Saint Petersburg, FL

From Utility Bill to Flood Map: St Petersburg's Stormwater Master Plan and How to Lower your Water Bill Tier and Costs.

Kathy LaFollett
The brown pelican, one of St Petersburg's very special residents. The ever-seeing overseer of our waterways.Photo byAdobe Express Pro

The City of St. Pete has created a Flood Plain Map to support the ongoing Stormwater Master Plan. Which sounds a bit Doctor Evil. It’s not as simple as Doctor Evil’s plans.
The City of St Pete's postcard announcement for the new Floodplain map, information and coming Zoom meeting date.Photo byKathy LaFollett

The city mailed out postcards to all residents that may be inside this new map. We received ours. It has a QR code for quick access. The map offers a link to dispute, or agree with, or leave comments about your personal experiences with flooding at your address. There’s going to be a live town meeting held on Zoom to discuss this on April 12th, if you like. You can get details here.

Utility bills are rising and changing so furiously it’s hard to keep up, know why it’s happening, or where you can go to lower your bill or contest their opinions. This article hopes to clarify the goings on with your utility bill, and how you can lower your water tier line item, online, with a few clicks. Lowering your tier will lower your water bill. So, let’s go backwards to go forward.
A thriving downtown marina thanks to clean waterways, and efforts to keep it that way or better.Photo byAdobe Express Pro

On October 1, 2019, The City implemented a tiered billing structure for stormwater rates for single-family properties to replace the flat fee that was previously charged to all single-family residential properties. As with all grand ideas, there are grand add-ons. The Master Plan is a reaction to the master sized sewage dumps into the Gulf of Mexico that created master sized reactions against over-development and costs of living for people who are not developers. Things are getting complicated downtown, and we’re all going to pay some price for our Mini-Me Miami build-out lifestyle.

This is a multi-pronged roll-out. Your bill. The City’s preferred zoning for development and rent controlled housing for residents. Stormwater. Sewer systems. Aging infrastructure. A bold move, and not so evil if you consider the complexity of a city growing faster than some of its services. Something has got to give, and not everyone will be happy. They know it, now you know it. These are growing pains. But like a good doctor once said to me, “Set the bones right, and you’ll never know your arm was broken.” He was a good doctor. I haven’t thought about my broken arm for decades.

The St. Petersburg Water Tier line item represents the amount of square feet of water shedding hard scape your property has affecting rain runoff into the local waterways, bay, and Gulf of Mexico. Tier 1 being the least expensive, representing the least runoff on a property as compared to Tier 4 being the highest. The city uses google maps to assess this information. It is startling accurate. But things change on your property, and you can request a reassessment to get into a lower tier. There’s a tool to double-check their assessment correctness anytime you’re interested, and if necessary, request a review of tier.

For example: We owned a 22-foot bay boat. We dry docked in our backyard. They rated us at Tier 4. We were paying a premium for runoff. We sold the boat. I requested a reassessment via the map, and before the next bill, they dropped us to Tier 3. This saved us money. Here’s the Map and Request page. Just input your address and see what they see.
Stormwater Review and Appeals map and form. Powered by ESRI, all rights reserved.Photo byKathy LaFollett screengrab with SnippingTool

St. Petersburg’s water infrastructure faces unique challenges as we're a coastal city with a subtropical climate. Heavy rainfall, vulnerability to storm surges, and flooding tropical storms and hurricanes. Stormwater management is a priority in St. Petersburg. It affects our flood insurance, our environment, safety, health, and structures. We aren’t Peoria, Illinois, with old pipes that need replacing. We are a fast growing, tourist heavy, population heavy organism that needs hardened stormwater defenses.

What are we, the residents of St. Pete, getting for our money? Quite a bit, actually. Stormwater service manages and maintains the infrastructure that handles stormwater runoff and helps prevent localized flooding of roads and sidewalks. Ensuring the city remains accessible and safe during periods of heavy rainfall. One key aspect of this infrastructure is the storm drain system, which is separate from the city’s sanitary sewer systems and treatment plants.

The City’s multi-year capital improvements master plan takes aim at critical improvements to the city’s water infrastructure while also preparing for current and future growth and all its changing environmental impact. The city is playing catch-up and get-ahead-of for the future of our community. There is no Dr. Evil. There is a lot of work.

