Stormwater Management and Colorado Owner Associations

December 28, 2012

Owner associations that maintain grounds, landscaping, common areas, common elements, rights-of-way and/or medians should be aware of stormwater runoff issues and best practices to manage stormwater runoff.

What is Stormwater?

Stormwater is the additional runoff from impervious surfaces in a Community (roads, rooftops parking areas, sidewalks, etc.).

These surfaces prevent rainfall or snowmelt from soaking into the soil, causing stormwater runoff.  This runoff reduces the amount of groundwater that is available to well water users and increases downstream surface flows.

Stormwater runoff can exceed the capacity of existing natural and/or improved drainage.  As a part of initial development of many or most Colorado common interest communities, drainage is typically required to be modified by the developer, to better collect and manage stormwater runoff and direct it away.  This is done through curb and gutter improvements, drainage swales, enclosed storm sewers, lined channels, etc.  The end result is that stormwater should not cause flooding of the homes or improvements of owners, but rather, should end up discharged to downstream waters (streams, reservoirs and lakes).

Water Quality Issues With Stormwater

Stormwater runoff typically picks up pollutants (sediment, oil, salts, fertilizer, bacteria, etc.).  With these pollutants, stormwater runoff can be challenging when it flows into drinking water reservoirs or sources.

The Clean Water Act

This Act, passed in 1972, intended to keep clean and maintain water quality for all residents.  Stormwater from one area frequently becomes drinking water for another, downstream, Community.

Stormwater – A Utility

Similar to the water and sewer utilities that service communities, stormwater, and the services of infrastructure of curbs, gutters, ditches, pipes, etc. both within and outside the Community constitute a sort of utility.  Stormwater utilities need to be maintained, repaired, replaced and improved by someone – typically local government or an area-wide drainage utility or district.  Whoever that is, that entity looks to improve stormwater quality, frequently through real property taxation of the owners in the Community.

What are the Responsibilities of Colorado Owner Associations?

If the Association maintains grounds, the Association should:

  • comply with applicable local ordinances when maintaining, repairing, replacing or improving these grounds
  • replant bare areas quickly
  • use erosion and silt control fences and/or other devices

These actions or best practices can avoid sediment, which is the main downstream pollutant.

If the initial developer did not establish adequate drainage or improvements to coordinate with and serve other drainage then, improvements to drainage should be investigated by the Owner Association, with the assistance and input of the Manager/Management Company, the attorneys for the Owner Association and a civil or drainage engineer.  Coordination with drainage off the site should also be sought, in cooperation with the applicable local government.

The real property tax assessments of local government or an area wide, drainage utility or district are not the obligation of Owner Associations, but rather, are the tax liability of owners.  These taxes are used by local government or the area wide drainage utility or district to maintain area wide improvements.  These taxes are not collected to provide basic drainage in a Community, but rather, may fund repair and maintenance of larger collector or drainage structures in or near a common interest community.

Owner Obligations

Owners in a common interest community may be taxed to fund repair, maintenance, replacement and improvements for area wide drainage.  If taxed, the tax is the liability and responsibility of the individual owners and not the Owner Association.

Additional Steps That May Protect Local Waters

To protect local waters, take the following steps:

  • clean up vehicle spills
  • pick up pet waste and put these items in the trash
  • limit the amount of impervious surface on your property
  • when possible, use porous paving surfaces such as wood decking, open-celled bricks, and concrete pavers that allow water to soak into the ground
  • where possible, direct runoff from impervious surfaces to vegetated areas
  • allow thick vegetations or “buffer strips” to slow runoff and soak up pollutants
  • shovel or move snow onto grass/landscaped areas
  • plant drought tolerant or native species where appropriate
  • aerate lawn areas
  • drain roof gutters away from foundations, onto grass or toward landscaping
  • avoid over-fertilizing lawns
  • sweep up litter and debris from driveways instead of hosing debris into gutter and/or storm drain
  • call your contract waste management company or 1-800-HHW-PKUP for disposal of household chemicals such as paint or oil

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