Grand Valley Drainage District (GVDD; Grand Junction, Colo.) has come up with an unconventional approach to get the word out to students about its work within the Colorado River watershed.

If public, private, or charter schools show students a 3-minute video outlining the history, activities, and purpose of the GVDD, those schools will be reimbursed for an amount equivalent to one month’s stormwater management fee.


Public outreach deal

The arrangement helps to satisfy the drainage district’s public education and outreach requirements as mandated under a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) permit, while also saving local schools valuable funding for other programs. Area universities can also receive reimbursement under the same terms.

Mesa County Valley School District 51, which contains 44 schools that teach more than 20,000 students, was the first institution to accept the offer earlier this year. By agreeing to screen the video, the school district recouped $114,000 in stormwater management fees.

In the video, Tim Ryan, GVDD general manager, says, “It is indisputable that we must deal with both the quantity and quality of water, whether it comes from canals for irrigation, or from rainstorms and melting snow that must be effectively returned to the river.”


Tax or fee?

The drainage district has been at the center of controversy since last May, when it instituted a small stormwater utility fee to compensate for the rising number of customers under its jurisdiction and increasing EPA regulations. The new fees include charges of $3 per month for single-family homes, $1.50 per month for mobile homes, and $3 for each 232 m2 (2500 ft2) of impervious commercial space per month.

A district court lawsuit initiated by Mesa County and the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce will decide whether the GVDD fee will be allowed as a legal service fee, or outlawed as an illegal tax. The case is scheduled to be heard in June 2017. Until this year, GVDD funded stormwater drainage for close to 100,000 area residents solely through an annual property tax.

“The GVDD will utilize the revenue generated from the stormwater utility fee to address flooding, water quality, and economic development for the health, safety, and welfare of the community,” Ryan explained in the video. “As we realize the urbanization of the valley, the GVDD system has been asked to evolve along with that.”

GVDD administrators hope that the fee will net an annual $2.7 million to be used for the improvement of stormwater drainage services.


Priming the audience

While the drainage district’s video reimbursement program is the latest in the organization’s ongoing effort to increase public awareness of stormwater conveyance issues, the group has engaged the next generation of rate-payers previously as well.

Each May, GVDD introduces more than 2500 fifth-graders to its service through presentations at the annual Children’s Water Festival at Colorado Mesa University (Grand Junction, Colo.). Additionally, GVDD’s website features flood management-themed hidden object games, mazes, and quizzes, as well as home hydrology project ideas.

“Being at the headwaters of the Colorado River, we have a community responsibility to ensure the water we return back to the river is as clean as possible,” Ryan said in the video.