Climate Resilience Design and Engineering

Improving Stormwater Management

Improving Local Level Stormwater Management and Operations and Maintenance (O&M) Services

The current professional shift in the engineering and planning professions to an asset management approach to all water infrastructure has resulted in the identification of many actions that can improve long-term stormwater facility management. Such actions are proactive, more cost-effective, and help achieve water quality goals in NJ.

Many other towns and counties nationwide use a structured approach to managing stormwater infrastructure, often by creating stormwater utilities and applying asset management planning. This structured approach typically involves assessment of the condition of existing stormwater system components, during which valuable information about stormwater infrastructure is gathered so that elected officials and community leaders can make informed decisions about stormwater management needs, opportunities and benefits. Additional actions can include public stakeholder engagement on local stormwater issues, often an important action in developing community support for successful implementation of improved stormwater management and determining enhancement priorities.

Institutional Options

Many NJ towns and counties have started to expand their stormwater management and maintenance activities, including actions such as:

  • Implementing a routine stormwater infrastructure condition assessment program
  • Seeking public input to identify the most serious stormwater management issues/concerns
  • Identifying preventative maintenance functions to avoid emergencies
  • Collaborating with adjacent towns to share equipment/staff

Three organizational options have been identified for possible use by NJ’s towns and counties to expand stormwater functions, facilitating more effective and efficient stormwater services:

Option 1

Craft inter-municipal agreements to implement agreed-upon shared stormwater operations and maintenance (O&M) functions, such as sharing equipment, staff, and expertise. (Optional: include regional agencies for funding/expertise support.)

Benefit: Improves cost-effectiveness over parallel individual stormwater O&M, through economies of scale; maintains local control.

Option 2

Involve a regional agency or organization to help implement multi-municipal stormwater O&M management services. Examples of a regional agency include regional commission, county, authority, or utility.

Benefit: Improves cost-effectiveness over individual stormwater O&M, through economies-of-scale, and possible expanded funding.

Option 3

Explore recent legislation allowing stormwater utilities to be created in NJ.

Benefit: Creates a dedicated utility function for stormwater (like water and sewer) and a dedicated funding mechanism.

These three approaches are summarized in the following table.

Advantages Disadvantages
Option 1 - Intermunicipal
  • Shared staff, equipment, & training have potential economy of scale cost advantages
  • Funded through dedication of scarce local property tax/general fund revenues
  • Limits on local budget increases/competition for $
Option 2 - Intermunicipal/regional
  • Shared staff, equipment, & training have potential economy of scale cost advantages
  • Draw on regional agency powers, expertise, and potential funding abilities
  • Funded through dedication of scarce local property tax/general fund revenues
  • Limits on local budget increases/competition for $
Option 3 - Stormwater Utility
  • Leverages the funding capacity of a Stormwater Utility
  • Requires local government approval of a new utility and stormwater service fee
Hybrid/mix of options Split services based on complexity of O&M activity Potentially greater complexity of roles

Participation in improving stormwater management and operations and maintenance (O&M) services

As NJ shifts its best stormwater management practices to greener stormwater management solutions, many residents have asked who can participate in creating a more resilient environment in the state. Participants in improved stormwater management and maintenance often include a wide range of engaged individuals, including municipal staff, such as the municipal engineer, public works director, streets superintendent, stormwater coordinator, planner, finance director, municipal attorney, parks and recreation personnel, and public utilities/public works staff.

Aside from local professional and technical leaders, many other local leaders are often part of the discussion and decision process revolving around how to better manage stormwater and maintain stormwater systems, such as the mayor and/or town manager and elected officials, and town advisory committees (e.g., environmental commission, water advisory committee, Sustainable Jersey Green Teams, etc.). Local government leaders can sponsor an educational program and assessment of public opinion regarding stormwater issues and quality of stormwater system maintenance. Setting stormwater level‐of‐service goals is also useful in building a dialogue between local officials, residents and stakeholders.

Members of the public (residents and business community) are often engaged in identifying stormwater issues in their neighborhoods, identifying local flooding and water quality issues, deteriorating local infrastructure (e.g., eroding pipe, detention basins with debris, water quality issues, etc.), and then helping local leaders and professionals prioritize both management and maintenance actions and investments in stormwater systems. Public engagement in stormwater management and maintenance priority setting can often involve the formation of a public stakeholder committee, the representatives of which include homeowners, small business owners, environmental groups, commercial interests, large industries, chambers of commerce, non-profits, schools and academic leaders.

