Drainage Utility Charge FAQs

Why do I have to pay a Drainage Utility Charge?

A. While the City of Houston devotes over $150 million annually to street and drainage capital projects, this amount is still insufficient to appropriately fund the needed improvements and upgrades to the city's streets and drainage infrastructure. Following the passage of Proposition 1 on November 2, 2010, and the subsequent amendment to the City Charter, the City has been in a process of creating a dedicated, pay-as-you-go, drainage and street fund that will help provide for the long-term needed improvements and for the continued maintenance of these important assets.

B. The City of Houston has about 6,000 miles of streets, 3,300 miles of storm sewers and 2,800 miles of roadside ditches. At the current rate of rehabilitation/replacement of this vital infrastructure, it is estimated that it will take over 100 years to significantly impact all parts of these systems, well beyond their useful life.

C. Well maintained drainage and streets are cornerstones of our Public Safety, Quality of Life, and Economic Development.

How will the Municipal Drainage Utility System be funded?

As of July 1, 2011, the start of the City's 2012 fiscal year, the Dedicated Drainage and Street Renewal Fund will be funded by four separate revenue sources:

A. Drainage Utility Charges, for properties served by the System, based on rates established to generate at least $125 million during the City's 2012 fiscal year and each fiscal year thereafter.

How can city citizens be assured that the collected charges will be used strictly for street and drainage repairs, upgrades, and improvements?

All funds raised for the Municipal Drainage Utility System will be placed in a dedicated fund. Following the passage of Proposition 1 on November 2, 2010, the City Charter had to be amended (Section 22 was added to Article IX of the City Charter), in order to create the Dedicated Drainage and Street Renewal Fund. As a result, these funds cannot be diverted towards any other City purpose. [Click Here to see the related City of Houston Drainage Utility Ordinance]

What is the Initial Notification Letter?

The initial Notification Letter is being sent out during the month of May 2011 to all the Benefitted Users of every Benefitted Property in the City of Houston's service area. The Notification Letter will inform you of:

A. The square footage of the impervious surface on your property

B. The classification of your property (Residential or Non-Residential)

C. The type of drainage system serving your property (Curb & Gutter or Open Ditch)

D. The Rate applicable to each square foot of impervious surface on your property

E. The calculated ANNUAL Drainage Utility Charge resulting from the multiplication of your square footage of impervious surface by your applicable rate

F. Your Monthly or Quarterly charge, depending on your billing cycle

G. What can you do if you believe that your Drainage Utility Charge is in error

How is my Drainage Utility Charge calculated?

All charges are based on the square footage of actual impervious surface (hard area) on a Benefitted Property, which has been determined by the use of digitized mapping data. "Impervious surface" means any area that does not readily absorb water, such as buildings, patios, driveways, and other covered areas.

A. The formula for calculating the Annual Drainage Utility Charge of a Benefitted Property involves the multiplication of the following two factors:

a. The Square Footage of the actual Impervious Surface on your property

b. The Rate (per square foot) applicable to your type of property

B. All Benefitted Properties are classified by City Drainage Utility Ordinance into two categories:

a. Residential,or

b. Non-Residential

C. An applicable Rate (per sq. ft. of Impervious Surface) is then applied to the square footage of your classified property, depending on the following:

If your Benefitted Property is defined as Residential -- the applicable rate will be determined by the type of drainage system serving your property:If your Benefitted Property is defined as Non-Residential — the rate applicable to your property will be $0.032 per sq. ft., regardless of the type of drainage system serving your property.

a. If your property is served by a Curb & Gutter Drainage System – the Rate will be $0.032 per sq. ft of Impervious Surface.

b. If your property is served by an Open Ditch Drainage System – the rate will be $0.026 per sq. ft. of Impervious Surface.

For billing purposes, your annual Drainage Utility Charge will then be divided by the number of billing cycles pertinent to your property -- either monthly (divided by 12) if your Drainage Utility Charge will be billed on your water bill, or quarterly (divided by 4), if you are not billed for water by the City .

