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Where to Find Data for Smart Managerial and Financial Decisions

Ever need to know how many single-family wood-framed houses were sold in the Midwest last year? Or the latitude and longitude of every farmers market in Wisconsin that sells herbs, flowers, and soap? What about the number of planes that sat on the tarmac more than three hours this past June? Or the annual sales volume of book stores in the United States for the past 20 years?

These might sound like crazy questions, but all of the above information is available through the federal government’s data portal www.data.gov. Data.gov houses more than 130,000 data sets that are freely available for download (and, no, that’s not a typo—more than one hundred thirty thousand data sets). These data can be invaluable resources for making smart managerial and financial decisions for our water and wastewater systems. Continue reading Where to Find Data for Smart Managerial and Financial Decisions

What Does Santa Claus Charge for Water and Wastewater Service?

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The call came in on a December morning several years ago. When I saw the caller ID said “Santa Claus” I decided not to answer the phone. My thought was “seriously, what will these telemarketers think of next?!?”

Later that morning, I noticed that caller had left a voicemail. To my surprise, there was a message about water rates from the Mayor of Santa Claus, Georgia!

Continue reading What Does Santa Claus Charge for Water and Wastewater Service?

Breaking News: MS4 uses P3 for TMDL!

Chesapeake_Bay_BridgeJust in case you aren’t up on your stormwater finance acronyms, the long version of today’s blog post is A Municipal Separate Stormwater System (MS4) uses a Public Private Partnership (P3) to address a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Regulation. Still confused? Put in terms of environmental goals, the punch line of this story might be: County partners with a private company to improve the quality of water in the Chesapeake Bay!

There are many ways that local government stormwater programs work with private property owners and private companies, but few if any arrangements are as large and comprehensive as what was entered into by Prince George’s County, Maryland last month.  Prince George’s signed several agreements with a private company to oversee a massive stormwater management retrofit program involving 2,000 acres of County owned property (with an option to increase to 4,000 acres). Under the agreement, the County agrees to pay the company $100 million dollars to oversee all aspects of design and implementation of stormwater best practices including planning, public involvement, procurement, and construction management. The agreement includes a host of financial incentives for environmental success and local economic development that are part of the overall concept of employing the strengths and profit motive of a private company to more efficiently achieve public goals.   Continue reading Breaking News: MS4 uses P3 for TMDL!

Thanksgiving amidst Affordability Challenges for Environmental Services

happy thanksgivingThis week of Thanksgiving, we at the Environmental Finance Center (EFC) are grateful for many things, including work in an interesting field and the opportunity to assist communities with the challenges of sustainable environmental finance. But not all Americans are so fortunate during this holiday time, including when it comes to affording needs such as drinking water, wastewater, electricity, stormwater, and other environmental services.

Continue reading Thanksgiving amidst Affordability Challenges for Environmental Services

Simple. Easy. Smart: Building a Better Energy Efficiency Finance Program

Easy Energy EfficiencyIt’s the environmental equivalent of the chicken and egg conundrum.  Which comes first?  The energy efficiency retrofit (the plump chicken full of opportunity) or the capital (the very large egg) with which to fund it?  The answer is “it doesn’t matter.”  Because in the world of energy efficiency finance, there is plenty of both – the key is how to integrate them together. Perhaps we have been asking ourselves the wrong question.  Perhaps the question should no longer be “which comes first,” but rather “how do we combine the two to build a better chicken coop?”

Last week, a group of over 250 energy efficiency experts gathered in Atlanta, GA for the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance’s 2014 “Conference on Innovation.”  During the three days of inspiring and thought-provoking sessions, the attendees networked with one another and empathized over common challenges. We laughed, we lamented, and we strategized over how to move energy efficiency forward. In the end, we all walked away with a collaborative feeling of hope and a couple of key themes to take back and build into our energy efficiency programs.

Continue reading Simple. Easy. Smart: Building a Better Energy Efficiency Finance Program

In it for the long-haul: Water rate approvals from real communication with boards

The road goes on forever, and the party never ends.

The road goes on forever, and the party never ends. ~Robert Earl Keen

The Environmental Finance Center has partnered with Arcadis, Raftelis Financial Consultants, ICMA, and Stratus Consulting to get to the bottom of what meaningful communication between water utilities and their governing boards regarding rates and finances looks like. What do the boards want to know? How do they want to know it? It’s easy in a research project to want to focus on measurable results. If you do ‘x’, then you’ll achieve ‘y’. But it’s not that easy with communication.

