Water Quality Protection Charge
In Montgomery County, rainwater flows into storm drains that may lead directly to our streams and rivers. The water is not treated - so all the trash, oils and pollutants picked up along the way flow into our local waters. This type of pollution is known as stormwater pollution.
The best way to prevent stormwater pollution is to have rainwater be absorbed into the ground before it even reaches storm drains. The difficulty in Montgomery County is that so much land has been covered in concrete, asphalt, driveways and buildings that there is nowhere for the water to go but down the storm drain.
The damage caused by stormwater pollution to our streams, infrastructure and water quality is a large problem that takes the combined efforts of residents, businesses and the County to fix.
What is the Water Quality Protection Charge?
The Water Quality Protection Charge (WQPC) raises funds to support the County's clean water initiatives to improve stream and water quality and prevent stormwater pollution. It is part of the Montgomery County property tax bill.
The WQPC is calculated based on the potential for a property to contribute to stormwater pollution. The bigger, more developed a property, the higher the WQPC.
Montgomery County first approved the WQPC in 2001 for single-family homes, condos and multi-family properties. The charge has appeared on residential property tax bills since 2002. A state law passed in 2012 now requires all large counties in Maryland, like Montgomery County, to have such a charge, and to apply the charge to all property owners, including nonresidential properties.
What is the County Doing to Protect Our Streams?
Money raised by the WQPC is funding restoration projects to restore our rivers and streams. The County has:
The WQPC restoration projects create jobs, boost the local economy and provide healthier waters.
Reduce Stormwater Runoff and Lower Your Charge
You can help reduce the impacts of stormwater pollution, and at the same time, lower your Water Quality Protection Charge bill.
Receive a Credit towards your WQPC by installing stormwater management practices on your property. Stormwater management practices, such as rain gardens, conservation landscaping and dry wells, store and/or treat stormwater pollution. Plus several types of stormwater management have the added benefit of beautifying your property too. Stormwater management practices include:
2014 Updates to the WQPC
Each tax year, the County determines the Rate of an ERU. For 2014, the Rate per ERU is $88.40, the same as in 2013. The WQPC is calculated based on what type of property owner you are and the amount of impervious surface area compared to the ERU
Impervious Area Increase Phase-In
If your Water Quality Protection Charge impervious area increased from 2012 to 2013, that increase will be phased in over three years (the first year of the phase in was last year). Your 2014 tax bill will reflect 2/3 of the increase.
Information about the Water Quality Protection Charge is available in multiple languages. If you, or someone you know, needs assistance in a language other than English, please contact the WQPC program at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 311 and we'll find a translator or interpretor to help facilitate communication.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do you have questions about the Water Quality Protection Charge? Choose a category below to view the Frequently Asked Questions about that topic.
Basics and History
What is the Water Quality Protection Charge?
The Water Quality Protection Charge (WQPC) is a line item on Montgomery County property tax bills. Property owners receive the WQPC with their annual property tax bill in mid-summer.
What does the WQPC Fund?
The WQPC funds many of the County’s clean water initiatives including:
Who Pays the WQPC?
All property owners in Montgomery County pay the WQPC. Applicable state law only exempts property that is owned by a local government, a volunteer fire department, or by the state government (see Section 4-202-1 (e) (2) of the Environment Article of the Maryland Code). All other property, whether residential or nonresidential, is subject to the Charge under Section 19-35 of the County Code.
How Can I See My WQPC Bill?
Why does the County have the WQPC?
As the County has become more developed, we’ve replaced our natural landscapes with asphalt, concrete, buildings and roadways. Before development, when it rained or snowed, the resulting water would be naturally absorbed into the soil or flow over the ground to a nearby stream. Development has disrupted this natural cycle of water flow.
Paved surfaces are impermeable (not allowing water to pass through), so any rainwater now has to flow over surfaces and into storm drains. Large amounts water flows over the surface, picking up trash, oils and other pollutants. We call this phenomenon stormwater runoff.
Most stormwater runoff flows through nearby storm drains directly to our local streams. Fast moving stormwater picks up sediment and pollution that damage healthy streams, and threaten private property, with toppled trees, eroded banks and polluted waters. This causes stormwater pollution.
Further, many sewer lines have been exposed by erosion and in need of frequent, costly repairs. Stormwater has been extremely damaging to the health of streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.
The WQPC funds projects to repair damage to our streams and infrastructure and reduce the future effects of stormwater runoff. Effective stormwater management is a positive benefit to all who live and work in the County.
What is the History of the WQPC?
The Early Years
In 2002, the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) along with citizens, work groups, and the County Council, developed the Water Quality Protection Charge to fund the maintenance of stormwater management facilities and alleviate the dangerous impacts of stormwater pollution.