D. Illustrated Examples:

Type of Property: Residential, Single Family

Drainage System serving the Property: Curb & Gutter 

Applicable Rate per sq. ft. of Impervious Surface:$0.032 

Total area of Impervious Surface:1,500 sq. ft

Total Annual Drainage Utility Charge = (1,500 sq. ft. x $0.032) = $48.00

Portion of Drainage Utility Charge billed Monthly = ($48.00 / 12)= $4.00

Type of Property: Residential, Single Family

Drainage System serving the Property:Open Ditch 

Applicable Rate per sq. ft. of Impervious Surface: $0.026 

Total area of Impervious Surface:1,500 sq. Ft

Total Annual Drainage Utility Charge = (1,500 sq. ft. x $0.026) = $39.00 

Portion of Drainage Utility Charge billed Monthly = ($39.00 / 12) = $3.25

Type of Property: Non-Residential

Drainage System serving the Property: N/A 

Applicable Rate per sq. ft. of Impervious Surface: $0.032 

Total area of Impervious Surface: 15,000 sq. ft

Total Annual Drainage Utility Charge = (15,000 sq. ft. x $0.032)= $480.00

Portion of Drainage Utility Charge billed Monthly = ($480.00 / 12)= $40.00

What if I believe the information contained in the Initial Notification Letter that I have received from the City is incorrect?

The City of Houston has established a system of Verification and Correction of the Drainage Utility Charge for each Benefitted Property pursuant to Sec. 47-824 of the City's Code of Drainage Utility Ordinances.

After receiving your Initial Notification Letter from the City, which notifies you of your annual drainage utility charge, you will have the opportunity to request the City to correct any information contained in this letter, which you deem in error, including the calculation of the amount of impervious surface on your property, on which this drainage utility charge is based. This request is called a Request for Verification and Correction.

You are not required to request verification and correction, but if you believe the City's calculation of your property's impervious surface is incorrect, and you fail to request verification and correction, your drainage utility charge will be the amount shown in the Initial Notification Letter (unless, in the future, the amount of impervious surface on your property changes).

If you decide to request such verification and correction, please note the following:

Your Request for Verification and Correction along with supporting documentation must be sent to the City.

To request Verification and Correction, you must provide documentation that supports a reduction in your ANNUAL Drainage Utility Charge that is at least the greater of 2% or $3.00 annually ("Threshold"). To simplify this process, the "threshold" for your property, will be indicated on your Request for Verification and Correction form that will be mailed to you along with your Initial Notification Letter. Your requested reduction must meet that threshold.

Other potential reasons for requesting a Verification and Correction could be: recipient of the Notification Letter is not the property owner/user, the provided drainage service is an Open Ditch and not Curb & Gutter, property is exempt or property is associated with a Home Owners Association (HOA).

If you are eligible for Verification and Correction, you can proceed with your request by either; The documentation you provide in support of your Request for Verification and Correction should include, at a minimum, a drawing or other depiction with accompanying measurements, supporting your claim that the City's determination of the amount of your impervious area is incorrect.

A. Using the City's officially-designated internet link [Click Here to access this specifically-designated link]; or

B. Filling out the Request for Verification and Correction form (that was mailed to you with the Notification Letter), and sending it to the City - either electronically, or by mail, to: City of Houston, Department of Public Works & Engineering, P.O.B. 4863, Houston, TX 77210-4863.

As a condition of requesting Verification and Correction, you must grant the City reasonable access to your property for the City to independently verify on-site information. 

The Request for Verification and Correction form includes an affidavit (at the lower part of the Form), which you must sign to verify under penalty of law that any document that you are submitting to the City is true and correct. 

You may check the status of your Request for Verification and Correction either online [Click Here to access the appropriate link] or by calling (713) 371-1111. 

Based on documentation you submit along with your Request for Verification and Correction, and information available to the City, the City may increase or decrease the figure for the amount of impervious surface on your property, and will adjust the drainage utility charge accordingly. 

You will be notified of the outcome of the City's Verification and Correction process at the same address and using the same medium by which your request was tendered to the City (in writing by mail or electronically), including the adjustment, if any, to your annual drainage utility charge. 

