Federal Agencies Refusing to Pay Local Stormwater Fees



WASHINGTON, D.C., April 29, 2010 -- Federal government agencies in Washington, DC, and around the country are refusing to pay fees for stormwater related infrastructure, even though cities are charging the fees to pay for federal mandates.

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 29, 2010 -- Federal government agencies in Washington, DC, and around the country are refusing to pay fees for stormwater related infrastructure, even though cities are charging the fees to pay for federal mandates.

Agencies are refusing to pay the stormwater bills based on a rulling from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) that says a stormwater utility bill is really a local tax -- which federal agencies do not pay.

An extreme example is in the District of Columbia, where the federal government owns nearly 20 percent of the land. The Environmental Protection Agency took control of stormwater regulations in Washington, D.C., last spring, yet federal agencies are refusing to pay the district's stormwater fee.

The Department of Defense called the stormwater fee an "impermissible tax on the federal government."

DC WASA said its stormwater rates are based on the impervious surface area of a property and clearly a fee directly related to a service rendered by the agency.

DC WASA officials plan to meet with the GAO to discuss the problem. Other options include restructuring the fee system or legal action.

The National Association of Clean Water Agencies has sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder urging him to review the GAO decision. The Department of Justice (DOJ) is currently reviewing that decision.

The letter challenges the determination of GAO and GSA that DCWASA’s stormwater charge constitutes a tax and not a fee for service. The letter states that the federal government’s refusal to pay the stormwater fee is not only legally unjustified but also conflicts with the Obama Administration’s public commitment to improve the water quality within the Chesapeake Bay and nationally.

NACWA’s letter highlights the economic problems created when the federal government refuses to pay its fair share of stormwater services, thus shifting the costs onto local ratepayers at a time when many communities and households are facing unprecedented economic pressures.

The letter calls on DOJ to find that the stormwater charge issued by DCWASA is a fee and not a tax, and further direct all federal facilities within the District of Columbia to pay the fee as billed by DCWASA.

Additionally, the letter encourages DOJ to extend this directive nationwide, instructing all federal facilities across the country to pay stormwater fees charged by local stormwater utilities.

More in Urban Stormwater