From 2003-2012, all residential properties and approximately 40% of nonresidential properties including non-profit organizations, places of worship and private schools paid the WQPC.
Montgomery County Permits
Montgomery County is responsible to both the state of Maryland and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to meet water quality standards. The EPA’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) stormwater regulations require large urban jurisdictions, such as Montgomery County, to control stormwater pollution.
The Maryland Department of Environment began issuing NPDES municipal stormwater permits in 1993 and updates them every 5 years. In 2010, Montgomery County was issued its latest permit which required a large increase in the amount of stormwater treated.
Accordingly, the WQPC has been expanded to fund the new permit requirements. This includes initiatives such as stream restoration projects, stormwater pond retrofits, stream monitoring, low impact development (LID) techniques, storm drains, and outreach and education.
2013 and Beyond
In order to meet the requirements of the NPDES permit and to comply with the new State Law (Section 4-202-1 of the Environment Article of the Maryland Code), Montgomery County expanded the WQPC to include all property owners in the County. Further, the WQPC was changed for residential properties from a flat rate to an equitable system based on how much impervious area is on the property.
Rates and Calculation
How is the Water Quality Protection Charge Determined?
The WQPC is determined based on two factors: what type of property you own and how much impervious surface area is on your property.
The types of properties are:
How Does the County Calculate My Property’s Impervious Surface Area?
Impervious surface data was gathered from imagery through geographic information systems (GIS) available from Montgomery County and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. To view the aerial image of your property that was used to determine your Charge, go to the View Your Bill page.
Impervious areas are any surfaces which don’t allow rainwater or melting snow to be absorbed into the ground. The impervious surfaces of your property used to calculate the WQPC include:
Why is My Gravel Driveway Counted as Impervious?
The Department follows the definitions included in the Stormwater Design Manual published by the Maryland Department of the Environment when determining what constitutes an impervious surface. According to the Design Manual, brick surfaces are impervious and gravel surfaces used by vehicles or heavy machinery are also impervious.
The Manual relies on studies showing that gravel and dirt areas used for vehicle access or parking have diminished moisture holding capacity and display drainage characteristics similar to asphalt or concrete. Compaction of the gravel, and the soil underneath it, significantly reduces its permeability compared to natural permeable surfaces. Therefore, even though the gravel would seem to be pervious, it actually becomes impervious.
Is My Pool Included as an Impervious Surface?
Montgomery County does not include the area of the pool containing water in the WQPC calculations. Only the paved area around the pool, such as the patio, would be included in the WQPC.
I Have Permeable Pavement for My Driveway but that Area was Still Included in My WQPC. Why?
Stormwater treatment devices such as permeable pavement and risers are included as part of impervious surfaces because they were developed land. However, property owners can use them to apply for credit (or reduction) off the WQPC.
My Block Doesn’t Have Storm Drains. Why Should I Pay the WQPC?
Water does not need to flow through storm drains to become stormwater pollution. Rainwater can pick up trash, pollutants and oils while flowing over driveways and other paved surfaces and then flow directly into streams. Furthermore, development and paved surfaces prevents water from being naturally absorbed into the ground, creating large amounts of runoff that flow quickly into our streams causing erosion and flood conditions. Stormwater is a major problem in urban and suburban parts of the County and can be also seen in rural areas too.
What is the Basis for the WQPC?
Before calculating how much each property owner is charged, the County first determined how much impervious surface is on a typical property in Montgomery County. This number is called the Equivalent Residential Unit (ERU). Property owners would be charged based on how much more or less impervious space they have compared to the ERU.
1 ERU = 2,406 square feet of impervious surface
Each tax year, the County Council sets how much each ERU will cost. This number is called the Rate.
For 2014 Tax Year, the Rate is $88.40.
1 ERU = 2,406 square feet = $88.40
To see how, your WQPC is calculated, go to the Rates and Calculation section of the WQPC website.
In the event of drought, or situation where there is little rainfall, is the WQPC still charged?
The environmental problems caused by stormwater runoff and pollution have been decades in the making. The damage caused by this year's runoff compounds upon the pollution and erosion from previous years. Yes, rainfall does vary from year to year, but the overall damage from years of pollution has to be mitigated overall.
The fee does not go up in wet years and it does not go down in dry years. Droughts or rainfall deficiencies do not change the levels of pollution on our waters from past rainfall or the next rainfall. That is one more reason why it's inaccurate to call it a “rain tax.” It is a fee for restoring our watershed and protecting it from that pollution in the future.
Are There Any Changes to the WQPC for the 2015-2016 Tax Year?