We spent a week interviewing water utility staff and their governing board members in the Southeast last month, and their insight on the topic should be no surprise to anyone that has been involved in any relationship. Below are some of the insights shared by board members on effective strategies about how staff can foster their support for rate increases.

 

 

Continue reading In it for the long-haul: Water rate approvals from real communication with boards

Striking the Balance: How Communities are Using Creative Financing to Support Green Infrastructure

autumn-72736_640My interest in Green Infrastructure (GI) sparked several years ago, when I worked as a college intern with the City of Greensboro, NC Stormwater Department. Back then, no one really talked about “green infrastructure”, but the city was invested in managing its stormwater.  As part of that experience, I was given my first look at stormwater management in practice as I tagged along with city staff to inspect Greensboro’s Stormwater Best Management Practices (BMPs) – features like constructed wetlands, forested stream buffers, and rain gardens, that are designed to remove pollutants from urban runoff.

This week I was reminded just how much things have changed since that first internship experience. For one, “green infrastructure” has emerged as the preferred term for these kinds of features, and has also grown as an accepted stormwater management practice among communities across the country. Even at the federal level, acceptance of GI is very clear. For example, the 2014 amendments to the Clean Water Act now include section 603(c)(5): “for measures to manage, reduce, treat, or recapture stormwater or subsurface drainage water;” language which the EPA interprets as including “green roofs, rain gardens, roadside plantings, porous pavement, and rainwater harvesting.” EPA’s recent Community Summit on Green Infrastructure in Cleveland, Ohio highlighted this shift and offered an unparalleled opportunity to capture conversations from those on the ground about lessons learned and emerging implementation issues.

Continue reading Striking the Balance: How Communities are Using Creative Financing to Support Green Infrastructure

Encouraging Property Investments with Stormwater Fee Credit Programs

Storm_DrainGreentown, USA wants to join some of its large older city peers such as Washington and Philadelphia that are rebranding themselves as Green Environmental Cities. Greentown wants to become the greenest small town in the country and would like to encourage property owners across their town to plant more trees, convert their rain shedding roofs into rain absorbing green space, and dig up their pavement and replace it with rain gardens and other stormwater systems that reduce run-off. They have started a media blitz promoting this green transformation, yet progress has been painfully slow. Older shopping centers, like the Southside Shopping Center, continue to produce torrents of rainwater runoff laden with oil and trash that pollutes the area’s waterways. Retrofitting existing space is costly and property owners have other competing needs for their scarce renovation dollars, and education alone only goes so far in promoting transformation. The city council is deadlocked between a contingent that wants to enact regulation that requires older properties to “Greenify” and a contingent that thinks the city should just use public grants to incentivize the transformation. Greentown, like many communities across the country, is stuck. What’s the solution? Continue reading Encouraging Property Investments with Stormwater Fee Credit Programs

New Tool Helps Local Governments Understand How to Finance Wetland and Water Quality Projects

wetlandLocal governments can be important partners for state and tribal wetland programs.  As noted in a previous post, while states and tribes often manage wetland programs, local governments regularly make land use, zoning, and development decisions that have a direct impact on wetlands.  Local governments are also involved more broadly in water quality issues, from watershed enhancements to stormwater programs to protecting their drinking water sources.  But local governments need access to funding for wetland and water quality projects in order to be effective partners for states and tribes. Continue reading New Tool Helps Local Governments Understand How to Finance Wetland and Water Quality Projects

Water₡lips: New Video Series on Financial Topics for Water Utilities, their Boards, and Funders

waterclipsWater utility governing boards serve a critical role in ensuring the provision of clean, safe drinking water. Governing boards are tasked with making important and complex decisions in line with the utility’s mission, and they ultimately serve to keep water utilities accountable to the public. One of the most important roles of a governing board is to protect the utility’s long-term financial health and sustainability. Yet water utility governing board members don’t always have a background in finance or a strong understanding of key financial issues that impact the utility.

A new series of educational videos produced by the Environmental Finance Center at UNC Chapel Hill, with support from the Water Research Foundation, offers an engaging, accessible, and easily shareable resource on financial management topics designed specifically for water utility governing boards. The Waterlips© Video Series describes challenges faced by water utilities across the country using eye catching visualizations and easy to understand explanations of concepts that can otherwise be daunting.  Continue reading Water₡lips: New Video Series on Financial Topics for Water Utilities, their Boards, and Funders