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Title: Municipal Runoff: Stormwater Utility Policy in the United States
Authors: Roberts-Lahti, MicKenzie
Advisors: Arnold, R. Douglas
Department: Woodrow Wilson School
Class Year: 2015
Abstract: This thesis explores why some U.S. municipalities adopt stormwater utilities while others do not. In 1972, Congress passed the Federal Water Pollution Control Act as a way to hold state and local governments accountable for the nation’s quality of water. In response, the Bellevue, Washington city council created the first stormwater utility (SWU) in 1973. Since its inception, counties and municipalities around the county have adopted the policy as a way to prioritize stormwater management problems. A stormwater utility essentially creates a new bureaucracy that helps to assign responsibility for stormwater infrastructure repairs, develop asset management plans, and establish stable financing through a new fee. The new institution and added fee help to manage problems that arise from flooding, infrastructure damage, and pollution caused by water runoff. Although one would expect weather and topography to be key factors in whether a community decides to adopt an SWU, this does not appear to be the case. On the surface, there does not seem to be a clear pattern explaining which communities adopt the policy and which do not. To answer this question, I conduct a quantitative and qualitative analysis of stormwater utility coverage around the county. I hypothesize that a community’s weather, topography, politics, and affluence are all important factors in whether a municipality passes a SWU or not. My quantitative results failed to find any relationships between state-level characteristics and SWU policy adoption. Instead, focusing on local-level community characteristics and decisions, we can see that politics and topography share the strongest relationship with SWU adoption. Through my qualitative case studies, the nuanced legislative details show that city council decisions in the agenda-setting phase can affect the policy decision later. Interest groups, the media, and consulting firms play an important role in educating constituents about the policy and its ramifications. Without educating the public, the community is unlikely to pass a stormwater utility. As the EPA continues to expand its jurisdiction, city councilmembers around the nation will be forced to consider how they manage stormwater and whether to implement a stormwater utility.
Extent: 122 pages
Type of Material: Princeton University Senior Theses
Language: en_US
Appears in Collections:Woodrow Wilson School, 1929-2016

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