Northwest NEWS

February 14, 2000


Guest Editorial

Rural citizens to benefit from SWM program

by Louise Miller, King County Council Vice Chair

   Last year, when water flooded the road and basement of a home in unincorporated King County just outside Redmond, the owner called King County's Drainage Complaint Line and County engineers came out to assess the situation. Because this property was inside King County's Surface Water Management (SWM) Service Area, engineers were able to construct a "quick fix" within a few days that solved the problem.

   Only a few yards away, a similar problem still hasn't gone away. When it rains, road and driveway flooding restricts access to several homes, and their garages fill with storm water. Property owners in this neighborhood also called the County's Drainage Line. However, because these properties were outside of its service area, the County was restricted from doing any surface water management work there. If not solved, this problem will only get worse.

   Now we can help these homeowners. The County Council has extended its surface water management service area to include all of unincorporated King County. Last year, the King County Council voted to extend King County's surface water management service area to include Vashon-Maury Island and eastern parts of unincorporated King County.

   Along with Councilmember Phillips, I sponsored and strongly support the ordinance that made the service area extension possible. These previously rural areas are in definite need of local drainage services, although in my mind the biggest reason for doing away with the service area boundary was that it created an unnecessary inequity.

   For the past fourteen years, property owners in half of my district have paid for and received surface water services, while the other half have not. Those that have been paying the fee have paid for a host of legal mandates benefiting every County resident. The development of the County's Surface Water Design Manual, response to the federal Clean Water Act requirements, and response to the federal government's listing of salmon and bull trout as endangered species, are all examples. Until last month's vote, not everyone paid for the benefits of these countywide surface water services. Beginning this year, rural area residents will be asked to share in the cost of programs that support the care and maintenance of their water resources.

   As a member of the County Council, I have participated in hundreds of meetings and discussions with citizens and local elected officials about a regional solution to watershed restoration and the Endangered Species Act. In exchange for participation in a regional partnership, local jurisdictions will have to develop and implement their own surface and storm water programs. This mandate has come from both the federal and state levels.

   The extension of King County's surface water management service area provides unincorporated County residents with services that those who live in incorporated cities and towns already have in place. It fills in a piece of the patchwork of services needed to take care of our drainage systems and keep our water clean.

   Science has shown that thoughtful management of rainwater helps keep creeks, streams, and lakes clean and healthy. Proper management of rainwater, once it hits hard surfaces, is achieved through a system of drainage vaults, retention/detention ponds, pipes, and natural drainage systems including streams, wetlands, lakes, and rivers. This program takes care of these natural and constructed drainage systems and the water that flows through them. Everyone wants clean water for fishing, swimming, boating, habitat for fish and wildlife, and for the beauty of healthy lakes, rivers, streams.

   Surface water management fees generated in the expanded service area will pay for services like: maintenance and retrofit of existing county-owned drainage facilities; construction of new drainage facilities and solutions to rural drainage problems; stewardship of lakes, streams, and creeks; protection of water quality through farm and forest technical assistance; groundwater monitoring and data collection; and management and assistance with agricultural drainage ditches.

   The dollars generated will stay in the expansion area. The County's Department of Natural Resources is keeping track of these new dollars separately.

   Surface and storm water management programs aren't something new or unique to our region. In fact, as of 1996, almost 300 such programs were in place in at least 20 states across the nation.

   It is time that King County's program covered all unincorporated land. Now that the ordinance has been approved, it's time to concentrate on the development of an efficient and responsible surface water management program geared toward solving citizen concerns and rural problems.

   County employees worked with the communities in the expanded service area to develop the program we have just approved. Now we must engage our communities in the next step by producing a program that is accountable, efficient, and that can fulfill the different needs of each community. We look forward to working with you.