Some of the key initiatives include:

  • Upgrading and expanding water treatment facilities: This ensures the city can continue to meet the growing demand for clean water and adhere to strict water quality standards.
  • Enhancing the stormwater management system: By improving drainage infrastructure and implementing green solutions, the city can mitigate localized flooding and protect local waterways from pollution.
  • Modernizing wastewater and sanitation systems: By upgrading aging sewer lines and wastewater treatment plants, St. Petersburg can reduce the risk of system failures and environmental contamination.
  • Implementing water conservation measures: Encouraging residents and businesses to adopt water-saving practices helps preserve the city’s valuable water resources and reduce stress on the infrastructure.
  • Planning for climate change impact: The city is working to understand and address the potential effects of climate change on water resources and infrastructure, including rising sea levels and increased storm intensity.
  • Sustainable improvements and infrastructure planning: Improvements supporting public transit, public land use, and environmental protections.

By integrating water resource management with the broader city planning initiatives, St. Petersburg can seamlessly roll-out reliable services while preserving the natural environment for our future healthy, vibrant city.

How can we help reduce stormwater pollution?

  • Limit the use of fertilizers and pesticides: Excessive use of chemicals leads to runoff containing high levels of nutrients, which cause algae blooms and harm aquatic life. You can look to the guidelines provided by the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) for proper fertilizer and pesticide application.
  • Proper disposal of pet waste: Picking up pet waste and disposing of it in the trash prevents harmful bacteria from entering local waterways. Dog poop is a big deal here. St Pete was named the most dog-friendly city in America. Estimated dog population; 38,000. One pile of dog poop averages a half pound. For math’s sake, one dog, one pound a day not picked up is 38,000 pounds of dog poop into our waterways, every day. Dog poop is a community health risk. Vaccinated or not, the CDC is adamant that all dog poop is a risk.
  • Maintain your vehicles: Regularly checking for and repairing fluid leaks helps prevent oil, lubricants, and brake fluid running out to our waterways.
  • Washing vehicles at commercial car washes: These facilities treat and recycle water, minimizing the release of pollutants into the environment. Seriously. Building codes require car washes to be built to control what’s coming off your car and out of their waterworks.
  • Installing rain barrels or rain gardens: These features help capture and filter stormwater runoff, reducing the number of pollutants that reach local waterways. And no, they don’t add to your Tier level assessment.
  • Keeping yard debris and trash out of storm drains: Leaves, grass clippings, and trash can clog storm drains, exacerbating flooding and contributing to water pollution. Dispose of yard waste properly and secure trash cans to prevent littering.
  • When you’re out and about, pick up trash you come upon. Every choice we make affects a choice that needs to be made later.

Our city, St. Petersburg’s, ongoing efforts to improve its water infrastructure and manage stormwater are essential to our community safety, health, and environmental integrity. The multi-faceted approach will create a resilient and thriving urban environment for us all, and all of us, to come. The city is tackling unique challenges because we are a unique place. I love our area. I love our city. We are lucky to share a very special way of life here.
Heading into St. Petersburg from Tampa. You can't miss what's so special coming at you at 55 MPH.Photo byAdobe Express Pro

It’s important to understand the reasons behind the changes in our utility bills. We have the right and the ways to see what’s coming and proactively affect our personal part to preserve and prepare our community lifestyle and ecosystem. We play a key role in preserving our city’s precious natural resources and fostering a sustainable future for all. There is no The City of St. Petersburg. There is only Our City of St. Petersburg.

So, while the work ahead may be complex, loud, intrusive, expensive, and filled with growing pains, remember the wise words of my good doctor: “Set the bones right, and you’ll never know your arm was broken.” Embrace the changes that make us stronger, lend a helping hand in keeping our city clean, stay involved, and be ready to take action. We need to know the plans clearly, so we can clearly know what plans to debate and what plans to support. There's good and evil in everything. The upcoming Zoom meeting is a great place to start learning the plans.
We can grow well, or we can grow poorly. It's up to the residents to set the bar and the barriers into the future plans.Photo byAdobe Express Pro

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Florida author, speaker, and wildlife/companion animal advocate writing about life in the Sunshine State from my cityscape, St. Petersburg.

St. Petersburg, FL

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