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Incentivizing Flood Mitigation Efforts on Private Property before the Waters Rise

This post was co-written by Mary Tiger and Lexi Kay

For about 20 residents in North Topsail Beach, NC, the new year brought a new fix for a lingering problem. This month construction began to address severe erosion and flooding that has been affecting these homes for years. Though the homes are oceanfront now, they were never intended to be. Several years ago the residences in front of these homes had to be condemned due to the erosion, and now as the sand dunes continue to shrink in size, current homeowners face the same fate. As a temporary solution, the town is investing in sandbag revetment, which will serve as a barrier between the homes and the ocean. This will buy the town and homeowners more time to craft a more permanent solution.

Unfortunately, this scenario is becoming more common in communities around the country. But what can homeowners do to manage these problems, and what role should local governments play?

Continue reading Incentivizing Flood Mitigation Efforts on Private Property before the Waters Rise

When Big Customers Make Big Changes

Non-residential water customers use nearly 43% of public water supplied in the United States[1]. In fact, their portion of public water demand has increased over the past twenty years as water efficiency in the residential sector has improved. Studying customer behavior has become an essential management strategy for most businesses. Yet this group of water customers is largely understudied by utilities, in large part because it is an extremely diverse customer classification[2]. There are many ways to slice-and-dice the data. This blog post describes one way of identifying the big changes that big customers make.

The study: Over the past year, the Environmental Finance Center has worked with the North Carolina Urban Water Consortium and Valor Analytics to develop meaningful and feasible metrics to track non-residential water customers’ behavior. Utilities can incorporate these metrics into their practices to better understand and anticipate non-residential water customer water use and revenue impacts.

Meaningful metrics: One such metric is called the plateau: a significant and sustained change in water use behavior.

Plateau Image

Continue reading When Big Customers Make Big Changes

NC Clean Tech Summit: Spotlighting a Growing Collaboration Between the Clean Tech Industry and Universities

solar_panels_600This guest post was written by Steve Wall, Research Associate/Project Director of the Environmental Resource Program at the UNC Institute of the Environment.

On February 19th and 20th leaders in the clean technology sector will gather in Chapel Hill, NC for a two-day convening around North Carolina’s emerging clean tech industry at the NC Clean Tech Summit.  The event will draw participants from a wide range of fields including, industry executives, state and local government elected officials and staff, representatives from financial institutions, economic developers, university faculty and students, and many others.   Continue reading NC Clean Tech Summit: Spotlighting a Growing Collaboration Between the Clean Tech Industry and Universities

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