For the 2015 Tax Year:
I Own Multiple Properties. Can I Combine the Properties Together for the Purposing of Calculating the WQPC?
Yes. Property owners can apply for combining contiguous (no separation such as a road between properties) single-owner property accounts into one. Petition the Director of the Department of Environmental Protection for an adjustment by submitting a written request as an appeal.
If the property spans multiple tax accounts, you can appeal to have the separate accounts combined into one for the purposes of calculating the WQPC. If you would like to submit an appeal, please fill out the appeal application.
Detached Homes and Townhome Properties
What Qualifies as a Detached House and a Townhome?
A detached home is a free-standing residence that does not share a wall with another property.
A townhome, also known as a rowhouse or attached house, is a semi-detached property that shares at least one wall with another property.
Condos and agricultural properties have their own charge structure.
How is the WQPC Calculated for Detached Houses?
Detached homeowners are put into tiers based on the amount of impervious surface on the property. The tiers are:
How is the WQPC Calculated for Townhomes?
Townhomes are put into the same tiers (above) as detached homes.
A major difference between townhomes and detached homes is that townhomes share a lot of their impervious surfaces with their neighbors. A townhome may have shared parking lots, walkways, and recreational areas, in addition to, the roofs being connected. It can be difficult to define property lines.
In order to calculate each townhome’s WQPC, the County combines the square footage of all the shared impervious areas and then divides it by the number of property owners. On top of the resulting number, you would add any private impervious areas, such as a private patio or basketball court.
Once you have the final impervious area for each townhome, compare it to the tier chart above to figure out the charge.
My Property Lines Were Not Drawn Correctly and Include Some of My Neighbor’s Property. What Should I Do About This?
For most residential properties, small amounts of your neighbor’s property have no effect on your charge. Residential properties are placed into Tiers (as shown on the previous page), so as long as the property would remain in the same Tier, the addition of the neighbor’s land makes no difference to the final charge.
If the addition of the neighbor’s property moved you into a new Tier, then file an appeal. If there was a major error with the drawing of your property lines, file an appeal to have the data examined and corrected.
Multifamily Residential Properties
What Qualifies as a Multifamily Residential Property?
A multifamily residential property (also known as a condo) is any housing unit that is subject to the condominium regime established under the Maryland Condominium Act. Multiple residences share a common entrance and they can be arranged above, below or next to one another in the same building.
How is the WQPC Calculated for Multifamily Residential Properties?
To calculate the WQPC for each condo owner within a multifamily residential property, follow these steps:
All property owners in the multi-family residential property pay the same WQPC.
What Qualifies as a Nonresidential Property?
There are several types of properties that classify as nonresidential:
Properties owned by 501(c)(3) organizations are NOT classified as nonresidential properties and have a separate WQPC structure.
How is the WQPC Calculated for Nonresidential Properties?
Determine the total impervious surface area of the property. This calculation includes the roof, paved areas, parking lots, patios, etc. Put the final number in the formula below to determine your WQPC:
My Business is One of Several Storefronts in a Mixed-Use Building. How is My WQPC Calculated?
Nonresidential properties that share at least one wall with another property calculate their WQPC differently. They must follow these steps:
What Qualifies as an Agricultural Property?
Agricultural properties are defined as:
How is the WQPC Calculated for Agricultural Properties?
Determine the total impervious surface is on the property. This is the square footage of the building area of the residence. Put the final number in the formula below to determine your WQPC:
What Impervious Surfaces are Included for Agricultural Properties?
Agricultural properties are not charged for any impervious surfaces related to the business. They are only charged for impervious surfaces on any residential properties located on the land. This is limited to the building area.
What Qualifies as an 501(c)(3) Property?
To be calculated as a part of the 501(c)(3) charge structure, a property must be owned by a IRS designated 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Other types of nonprofits, such as recreational clubs or certain religious institutions, are not registered with the IRS as a 501(c)(3) organization, and therefore, would be charged based on the type of property (residential or nonresidential).
How is the WQPC Calculated for 501(c)(3) Nonprofits?
To calculate the charge for properties owned by 501(c)(3) nonprofits, follow these steps:
I Manage a 501(c)(3) Organization and Our Property is One of Several Storefronts in a Mixed-Use Building. How is My WQPC Calculated?
Nonprofit properties that share at least one wall with another property calculate their WQPC differently. They must follow these steps:
I Belong to a Church Group. Are we Classified as a Nonprofit?
Only organizations designated by the IRS as 501(c)(3) organizations are eligible to have their WQPC calculated at the nonprofit rate. All other nonprofit organizations and business are charged based on the type of property (residential or nonresidential).