Tools currently available to improve stormwater management and operations and maintenance (O&M) services in NJ

NJ offers a range of tools and mechanisms that can potentially facilitate improved stormwater management and maintenance by local governments. These tools and mechanisms include, but are not limited to:

  • Organizational alternatives, such as shared services and stormwater utilities
  • Improved funding options, also available through shared services and stormwater utilities
  • Better training for O&M workers providing stormwater system services
  • Demonstration and pilot programs around the state, including the NJ Meadowlands and along the Hudson River, to improve disaster resilience through green infrastructure solutions

NJ has created opportunities for local governments and their public works operations to share services with nearby local governments and public works operations to provide more efficient services.

Learn about shared services opportunities

Learn about stormwater utilities

Learn about stormwater maintenance jobs training

Demonstrations of pilot programs in NJ

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced in 2014 that a design concept for the Meadowlands area was selected as a winner of HUD’s Rebuild by Design (RBD) competition. HUD allocated $150 million toward the design and construction of a program to help reduce coastal and/or stormwater flooding risks and enhance resiliency in the Meadowlands District, in and near the municipalities of Little Ferry, Moonachie, Carlstadt, Teterboro, and South Hackensack. This pilot project is designed to explore the opportunities and challenges of improved stormwater management.

The five municipalities in the RBD project area currently operate and maintain the stormwater infrastructure within their municipal borders, as funding and staffing allow. With the implementation of the RBD stormwater management projects, the roles and functions of the five project area municipalities are likely to expand. As more towns implement green stormwater infrastructure in the state, they are also likely to experience similar expanded roles and functions related to stormwater management.

Several options are identified to potentially address the issue of increased stormwater management responsibilities. The experience of the RBD project area municipalities is useful in understanding how these issues may affect other towns and cities throughout the state. Alternative actions are offered to stimulate discussion of possible organizational and cost-sharing options among Meadowlands RBD municipalities. Consideration of organizational options is also relevant and useful through the state. These options are relevant statewide in NJ, and the inter-municipal and regional approaches identified can help improve the effectiveness and efficiency of stormwater O&M by local governments and stormwater entities.

Local Shared Services Agreements

Historically, many specialized statutes have been enacted in NJ to permit shared services between local governments for a wide range of purposes. Such laws included interlocal services agreements, joint meetings, and consolidated and regional services, but the NJ Legislature found that they were not as effective as desired in promoting shared services to reduce local expenses funded by property taxpayers. The Legislature has enacted new shared services statutes that can be used to create agreements between local government units for any service or circumstance intended to reduce property taxes through the reduction of local expenses, including stormwater services.

The NJ Department of Community Affairs (DCA) has created a Shared Services Portal for NJ local governments as a resource to support broader implementation of shared services. As noted, this includes sharing of services and expenses for stormwater operations and maintenance, including the costs of maintaining green and gray infrastructure, costs of maintenance equipment and supplies, costs of training, etc. Consult the NJ Shared Services Portal for additional information regarding the benefits and mechanisms to create shared services.

In addition, DCA published a comprehensive guide to delivering joint services in 2011.

Additional Information

Stormwater Utility

The recently approved Clean Stormwater and Flood Reduction Act, signed by the Governor in March 2019, now allows stormwater utilities to be created by towns and counties in NJ.

A stormwater utility is generally regarded as an effective and equitable approach to address the growing threats from stormwater, such as the threat of flooding, erosion of streets and property, and water quality issues. It is a local, dedicated fund that is treated like the water, sewer, electric or other utilities that have been serving NJ residents and businesses. A stormwater utility assesses a user fee based on how much hard (impervious) surface, such as concrete, rooftops or pavement, is on a property that contributes runoff to the stormwater system. The revenue is then dedicated to funding stormwater projects and maintenance activities, and is kept separate from general funds and cannot be spent on other needs.

Stormwater utilities have been implemented in 40 states across the country. In the hundreds of places where stormwater utilities exist, the storm drainage planning and programming, operations and maintenance (O&M), and dedicated stormwater system funding occurs under the responsibility of a distinct stormwater management entity with a dedicated program for improved stormwater management.

DEP is developing a stormwater utilities website for information required under the stormwater utility law. DEP is providing guidance covering:

  1. Technical assistance for entities seeking to establish utilities
  2. Factors to consider in rate-setting
  3. Asset management
  4. Public education