Regardless of the pending outcome of your Request for Verification and Correction, you are still responsible for paying bills you have received; in the event the City determines that an adjustment to your charge is warranted, it will be applied as follows: 

The documents and information you provide in your Request for Verification and Correction cannot be used as the basis for a subsequent Request for Verification and Correction (unless the square footage of your Impervious Surface changes). You can, however, appeal the outcome of your Request for Verification and Correction at any time following receipt of the City's Notification of the Outcome of your Request for Verification and Correction. [Click Here to review the Appeal Process.]

a. If any drainage utility charge you paid the City during the City's Initial Billing Year (July 1, 2011-June 30, 2012) and prior to the City's adjustment of this charge, is more than the amount of the charge as adjusted by the City ("Corrected Charge"), the cumulative total of such corrections due you for payments made prior to such adjustment will be credited to your account and will be applied against your future drainage charges due the City.

b. If any drainage utility charge you paid the City during the City's Initial Billing Year (July 1, 2011-June 30, 2012), and prior to the City's adjustment of this charge, is less than the amount of the charge as adjusted by the City ("Corrected Charge"), the cumulative total of such corrections due the City for payments made prior to such adjustment will be debited to your account and will be assessed against your future drainage charges due the City.

Do I have any other options if I disagree with the City's outcome following the City's Verification Process of my drainage utility charge?

The City of Houston provides the opportunity for an appeal to Benefited Users who disagree with the outcome of the City's Verification and Correction process as it relates to their property.

The Appeal process consists of a two-step option, the first of which must be pursued initially before a Benefited User makes a decision to proceed with the second:

A. Step One: First-Level Appeal – if a benefited user is dissatisfied with the outcome of the City's Verification & Correction process, and

B. Step Two: Second-Level Appeal – if the Benefited User is still dissatisfied with the decision reached under Step One.

A. First-Level Appeal

You may request an Appeal of the Outcome of the City's verification process of your drainage utility charge after you receive a Notification of Outcome of Verification & Correction Process from the City.

Your completion of the Verification and Correction process and receipt of the Outcome of this process is a prerequisite to requesting a First-Level Appeal.

You can submit your Request for Appeal any time you wish following receipt of the City's Notification of Outcome of Verification & Correction Process.

You may submit your Request for Appeal online (www.rebuildhouston.org), by phone (713-371-1111) or in writing (City of Houston, Department of Public Works and Engineering, P.O.BOX 4863, Houston, TX 77210-4863).

You may select a preferred date and time for your Appeal hearing from the City's online calendar [Click Here to register online and schedule your Appeal], or you may contact the City at (713) 371-1111 to schedule a preferred day of the week and time for your Appeal hearing.

The Appeal will take place in front of an independent Hearing Examiner who will determine whether your annual drainage utility charge, as calculated by the City, was correctly determined.

The hearing will be conducted at the City of Houston Permitting Center on 1002 Washington Avenue, in the lower level.

If you choose to bring representation you must notify the city five (5) calendar days prior to the hearing of such representation by calling (713) 371-1111. You and/or your representative must appear at the scheduled date and time if you wish to be present at your hearing. Valid photo ID is required to enter the building. Please bring your hearing notice or printout of the e-mail.

If you choose not to be present at your hearing, the procedure will still take place in front of an independent hearing examiner and you will be notified of the outcome. If you choose to be absent from your hearing but wish to submit further supporting documentation you must notify the city five (5) calendar days prior to the hearing by calling (713) 371-1111.

If you choose to hold your hearing over the phone, you must notify the city five (5) calendar days prior to the hearing by calling (713) 371-1111.

Copies of supporting documentation should be brought to the hearing by you and/or your representative to support your claim. Supporting documentation may include such items as drawings or other depictions with accompanying measurements, recorded deeds, closing documents, final inspections, occupancy permits, state tax identification information, or other items deemed appropriate. The copies will be retained as part of the City of Houston record (please do not submit original documentation).

