Storm & Surface Water Plan

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The Draft 2017 Storm and Surface Water Plan is now available for review.

The Storm and Surface Water Utility’s mission is to reduce flooding, improve water quality, and protect and enhance aquatic habitat.

Unlike the City’s Drinking Water and Wastewater utilities, which are required by regulation to maintain and regularly update management plans, there is no planning requirement for the Storm and Surface Water Utility.  Nevertheless, given the complexity of its mission, the Utility has developed a master plan to guide its work. The first Storm and Surface Water Plan was adopted in 2003, and it was revised in 2010 to update the Utility’s water quality and aquatic habitat goals. This is the first complete update of the Plan since 2003.

City Council adoption of the Draft Plan will occur in early 2018. 

Written comments may be submitted to through December 20, 2017 or mailed to Susan Clark, City of Olympia Water Resources, PO Box 1967, Olympia WA 98507.

Draft 2017 Plan

The Draft 2017 Plan is organized in three parts, describing the What, Why, and How of the Plan. View the entire plan or scroll down for a particular chapter.


The first four chapters describe the Plan, the natural and historical context for planning, the Utility’s responsibilities, and the natural and built infrastructure for managing storm and surface water.

Executive Summary gives a brief summary of the Plan.

Chapter 1 - Introduction gives a brief introduction to the Utility’s purpose, service area, infrastructure, core services and customers; and Plan purpose, planning process, and organization.

Chapter 2 - Context & Trends provides the context for the Plan by describing the physical setting of the service area, and its population and land use; and tracing the history of stormwater management in Olympia and the Utility’s evolving priorities.

Chapter 3 - Surface Water Management outlines the Utility’s responsibilities, internal organization, and relationships with other agencies and jurisdictions.

Chapter 4 - Built and Natural Infrastructure is an overview of the built and natural infrastructure that, in combination, form the Utility’s stormwater system.


Chapters 5 through 8 describe the reasons motivating the need for this Plan and its direction, including the regulatory environment and the challenges of flood mitigation, improving water quality, and protecting aquatic habitat.

Chapter 5 - Legal and Planning Framework outlines the complex set of laws and regulations which increasingly define the Utility’s operations.

Chapter 6 - Flooding reports on the considerable reductions in the severity and frequency of flooding, impacts of flooding, the role of the Utility in enforcing requirements of the Drainage Design and Erosion Control Manual, and remaining challenges the Utility faces in mitigating flooding impacts.

Chapter 7 - Water Quality describes activities that impact water quality, the current quality of Olympia’s water bodies, the Utility’s role in implementing Clean Water Act regulations, and remaining challenges the Utility faces in improving surface water quality.

Chapter 8 - Aquatic Habitat details existing conditions of Olympia’s aquatic environment and habitat, the Utility’s role in implementing and supporting habitat stewardship efforts, and remaining challenges the Utility faces in protecting and enhancing aquatic habitat.


The last four chapters describe the Utility’s recommended approach, including its funding strategy, to address a changing regulatory environment and the challenges of flood mitigation, improving water quality, and protecting aquatic habitat.

Chapter 9 - Core Services explains in detail how the Utility is addressing challenges of flood mitigation, pollution prevention, and habitat protection through its nine Core Services.

Chapter 10 - Strategies details the strategies proposed, in response to current challenges, to effectively address Utility goals and objectives during the next 10 years.

Chapter 11 - Capital Improvement Program presents the Utility’s capital projects planned for implementation between 2017 and 2036.

Chapter 12 - Financial Program describes the Utility’s multi-year strategy for ensuring the revenue required to meet total operating and capital costs of providing storm and surface water management services to its customers.

Draft 2017 Plan Goals

The following goals are proposed to drive the activities of the Utility for the next 10 years.

  • Reduce the frequency and severity of flooding so hazards are eliminated.
  • Improve surface water quality.
  • Protect, enhance, and restore aquatic habitat functions provided by wetlands, streams, lakes, marine shorelines, and riparian areas.
  • Ensure reliable functioning of the built and natural stormwater infrastructure.
  • Manage Utility finances responsibly and recover costs equitably.

View the goals and objectives table for more information. 

Draft 2017 Plan Strategies

The Utility’s success at resolving flooding problems during the last 15 years has created an opportunity to focus increasingly on water quality improvement, habitat protection, and scheduled replacement of aging pipe systems. Community expectations and regulations for managing stormwater have improved considerably, resulting in a more holistic look at stormwater management and aquatic systems.

The Utility proposes two types of strategies: those that continue the Utility’s core services and those that enhance the Utility’s core services.

Key recommendations include:

  • Permanently funding the pilot habitat program
  • Expanding education and outreach efforts
  • Integrating low impact development into inspection and maintenance programs
  • Formalizing operating and planning procedures
  • Responding to requirements resulting from the Deschutes Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) process
  • Planning for anticipated impacts of sea level rise
  • Improving the asset management program
  • Modifying the street sweeping program to have a water quality focus

View the complete list of proposed strategies and capital facilities projects for more information.

Storm and Surface Water Utility Core Services

The Utility has a total of 21.6 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) staff in Planning and Engineering, Operations, and Environmental Services. The work of the Utility is organized into the following nine core services:

  • Long-Range Planning
  • Asset Management
  • Technical Review and Support
  • Flood Prevention
  • Emergency Response
  • Pollution Prevention
  • Habitat Management
  • Capital Facility Program
  • Utility Administration and Support

To learn more about the work of the Utility and the Utility’s plan to enhance its work in the future, view the core services enhancement strategies table.

Storm and Surface Water Utility Key Challenges

The Utility has made considerable progress in its first 30 years. As it embarks on its next phase, the Utility will face the following challenges.

