipal Sewage Regulation
For more information about Storm Water Management Planning:
- Ministry of Environment, Storm water Planning: A Guidebook for British Columbia.
- West Coast Environmental Law’s Smart Bylaws Guide and the Smart Growth Guide to Local Government Law and Advocacy, Chapter 4, Greenspace and Smart Growth.