Eliminate free-riders to help achieve Sustainable Development Goal 6

To achieve SDG 6, water and sanitation utilities in developing countries must be paid for all the services they provide

Many water and sanitation utilities in developing countries do not have the financial resources to fund the maintenance and repairs needed to sustain their infrastructure, or to improve or to extend their water supply and sewerage services. For them to have any chance of achieving and sustaining their Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 commitments, especially their sanitation target, they must find ways to increase their financial resources.

To increase their financial resources, utilities must both increase efficiency — do more with less — and find ways to increase their total cash inflows.

In many countries the beneficiaries of stormwater systems are free-riders — they do not pay for the services they receive. Charging these beneficiaries could help countries to improve the financial condition of their sanitation institutions.

Sewerage systems are not designed to provide stormwater services.

A sanitary sewer is an underground piped system — often called a sewerage system — specifically designed to transport sewage, e.g., from houses, buildings, and factories, to a sewage treatment plant prior to discharge into a water body.

A stormwater system drains excess rain and ground water run-off from impervious surfaces, such as from compacted or paved areas, transports it and discharges it into a water body.

Combined sewerage systems transport, and often treat, rainwater and groundwater run-off

Many countries have combined sewerage systems which collect rainwater and groundwater run-off, domestic sewage, and industrial wastewater in the same pipe. Combined sewerage systems often transport wastewater to a sewage treatment plant, prior to discharge into a water body.

Stormwater systems are designed to accommodate the really large storms that only come every 2 to 5 years

Both stormwater and sanitary sewer systems are sized based on projected peak flows, but the difference between projected peak-flows for stormwater and sewerage are huge. Stormwater systems must be designed to accommodate the really large storms, those that only come once every 2 to 5 years. Combined system wet-season flows can be 50 times dry-season flows.

Combined system overflows can cause illness in communities…communities with empty water supply pipes due to rationing are particularly vulnerable

In cities with combined systems, stormwater flows often cause combined system overflows spewing sewage from drains and manholes, which can cause illness in communities by exposure to wastes and by contaminating drinking water. Communities with empty water supply pipes due to rationing are particularly vulnerable. Stormwater can also dilute sewage flows to the point that it reduces treatment plant efficiency.

Stormwater beneficiaries include the owner of any impervious surface where the water run-off from the surface enters the stormwater system

Stormwater system beneficiaries include the owners of impervious surfaces where the water run-off from the surface enters the stormwater system. This includes, for example, the government — as the owner of roads which drain into a stormwater system, or businesses with impervious areas (e.g. large roof surfaces, or compacted or paved areas) that drain into the stormwater system.

Combined systems are often funded solely by tariffs charged to sewerage customers

Unfortunately, in many countries operations and maintenance of combined systems are often funded solely by tariffs charged to sewerage customers — usually based on a percentage of water consumption, meaning that stormwater beneficiaries get a free ride — that they do not pay for the stormwater services they receive or the flooding that the impervious surfaces that they own help cause.

Charging stormwater beneficiaries would create an additional cash-stream that countries could use achieve to SDG 6

Eliminating as many stormwater system free-riders as possible by charging them for the services they receive from being connected to the combined system would create an additional cash-stream that would help cities to sustainably manage their combined systems — helping them to achieve their SDG 6 target to by 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations (SDG target 6.2)

Charging property owners for the run-off that contributes to flooding in urban areas could also help fund flood mitigation strategies

Charging property owners for the run-off that contributes to flooding in urban areas, including areas not currently connected to stormwater systems, could also help to fund flood-mitigation strategies and improve water security and sanitation in flood-prone areas.


For developing countries with combined systems, it would probably easier to tack a stormwater fee onto the sewerage tariff

Various methods of charging stormwater beneficiaries have been used. As impervious areas are the most important contributor to stormwater run-off, or combined system stormwater inflows, it is a major element of all stormwater fee or tariff designs used in the United States.

For developing countries with combined systems, it would probably be easier to tack a stormwater fee onto the sewerage tariff than to charge a separate stormwater tariff.

This would provide developing-country governments with a sewerage tariff that fairly allocates combined-system-related costs. Charging a fixed monthly fee to cover stormwater-related costs would make the combined-sewerage tariff consistent with most tariff designs used to fund stand-alone stormwater infrastructure needed to reduce flooding. See the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s factsheet: Funding Stormwater Programs.

Acknowledgement

Ideas for this article were provided by Jon Holland CEng MICE, a sewer drainage expert, and Larry Hearn, VP at NPWSP.org.

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