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NPDES Phase II Storm Water requirements coupled with tightening local, state and federal budgets have challenged local units of government's ability to pay for the actions required to fulfill their mandate. This challenge is imposed on an area of public infrastructure that has traditionally been under-funded. To address the financial shortfall, the Oakland County Drain Commissioner has proposed to utilize the existing Michigan Drain Code to allow local units of governments to finance their storm water responsibilities. Traditionally, short-term solutions to these often urgent problems required the construction of relief sewers or temporary retention structures. Unfortunately, solving the problem in one area often meant the creation of new problems downstream. Actions taken by one community within the watershed have a significant impact on other communities in the watershed. Consequently, a multi-community approach needed to be identified and utilized to comprehensively address public health and water quality issues. The solution was found in Chapter 20 of the Michigan Drain Code.

A comprehensive Chapter 20 drainage district, established along watershed boundaries, is a useful vehicle to deal with regulations required by the Federal Clean Water Act. Michigan continues to encourage communities and counties to create watershed-wide entities to administer, operate and maintain a Watershed-Based Storm Water Permit Program. By utilizing Chapter 20 of the Drain Code, Michigan counties can demonstrate that a watershed entity not only is possible, but also represents a practical and efficient way to administer the Watershed- Based Storm Water Permit.

The mechanics of accessing this funding source are straight-forward. Establishing a Chapter 20 drainage district along watershed boundaries requires a comprehensive petition filed by at least two public corporations, i.e. State, County, City, Village or Township, setting forth the project, or series of projects, within the intra-county portions of the watershed. The petition must specifically set forth the purpose of the proposed drain project, recognizing issues of public health and necessity, and include those projects to be undertaken, such as watershed management activities, consolidation and listing of existing drainage districts, acquisition of existing drain and sewage facilities, construction of new facilities, and, where applicable, jurisdiction over rivers and streams that are not part of any existing drain. Funding for the projects is assessed wholly against public corporations benefiting from the projects (including the County and State) and, where possible, through special assessments, fees or other charges.

To address water quality and the impact of storm water runoff into streams, Chapter 20 of the Drain Code also provides a method for assuming jurisdiction over waterways not a part of an existing drain. A drainage district established under Chapter 20 of the Drain Code is a corporate body with power to contract, to sue and to be sued, and to hold, manage and dispose of real and personal property, in addition to any other powers conferred upon it by law. Drain commissioners cannot unilaterally undertake improvements to existing drains without first being presented with a petition by either landowners or the municipality in which they lie.

It is possible to create a Chapter 20 drain within each of the five Oakland County watersheds to deal with the issues outlined above. Funding for this program can be achieved by charging 1.) Users' fees, 2.) Ad Valorem general property taxation methods, 3.) Special Assessments or 4.) Any combination of the three methods.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2004

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