The potentially huge cost of implementing new stormwater controls has worried local governments throughout the Chesapeake watershed, but a new study finds that communities could get more than just cleaner water from those expenditures.
They could get also get significant increased economic impacts, according to a study from the University of Maryland Environmental Finance Center. The center recently examined the impact of needed stormwater improvements for three Bay communities and found those expenses would increase economic activity and help support hundreds of jobs in each jurisdiction.
"Certainly there are costs, and very significant costs associated with stormwater, but it is not removing jobs from the community," said Dan Nees, senior research associate with the center and an author of the report.
The study, which was funded by the nonprofit National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, also shows that municipalities have some control over how much economic benefit they get from those expenditures. It noted "there will be a massive buildup of stormwater investments across the region" to meet Bay cleanup requirements, and said that municipalities that proactively work to ensure local businesses are ready to meet that demand will do a better job of reaping benefits.
The cost of stormwater upgrades needed to meet Chesapeake Bay cleanup goals has a staggering price tag for many communities, with larger urban areas facing hundreds of millions of dollars of expenses, and even smaller cities likely having to shell out tens of millions of dollars between now and 2025 — the deadline for implementing needed controls.
Those costs have generated a backlash in some municipalities, which are reluctant to impose fees on residents and businesses to finance stormwater improvements outlined in state strategies to meet Bay cleanup goals, known as Watershed Implementation Plans.
While those taxes and fees will take money out of local economies, the expenditures to build stormwater retention basins, plant streamside trees, restore streams and other activities aimed at reducing runoff will also boost local economic activity, the report showed.
A $100 million investment in stormwater controls generated about $316 million in economic activity in Lynchburg, VA; $220 million in Anne Arundel County, MD; and $145 million in Baltimore.
The impact on jobs was equally diverse. The investment would support 1,411 jobs in Lynchburg, 776 in Anne Arundel County, and 344 in Baltimore.
"The report has shown that it's not as though all that money that would be raised and spent is going down a black hole," said Erik Michelsen, executive director of the South River Federation. "It is going to be churning in the local economy, creating jobs and a lot of local revenue at the same time it is putting in infrastructure to clean up our waterways."
Michelsen said the report doesn't end opposition from those "viscerally concerned about fees or taxes." But some, including the local chamber of commerce, have found the report to be a useful tool that can help guide policies to make sure money collected will maximize returns to the local economy.
The reason a dollar invested in Lynchburg is almost twice as effective as one in Baltimore is largely because Baltimore is part of a large metropolitan area. Much of the money spent would likely be buying goods and services from outside the city, but within the metropolitan area. In contrast, Lynchburg is more isolated, so a greater portion of the money spent is within the city.
But the report suggests that communities can take actions that leverage even more economic activity from their stormwater expenditures both through their choices of which types of stormwater controls they implement, and by getting local businesses to gear up for the coming burst of activities.
Civil engineering, landscape architecture, environmental engineering, construction, nurseries and horticulturists, cistern manufacturers and others are among those likely to see increased demand.
Those with a workforce prepared for the influx of business may benefit significantly more than others. "Communities need to be aware of that," Nees said.
Some are already taking notice. Among them is Bob Burdon, president of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce, who said the report showed that stepped-up efforts were needed to help familiarize local businesses that normally don't compete for government contracts with the county's procurement process, and to make sure the county has a workforce that is able, and trained, to do the extra stormwater work.
"This mandate, even though it is a financial burden in terms of disposable income taken out of the local economy, does create opportunities for businesses to get into this industry which creates opportunities to move this money back into the local economy again," Burdon said.
In addition, he said, it is important for county officials to understand the economic benefit of awarding contracts to local firms, rather than those from outside the region. "It is not just the lowest bid that counts — no matter where it comes from," Burdon said.
The chamber is stepping up its efforts to work with businesses, local governments — and even the local community college — to ensure the area is positioned to maximize local benefits.
While the initial construction phase for stormwater controls has significant economic impact, ongoing maintenance of stormwater would also generate economic activity and support jobs, the report said.
Each $10 million spent on stormwater maintenance in Lynchburg would create $22.5 million in economic activity; while the same investment would create $33.5 million in economic activity in Anne Arundel; and $22.9 million in Baltimore City. It would support 90 jobs in Lynchburg, 118 in Anne Arundel, and 75 in Baltimore.
The report, "Stormwater Financing Economic Impact Assessment: Anne Arundel County, MD, Baltimore, MD, and Lynchburg, VA," is available on the Environmental Finance Center's website: www.efc.umd.edu