Tag: wastewater (Page 1 of 2)

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

Does How Often You Pay for it Matter? The Impacts of Billing Frequency

Written by Stephen Lapp

At the Environmental Finance Center at UNC-Chapel Hill, we are always communicating that how you pay for it matters, but could how often you pay for it matter as well? It may seem counter-intuitive to think that receiving bills more regularly would be positive, but there are many reasons why utilities have trended towards monthly billing and away from bi-monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, or even annual billing. From FY2007 to FY2019, there has been an 8% increase in utilities that bill monthly in North Carolina, all of which switched from less frequent billing. Here are some reasons that water utilities are trending towards more frequent billing patterns: Continue reading

Operating at a Deficit: Solutions to a Water and Wastewater Operator Shortage

Daniel Willems is a fellow in the 2019 Leaders in Environment and Finance (LEAF) program. As part of the LEAF Fellowship, Daniel worked with Envirolink over the summer of 2019. Daniel is a second year Masters candidate in the Department of City and Regional Planning at UNC. He currently works at the EFC as a Research Assistant on a water and wastewater regionalization project.

Across the country, communities are dealing with a shortage of water and wastewater treatment plant operators. This shortage –  largely due to retirements occurring in an aging workforce – is leaving many municipalities in need of immediate replacements or short-term transition plans.  Without qualified individuals to ensure state and federal standards are met for our drinking water and our wastewater, communities run the risk of failing to provide an essential public health service to their residents and local businesses.

Small, rural towns are particularly at risk.  Many of these municipalities rely on operators to be far more than just operators. Small water system operators are often the system record keepers and have extensive system knowledge that may not be written or stored anywhere but in their own minds.  A sudden retirement, illness, or extended leave has the potential to significantly impair system operations.

I learned about the importance of skilled operators and the issues that may arise when they are not present this summer as an EFC Leaders in Environment and Finance (LEAF) Fellow at Envirolink, a private utility management company.  Envirolink operates under a managerial capacity sharing model, which is a public-private regionalization solution. Below are three possible solutions I evaluated to forestall and alleviate the consequences of an impending operator shortage. Continue reading

Tips and Takeaways: Applying for NC Water and Wastewater Funding Programs

Attention all North Carolinian water and wastewater systems: the State Water Infrastructure Authority announced that $168.5 million in water and wastewater funding will be available this upcoming fall.

In response to this announcement, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality: Division of Water Infrastructure held application-training workshops across the state of North Carolina in August. Here are some tips and takeaways learned from the training.

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Fiscal Sustainability Plans – A Rose by Any Other Name

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet; – From Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, 1600

This often-quoted phrase by Shakespeare’s Juliet seeks to nullify the fact that Romeo has the surname of her family’s enemy. Since that time people have used the phrase to convey that the nature of the thing is more important than what the thing is called. But, today’s world is more complicated than Shakespeare’s, perhaps not when it comes to love, but certainly with respect to getting people’s attention. Our in-boxes and lives are so cluttered that something needs to stand out in order to win our attention. The thing needs to be new, and/or solve our problems, and the name needs to portray this, otherwise we bypass it. Many names have evolved for the smart management of water infrastructure. Asset Management and Effective Utility Management are now common terms. The “fiscal sustainability plans” that EPA is requiring with the Clean Water State Revolving Fund Amendments as part of the Water Resources Reform & Development Act (WRRDA) also incorporate elements of this smart management.

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