The appeal outcome shall be based on the information and data considered by the City as a result of your request for Verification and Correction of your annual drainage utility charge and additional supporting documents brought to the hearing.

The appeal should be related to the same request indicated on the Verification & Correction submittal.

Based on the outcome of the appeal, your drainage utility charge will be adjusted accordingly or remain unchanged, and if appropriate, a credit or debit will be applied to your account.

Any drainage charge adjustment will be applied commencing in the then current billing fiscal year in which the adjustment is made but will not be retroactive to prior years.

You will be notified of the outcome of your Appeal, using the same address and the same medium by which you tender your request for an Appeal (in writing, via U.S. Postage, or electronically).

B. Second-Level Appeal

If you are still dissatisfied with the decision of the Drainage Hearing Examiner under the First-Level Appeal --- you can request a Second-Level Appeal.

You must submit your Request for the Second-Level Appeal within thirty (30) days of the Hearing Examiner's decision.

You may submit your request for a Second-Level Appeal via phone, internet or in writing [please see # A (d) above].

A panel of three Hearing Examiners shall decide a Second-Level Appeal solely on the basis of the record kept from the First-Level Appeal, i.e., no additional information, documents or testimony will be received.

The three Hearing Examiners panel will be randomly designated by the Director of the Department of Public Works & Engineering, and may not include the Hearing Examiner who previously ruled on your particular case.

The decision of the three Hearing Examiners panel will be sent to you, and it shall be final. 

Please Note:

The tentative start date for hearings is now July 25, 2011. For questions regarding scheduling, please Contact (713) 371-1111. Customers will be notified in writing of their scheduled date and time.

I live in a high rise condo, how will I be charged for drainage?

Residents within a condo development will ultimately receive their drainage charge through their designated home owner's association. The city is working with appraisal district and water billing system data to match the information. Typically, the homeowner's association will divide the charge according to their billing processes.

I live in a town home development, how will I be charged for drainage?

If you live in a development where an association pays your water/waste water bill but you are the distinct owner of your parcel of land, you will receive and be responsible for the drainage charge for your parcel.

I receive my water bill from an association, why am I being charged with a drainage charge?

The drainage charge is billed to your association if each individual unit (condo, business, etc.) is not directly associated with a separate parcel of land. The impervious surface for the entire building is determined and the related bill for the drainage charge is sent to the association as part of their water bill. The association then bills individual units for their share of the drainage charge.

If I own several properties in the city, will I get multiple bills or will all my drainage utility charges be combined into one bill?

Initially, you will receive a Notification Letter for each individual property you own. However, if you own multiple properties in the city, and several of those properties do not receive a water bill, the City can match these drainage only properties with your water account, and use your water bill account as an umbrella account, which will include these drainage only properties, as well. For more information, please contact the City at (713) 371-1111.

If the rental property I own is currently vacant and all utilities are shut-off, will I still be billed for drainage?

Yes, you will still be billed for drainage since the impervious surfaces on your property impede rainfall from infiltrating into the ground, thus causing surface water runoff; at the same time, however, your property benefits from the drainage system provided by the City.

What is the meaning of impervious surface?

Impervious surface is a man-made structure or surface that does not readily let rain or water penetrate through it into the ground, thus causing the flow of surface water to increase. The most common examples of impervious surface are rooftops, parking and driveway areas, sidewalks, and swimming pools. 

The water that does not readily infiltrate into the ground significantly increases the risk of flooding as well as raises the amount of sediment and chemical contaminants in water sources. Impervious surfaces are a major concern for the quality of surface water and aquatic resources.

For a more-detailed definition of Impervious Surface and Surface Materials, see also the City Drainage Utility Ordinance No. 2011-254, which is posted on this website.

Why is impervious surface used to determine my Drainage Utility Charge?

Because impervious surfaces do not let water readily infiltrate into the ground and, therefore, they significantly increase the amount of surface water runoff. The more impervious surface you have on your property, the higher the amount of water runoff flowing off your property into the city's drainage system, and the greater the risk of flooding.