General Challenges

Creating predictability for customers and developers is difficult in a complex and changing regulatory environment, with fluctuations in the amount of grant money available to fund Utility programs.

Most of Olympia’s stormwater infrastructure was constructed prior to current rigorous storm drainage design regulations. In older developed areas, subdivisions and infrastructure were constructed without stormwater treatment or wetland and stream protection and often lack the capacity to handle the increased runoff resulting from growth.  Retrofits of older neighborhoods with modern stormwater control and treatment systems are a logistical and financial challenge, but are often necessary to improve flooding, water quality, and aquatic habitat conditions. The worst remaining legacy flooding problems are on Black Lake Boulevard, the Lakemoor subdivision and along Division Street.

The Utility’s work is highly influenced by the cumulative impact of individual behaviors.  Decisions about the extent of impervious surfaces on a property and care in keeping storm drains clear of debris can impact flooding.  Decisions about yard care practices, onsite sewage system maintenance, car care, and driving habits all can impact water quality.  Decisions about landscaping, tree planting or removal, and weed control can impact aquatic habitat.  This dynamic adds to the complexity of the Utility’s work.

To protect agriculture and natural resources, including habitat, Washington’s Growth Management Act (GMA) requires population growth to be focused in urban growth areas like Olympia. Urban development continues to increase impervious surfaces, threatening further loss of forests and wetlands, curtaining the functioning of natural systems and impacting surface water quality.  Increasing population densities will both create challenges for water quality and provide opportunities to retrofit and concentrate treatment.

Changing climate in the Pacific Northwest likely will influence aquatic habitats due to warmer temperatures, reduced precipitation in the summer, increased precipitation in other seasons, and a rising sea level.  Older stormwater infrastructure will be the most vulnerable to overflows associated with more frequent and intense storm events, which could result in more localized flooding. Current science indicates that sea levels in Puget Sound may rise between 20 and 55 inches by 2100. The need for community awareness, education, and response regarding sea level rise will increase in the years to come.  In order to make timely long-term decisions, City government and the public need to understand the dynamics of climate change and sea level rise. The Utility has a key role in undertaking the necessary research and strategic planning.

Flooding Challenges

Properly functioning stormwater treatment and conveyance systems help to mitigate the negative impacts of stormwater by moderating flows and removing sediments and pollutants before the stormwater enters water bodies.  As facilities age, their functioning can be impacted.  Understanding the condition of the Utility’s stormwater infrastructure (both built and natural) informs replacement and maintenance decisions and is referred to as “asset management.”  Although significant staff effort has been dedicated to improving the Utility’s understanding of the stormwater infrastructure, additional work is required to fully implement a robust asset management program.

LID is a land planning and engineering design strategy that uses on-site natural features like bioswales and rain gardens to lessen the impact of development on stormwater quality and quantity, thereby mimicking pre-development conditions. LID practices may benefit water quality, but these are secondary to controlling the flow of stormwater.  LID facilities are designed to be smaller and more numerous than centralized stormwater ponds to increase infiltration of rainwater over a larger area.  The City’s 2016 Drainage Manual requires LID in all new development. The sheer number of such facilities and the intensive maintenance required will likely make LID facilities more complex to manage than past stormwater facility designs.

Water Quality Challenges

Many aspects of the Utility’s work are mandated by the federal Clean Water Act. To discharge stormwater into “waters of the United States,” the City must obtain and keep current a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Municipal Stormwater Discharge Permit.  Permit requirements are continually being revised and expanded.  Because more and more of the Utility’s resources are needed to implement the Permit, significantly less discretionary staff time and budget is available for other aspects of the Utility’s work.

The Utility is challenged in helping people understand their contribution to nonpoint sources of pollutants and the impact individuals have on water quality. The actions of the individual citizen through daily living activities like vehicle maintenance, lawn care, chemical management and pet care can contribute to either improving or degrading water quality.

Aquatic Habitat Challenges

Habitat is located within a complex landscape of many large and small parcels, public and private ownership, and developed and redeveloping neighborhoods, commercial districts, and industrial areas.  The Utility has limited authority on private property and must rely on voluntary programs, education and outreach, and incentives to encourage stewardship on private properties.

Large intact habitat areas are important for both wildlife and protection of aquatic resources.  These core areas provide nesting/breeding, foraging, and resting habitat for wildlife, and protect water quality and hydrologic functions.  Large habitat areas in Olympia are primarily located on public lands.  Maintaining and improving the habitat quality of these areas requires tools and strategies that work across the landscape.

The changes brought by development of Olympia over the last 100 plus years have had a large impact on aquatic habitat. Budd inlet was filled and dredged, shoreline armored, sections of streams placed in pipes, wetlands drained, and forests and natural vegetation converted to homes, businesses, roads and other infrastructure. These changes have vastly altered the landscape and hydrology of Olympia. Development is encouraged in cities and urban growth areas rather than rural areas of the State by the Growth Management Act. Working to maintain functional habitat in an urban landscape is challenging and requires creativity and flexibility to protect remaining habitat areas and maintain their health, while working to enhance and restore key habitats where possible.



March 2016 - August 2017

  • Plan Development

September 7 and November 2, 2017

  • Utility Advisory Committee Review of Draft Plan

Mid-November - Mid-December 2017

  • Public Outreach

January - March 2018

  • City Council Review and Approval


Stay Informed!

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Thank you for your feedback through our Storm and Surface Water survey! View the survey results.

Ideas or Questions about the Plan?

Contact Susan Clark, Senior Planner, by email or call 360.753.8321.

Olympia's Comprehensive Plan

The Storm and Surface Water Utility draws guidance from Olympia's Comprehensive Plan. View the goals and policies that pertain to Olympia's water resources.

 2003 Storm and Surface Water Plan