Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Rising Need: Norman Official Wants Separate Utility to Control Storm Water

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Rising Need: Norman Official Wants Separate Utility to Control Storm Water

Article excerpt

NORMAN - As Norman city officials patch up streets damaged by recent flooding, there's one problem that takes a back seat: red sediment in the road. Oklahoma's signature soil doesn't harm streets, but when it washes into a stream, it flows into Lake Thunderbird, adding to pollution in the reservoir.

Director of Public Works Shawn O'Leary said the flood-induced erosion on roads reminds him that the city needs a separate utility to handle storm water.

His department doesn't have money dedicated to deal with the issue. He uses money from the city's general fund for street sweeping and other programs, meaning he competes with the police and fire departments.

Though the rainfall in May and June was extraordinary, there should not have been as much red dirt in roadways as he witnessed, he said.

Norman is the only medium-sized city in Oklahoma that doesn't have a separate storm water utility fee, he said. Norman must monitor and control pollution that runs down storm drains. City employees inspect development projects to ensure construction companies don't track red mud into streets and that they erect silt fences around sites to limit erosion.

"We need aggressive attention to maintenance of those erosion control systems," he said. "When we get to that level, we won't see as much mud in the streets."

Yet O'Leary can't simply request the City Council add an extra storm water quality fee to customers' monthly bills. Norman residents must approve any increases to utility bills by popular vote. Asking businesses and residential customers to increase their own bills is a tough sell, he said.

Oklahoma City and Tulsa established dedicated storm water fees about two decades ago. The cities are larger and have different water quality standards. Raymond Melton, environmental protection manager with Oklahoma City's storm water quality management division, said the fee is about $5.69 per month for an average household and can cost as much as $658 per month for a large, industrial business. …

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