Appeals, Hardship Exemptions and the 2013 Phase-In
I Believe my WQPC was Calculated Incorrectly. How Do I Appeal the Charge?
If a property owner believes that the Water Quality Protection Charge (WQPC) has been assigned or calculated incorrectly, the property owner may petition the Director of the Department of Environmental Protection for an adjustment by submitting a written request using the online appeals form.
When is the Deadline for Filing an Appeal to the WQPC?
Appeals must be submitted no later than September 30 of the year that the payment of the charge is due.
I Own Multiple Properties. Can I Combine the Properties Together for the Purposing of Calculating the WQPC?
Yes. Property owners can apply for combining contiguous (no separation such as a road between properties) single-owner property accounts into one. Petition the Director of the Department of Environmental Protection for an adjustment by submitting a written request, using the online appeals form.
If the property spans multiple tax accounts, you can appeal to have the separate accounts combined into one for the purposes of calculating the WQPC. If you would like to submit an appeal, please fill out the appeals form.
What is a Hardship Exemption and Who Can Apply?
A hardship exemption is where a property owner has a reduced charge due to financial limitations. To qualify for an exemption, your household income must not exceed 170% of the Federal poverty level or you must be approved for benefits under the Maryland Energy Assistance Program for the current billing year. The property owner may petition the Director of the Department of Environmental Protection for an adjustment by submitting a written request. There are separate applications for residential properties and 501(c)(3) nonprofits.
Can 501(c)(3) Nonprofit Organizations Apply for an Exemption?
501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations can receive a partial exemption for the amount of the WQPC that exceeds 0.2% of the property’s total revenue.
When is the Deadline for Filing a Hardship Exemption to the WQPC?
Hardship exemptions must be submitted by April 1st annually.
What is the 2013 Phase-In Program?
Due to the expansion of the WQPC, many nonresidential properties received the WQPC for the first time in 2013, and for a small percentage of residential owners, their charge increased from 2012 to 2013. To assist with the adjustment to the WQPC, any increases in the WQPC in 2013 due to the expansion will be phased-in over three years.
Who Does the Phase-In Apply To?
The Phase-In applies to:
How Does the 2013 Phase-In Work?
Eligible property owners who received an increase to their WQPC on their 2013 Tax Bill, will have 2/3 of the increase applied to them in 2014.
The Phase-In is only for increases to the WQPC accessed in the 2013 Tax Year. If your WQPC increases in the future for whatever reason, then you will have to pay for that increase in full.
What is the Credit Program?
In 2013, Montgomery County launched a Credit Program for the Water Quality Protection Charge to reward property owners who installed stormwater management practices on their property. The Credit Program provides up to 80% off their WQPC for installing practices that help alleviate stormwater runoff.
How is the Amount of the Credit Determined?
The amount of the credit is based on the type of stormwater management and the volume of water treated. More intensive practices, such as wet ponds, dry ponds and bioretentions treat a lot of stormwater, and therefore, give property owners a large credit. Less intensive practices, such as rain barrels, cisterns and rain gardens, provide a smaller credit.
The goal of the credit program is to provide incentives to property owners for meeting stormwater standards which best mimic pre-developed conditions and controls and treats stormwater to the maximum extent practicable.
Properties can receive a credit up to 80% of their WQPC. Properties can earn an 80% reduction if they treat 100% of the impervious area on their property. There are different applications for residential properties and non-residential / multi-family properties.
How Can I Take Advantage of the Credit Program?
First, determine if you have a stormwater management practice on your property. There are many different kinds that range from small backyard practices, such as a rain garden, to large commercial building practices, such as underground storage. View a list of stormwater management practices.
If you do not currently have a stormwater management practice, consider installing one. Residential, institutional and commercial properties can take advantage of RainScapes Rebates to help fund the cost of installing stormwater practices.
If you already have a stormwater management practice, then fill out and submit an application. Visit the WQPC Credit page to view the applications. To receive a credit, the stormwater management practice must meet the guidelines described below.
What are the Minimum Requirements for Receiving a Credit?
To receive the Credit, a property owner must:
What are the Deadlines to Apply for a Credit?
Deadlines will be the end of October with the credit applied the following Tax Year (bills are sent out by July 1st).
How Do I Apply for a Credit?
Detached homes and townhomes can apply by completing the Residential Credit Calculator online application. Download our Photo Help Guide (PDF, 252KB) for how to upload images and what we are looking for from the images.
Multi-family residential and non-residential properties can apply by completing the non-residential and multi-family credit online application.
For those without access to computers or who need assistance completing an application, email WQPC.Credits@montgomerycountymd.gov or call 3-1-1.