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Challenges and Innovations: Current and Future States of Water Affordability: Part 2

Guest Post By Stacey Isaac Berahzer and Christine Boyle, PhD

Note: This is the second in a series of Valor Water Analytics blog posts exploring water affordability, customer nonpayment, and technology that can enable utilities to deliver water more equitably and sustainably to all customers.  It was originally posted to  Valor Water Analytics on April 22, 2019. You can read the first post here.

Where We Are Today: Identifying and Reaching Vulnerable Customers

In our last blog post, we discussed affordability topics that have been relatively well-covered in the water industry and academic research: the definition and measurement of affordability in the context of water service delivery, and an overview of customer assistance program (CAP) creation and funding. Though not necessarily solved, these issues have been discussed in many publications and conference proceedings. In this post, we will discuss a topic that has received less coverage: how a lack of customer information and contact data makes it difficult for utilities to increase CAP enrollment. Continue reading

Challenges and Innovations: Current and Future States of Water Affordability

Guest Post By Stacey Isaac Berahzer and Christine Boyle, PhD

Note: This is the first in a series of Valor Water Analytics blog posts exploring water affordability, customer nonpayment, and technology that can enable utilities to deliver water more equitably and sustainably to all customers.  It was originally posted to  Valor Water Analytics on April 2, 2019.

Where We Are: Assessment of Water Affordability Today

Given the looming affordability crisis, new interventions are needed to help communities pay their water bills, while also helping utilities collect the water and wastewater fees needed to fund much-needed infrastructure upgrades. To date, a large volume of work on how to measure affordability has been undertaken, but what is sorely needed are programmatic strategies to help both households and utilities cope with the mounting costs of clean water provision. Continue reading

What’s Trending? A Look Into North Carolina Household Water Bills and the Income to Pay

The 2019 North Carolina Water and Wastewater Rates Dashboard was deployed just over a month ago, marking another year in a long partnership between the Environmental Finance Center at UNC-Chapel Hill, the North Carolina League of Municipalities, and the North Carolina Division of Water Infrastructure. One of the benefits of such a long and successful partnership is the wealth of historic rates data.

The Rates Dashboard provides an up-to-date look at rates and financial sustainability indicators for utilities around the state, but it is merely a snapshot. By looking at trends in rates and demographic factors, such as income, the numbers and changes start to tell a story. A trends analysis was produced for a recent course on Water and Wastewater Finance at the UNC School of Government, looking at rates from 2009-2018, EPA SDWIS Service Population data from 2009-2018, and income, from US Census American Community Surveys, from 2007-2017. The figures below are adapted from that analysis. The analysis is restricted to utilities that have participated across all years and availability of data. By looking at the overall trend rather than the specific values, the resulting patterns can provide considerations for utilities across the state. Continue reading

A Tale of Two Cities: Paying for Multifamily Recycling

Municipal governments use a number of different strategies to pay for public recycling services. These approaches can differ in who is expected to pay, the amount that is paid, and the means in which the payment system is carried out. Across North Carolina, local governments typically rely on one of two main sources of funding for recycling programs: solid waste fees and general tax revenue. I chose to look into the questions of who pays for recycling and how they pay as one of the topics of my 2018 Leaders in Environment and Finance (LEAF) fellowship program research. In particular, I studied the approach used by several communities to highlight the different strategies of paying for recycling with a particular subset of the population in mind: residents of multifamily housing.

Previous research has suggested that residents of multifamily housing may experience lower levels of access to recycling service than residents of single-family homes. Since multifamily properties are commonly treated as commercial businesses which are often ineligible to receive public recycling services, residents of multifamily housing may have a greater likelihood, depending on how the program is funded in their community, of indirectly paying into a municipal recycling program that they are ineligible to receive service from. This is especially true where recycling services are funded by a tax or fee that is universally distributed amongst residents. Two municipalities in North Carolina, Orange County and the City of Durham, were interviewed about the payment strategies that are used to finance multifamily recycling services. Continue reading

Funding Program Spotlight: North Carolina Regionalization Feasibility Grant

Calling all North Carolina water and wastewater systems who are considering merging/regionalization or other state funding agencies that want to promote regionalization. The North Carolina Merger/Regionalization Feasibility Grant offers water and wastewater systems an opportunity to conduct a study to evaluate the merging of two or more systems. This program emerged from Session Law 2015-241 to help water and wastewater utilities explore pathways that can improve their finances and overall operating efficiency. Continue reading

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