Public vs Private: A National Overview of Water Systems

The dynamic between public and private systems has always been interesting, especially in the case of water and wastewater systems. Public water systems are usually non-profit entities managed by local or state governments, for which rates are set by a governing board. On the other hand, private water systems can be for-profit systems managed by investors or shareholders. Though rates are monitored by a state’s public commission, private systems are not necessarily subject to this regulating board. Additionally, the difference between public and private is not always distinct, as we sometimes see in Public-Private Partnerships. In this post, we present some interesting facts and figures based on an analysis of national data on ownership of water utilities.

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Fun Facts about Water System Rate Structures

The Environmental Finance Center currently produces statewide water and wastewater rates dashboards for 12 states across the US. We collect a lot of data on water system finance and management to build these dashboards, and those data can tell interesting stories about how water and wastewater systems structure their rates. This post presents key features of rate structures across seven states where we have survey data available: Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.

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How Much Do Households Pay for Utilities, Fuels, and Public Services?

Every year, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) publishes data on household expenditures, income, and demographics collected through the Consumer Expenditure Survey. This nationally-representative survey reveals, among other things, how much households are spending on electricity, water and other public services, natural gas, fuel, and telephone services. This blog post summarizes how average household expenditures for these services have changed since 2000. 

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A New Employee Benefit: Energy Efficiency Programs

Guest post by Amanda Sear, Research Assistant, Duke Carbon Offsets Initiative

As the temperature starts rising outside, energy bills can trend skyward as well. In the summer and winter, insufficient insulation and poor weatherization can make houses leak cool and warm air almost as quickly as it is generated. While many people are aware that home energy efficiency improvements can lower utility bills, investments in energy efficiency retrofits are not every homeowner’s priority.

In the interest of encouraging its employees to invest in energy efficiency projects, in 2012, Duke University began a five-year effort to identify the barriers that prevent homeowners from retrofitting their homes and determine the best strategies to overcome them. This culminated in an energy efficiency pilot program aimed to help Duke employees complete energy efficiency home retrofits and track reductions in energy use and carbon emissions. The Environmental Finance Center at UNC provided financial advisory and program management support for this pilot program and collaborated with DCOI on the final evaluation of the program.

The full report, which evaluates the results of Duke’s pilot program and makes recommendations for Duke and other employers implementing employee-based energy efficiency programs, can be found here.

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Constructed Wetlands for Wastewater Treatment: A 20-year Success Story in Walnut Cove, NC

by Caitlin Seyfried, Trey Talley, Evan Kirk, and Noel Myers 

One hot summer morning, a crew of staff members from the Environmental Finance Center set out on a field trip. We hopped in a School of Government van and eagerly started discussing our destination. As environmentally- and financially-minded individuals, we are interested in water and wastewater services, so it comes as no surprise that we were excited to be visiting a wastewater treatment plant.

However, our destination was not—by any means—a traditional treatment plant. Instead, we went to visit a facility with an innovative, cost-effective, and rather unique approach to handling wastewater: the Walnut Cove wastewater treatment plant.

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