Category: General Information (page 1 of 28)

How Utilities in the Past have Saved Money during Economic Hardship: Similarities and Differences for COVID-19

Co-written by Erin Ansbro

Right now, water utilities are facing great uncertainty about the coming months and years. When will moratoria on water shut-offs end? When will water consumption be back to “normal”? Will utility staff get COVID-19? And the “Big One” — What will revenue loss be for utilities in the coming months and years? While answers to these questions remain unknown during these unprecedented times, guidance from the past can help utilities think through strategies that may save them money now and in the future. Here, we distill information from a previous EFC report about approaches utilities took in response to the Great Recession of 2008-2009 and discuss how the findings relate to circumstances under COVID-19 conditions.

The report, written in partnership with the Water Research Foundation, comes from ideas discussed during a two-day forum with 17 CEOs of utilities which serve between 78,000 to 19 million customers. During the forum, leaders “discussed how they acted to mitigate the recession’s impact and adapt to a changed financial and economic environment” (p. xi). Although these approaches were used by large utilities, some may be appropriate for smaller utilities. These approaches are starting points for consideration, but are NOT intended to be a specific road map or a recipe for success. In addition to the overarching themes and summary, the report lists some future research needs and then gives details on the 48 strategies implemented by the forum participants. Continue reading

Four Considerations Before Investing in Advanced Metering Infrastructure

Keondra Jenkins was a fellow in the 2019 Leaders in Environment and Finance (LEAF) program. As part of the LEAF Fellowship, Keondra worked with Orange Water and Sewer Authority (OWASA) over the summer of 2019. Keondra graduated in December 2019 from UNC with a degree in Environmental Studies.

What is AMI?

Advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) is a technology that allows for automated, two-way communication between a water meter and your utility company. AMI provides real-time data about water consumption daily or upon request, using a fixed communication network to send and receive signals from meters remotely. Implementing AMI can improve a utility’s ability to detect leaks, bill more accurately, and engage with customers. When undertaking an AMI project, there are many factors to consider. Here we will discuss strategies to pay for the project, select a vendor, implement the new infrastructure, and consider data management options. Continue reading

Imagine a Day Without Water

Today, October 23, 2019, organizations across the county are urging people to “Imagine a Day without Water.” The event, coordinated by the US Water Alliance, is intended to remind us all about the value of water, and to push us to think for just a moment of where we would be without it.

When I recently attended the OneWater Summit in Austin, TX, also put on by the US Water Alliance, many stories were shared about the struggle communities and individuals are facing in Texas when water is scarce or contaminated or inaccessible. Whether the costs arise from hauling in bottled water for years to a community with a dried up well, or from the economic effects of a 6 day boil water notice in a city with a population of almost a million people, the immense value of clean, reliable and sustainable water sources is real for Texans. Continue reading

Go Straight to the Source: 2018 Farm Bill Funding for Water Supply Watershed Protection

On August 29, the EFC lead a webinar on finance and governance models for watershed management as part of the Environmental Finance Network Smart Management for Small Water Systems program.  The webinar focused on source water protection as an effective way to protect public health and avoid the costs associated with contaminated drinking water.  The webinar sought to answer three separate questions:

  1. What is watershed management?
  2. How do small water systems (under EPA guidelines, those serving under 10,000 people) benefit from watershed management?
  3. How can small systems participate in watershed management?

The answers to the first two questions are somewhat straight forward; watershed management is any strategy or set of strategies that positively influences land characteristics in a drainage area, and small systems benefit by avoiding costs; both monetary and abstract.

However, the answer to the third question is a bit more difficult. Small systems face unique challenges with respect to watershed management for the protection of drinking water; they often rely on purchased water, they have limited technical and financial resources, and they have limited ability to impact land use in the entirety of their water supply watershed.  Watershed boundaries often cross jurisdictional boundaries, so the land use decision made by a neighboring government often heavily impacts the quality of the small system’s source water.  This makes partnership extremely important.  Small systems can partner with neighboring jurisdictions, enter into a shared source partnership, or collaborate with nonprofit conservation groups in order to have a greater impact on the quality of their source water. Continue reading

What Do Practitioners Think about Regionalization? Highlights from a Participatory Workshop on Regionalization

Many organizations and government agencies have studied and written about the potential benefits of regionalizing* the provision of water and wastewater services, but progress implementing this management tool has been relatively slow in many states including North Carolina.

*The terminology used to describe the transition from a more isolated independent service provision model to one that is more integrated is not always consistent or standardized. The term regionalization is used here to describe a range of different collaboration mechanisms that are commonly found in North Carolina and across the country.

Regionalized service provision can range from the creation of a new water utility by combining or merging two or more utilities; one utility absorbing or acquiring other utilities; or multiple utilities that choose to remain autonomous to some degree but share components of service provision such as water supply or water treatment. Many regions that appear to be ideal candidates for regionalization remain served by independent and often isolated utilities and when regionalization does occur, it is often a laborious process that can take years of planning and negotiation. While many regionalized systems thrive once they are created, others fail to fully meet their goals and may encounter a range of challenges including fiscal distress, recurring political and public disagreements, and the occasional lawsuit.

In order to learn more about practitioners’ regionalization experiences, expectations, and concerns, a group of researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill hosted an interactive workshop at the UNC School of Government in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The event was designed to share emerging research and solicit practitioner views. Funding for the workshop was provided as part of a National Science Foundation project (award no. 1360442) funded by the Water Sustainability and Climate program. The workshop was attended by approximately 75 participants comprised of utility management staff, consultants that work with utilities, non-profit technical assistance providers, and state funding programs. Participants included staff from the state’s largest water utilities that provide service to hundreds of thousands of customers, all the way down to smaller rural utilities serving as few as 1,000 customers. Twenty-six separate utilities were represented. The workshop included research presentations, facilitated group discussions, audience polling, and small group exercises. Continue reading

« Older posts