43,566 manholes: Here’s what you need to know about the city’s stormwater system

Debris blocks a stormwater drain in Virginia Beach (Courtesy of City of Virginia Beach)
Debris blocks a stormwater drain in Virginia Beach (Southside Daily photo/Courtesy of City of Virginia Beach)

VIRGINIA BEACH — Mark Johnson, the city’s director of public works, briefed City Council Tuesday on the state of its stormwater program and discussed costs for major projects in the face of sea-level rise and recurrent flooding challenges.

Virginia Beach, being on a coastal plain, does not drain particularly well — something Johnson is well aware of.

“We know we’re flat, low in elevation in most parts of the city; so our system is made up of man-made and natural infrastructure,” Johnson said.

Below is an overview of what comprises the city’s stormwater system, how it’s paid for, and what’s next.

What makes up the stormwater system?

  • 550 miles of roadside ditches
  • 152 off-road ditches
  • 61 canals
  • 1,110 miles of stormwater pipe
  • 43,566 manholes and basins
  • 12 stormwater pump stations
  • 38 dams and spillways
  • 448 lakes and ponds

How is it funded?

  • Stormwater Enterprise Fund, went into effect in 1993
  • Based on an “Equivalent Residential Unit” of 2,269 square feet of impervious area
  • Revenue is received through monthly “city services bill”
  • Stormwater fee adjustments are available to non-residential customers that implement on-site water quality and maintenance improvements
Current and projected stormwater fees in Virginia Beach (Southside Daily photo/Courtesy of City of Virginia Beach)
Current and projected stormwater fees in Virginia Beach (Southside Daily photo/Courtesy of City of Virginia Beach)

Fee increases between 2011 and 2014 brought in an additional $16 million to the city for stormwater maintenance projects, and the next four years will see an increase of 2.5 cents for each year that “is primarily going to major flood control projects, with some of it going to maintenance and water quality,” Johnson said.

The current daily rate is 45.8 cents, which calculates to $167.17 per year, according to Johnson’s report to City Council

  • Starting in FY 2019-2020, Johnson said the stormwater fund will receive a portion of the city’s real estate tax revenues, with 1 cent per $100 of property value being dedicated to the city’s stormwater programs. Over the next five years, those additional funds from real estate taxes will bring nearly $29 million to the city’s stormwater coffers, which “will be going towards flood control CIPs,” Johnson said.
  • The city’s Agricultural Reserve Program will also be dedicating $990,000 annually for the next five years to go to strormwater infrastructure in the southern half of the city.
  • Nearly half of the city’s stormwater fees are generated by residential properties, with 38 percent generated by commercial.
  • The city has also issued stormwater revenue bonds and refunding bonds in the past eight years, bringing the city’s outstanding stormwater debt to more than $59 million.

In fiscal year 2007-2008, the enterprise fund generated $15.6 million for the city; in FY 2018-2019, the fund is budgeted to bring nearly triple that amount — $42.4 million.

Once the Dewberry study on the city’s flooding and sea-level rise assessment is released, Johnson said he and his department intend to brief council every month during the first half of 2019 leading up to the start of the fiscal year in July.

Follow Joshua on Twitter @WeinsteinReport or email him at Joshua@localvoicemedia.com

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