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Toronto Blue Jays fans get stuck in the Rogers Centre as the entrance to the parking garage floods with torrential rain, in Toronto on Aug. 7, 2018. Stormwater runoff is the water that enters the municipal system after precipitation.Fred Thornhill/The Canadian Press

Toronto has moved one step closer to charging owners of parking lots for the cost of managing stormwater runoff.

On Monday, the city’s budget committee voted to have staff consult on the idea and report back with suggestions. Councillor Mike Layton is advocating for the charge as a tangible move that the city, which recently declared a climate emergency, can do to become more environmentally resilient.

Stormwater runoff is the water that enters the municipal system after precipitation. Soft ground can absorb some of this, but impermeable surfaces are more likely to send it directly into the city pipes. The city’s current approach charges industrial water users for the cost of managing stormwater runoff, a situation Mr. Layton called unfair.

“Think of large manufacturers that use a lot of water but perhaps don’t create a lot of storm water,” he told reporters before the budget meeting.

“They are paying for the stormwater management of large parking lots that are creating stormwater and not consuming any water. Essentially, the parking lot is paying nothing.”

A spokesman for Oxford Properties, a half-owner of Yorkdale Shopping Centre, said it would be premature to comment on the city’s proposal before consultations had begun. Cadillac Fairview, another major commercial property owner, did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Under the item approved by the budget committee, staff would consult on fees not only for parking lots, but also for other large industrial and commercial users. Staff would also explore possible incentives to encourage green infrastructure and more sustainable water management.

The consultation must be backed by council next month and would result in recommendations coming back for a vote in advance of the city’s 2021 budget process.

Mr. Layton was joined by representatives of the Toronto Environmental Alliance and the Green Infrastructure Ontario Coalition. They pointed out that about 5,500 large properties in Toronto – 1 per cent of the total – account for 42 per cent of the city’s hard surfaces.

“Putting a price on impervious area and related storm-water quantity and quality issues can spur more thoughtful development and retrofitting,” said Jenn Court, executive director of the Green Infrastructure Ontario Coalition, an alliance of 40 member organizations.

“The proposed stormwater fee and incentive program will encourage more adoption of green infrastructure, ultimately building resilience.”

Jennifer Drake, a University of Toronto professor in the department of civil and mineral engineering, called the consultations a “well overdue” first step to creating a stormwater charge.

“The structure and layout of our city creates stormwater, which we as a city must manage,” she said. “There’s a cost to this service and we must find equitable [ways] of financing both our current and future stormwater management needs.”

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