Guest post by Maddie Atkins
Water and wastewater infrastructure needs in the US continue to grow. The EPA Drinking Water Needs Survey and Clean Watershed Needs Survey estimate that a combined $655 billion in water and wastewater infrastructure investment is needed nationwide over the next 20 years. In North Carolina over the next 20 years, estimates of water system capital costs range between $10 and $15 billion, and wastewater system needs range from $7 to $11 billion. As utilities raise capital to make infrastructure improvements, most turn to debt as an instrument to fund projects. As of the end of fiscal year 2017, local government utilities in North Carolina have $8.3 billion in outstanding water and wastewater debt.
The White House’s Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America, which was released early this year, outlines the President’s proposed steps to encourage increased state, local, and private investment in infrastructure. And though you’ve probably heard a lot about it, chances are you haven’t had the time to read and reflect on the 55 page document. So what might the President’s plan mean for infrastructure in your community? While the plan outlines programs for infrastructure of all sectors, this post provides a quick overview of the four proposed programs with relevance to water infrastructure.
Guest Post by Shane Hoffman
The water industry is entering a period of increasing costs and declining consumption. Inflationary costs for water utilities are far outpacing normal inflationary costs as measured by the All Items Consumer Price Index (CPI). The need to replace aging infrastructure such as distribution mains and treatment facilities is expected to increase dramatically in the future. Further, in recent years water-saving devices and appliances coupled with increased awareness of conservation have decreased indoor and irrigation-related consumption. These two factors lead to lower revenue and higher costs over the long term. Given these trends, many utilities will need to pass rate increases to ensure financial stability and continued delivery of safe, high quality water. But success in rate increases isn’t always easy: to accomplish this, water utilities will need to develop a comprehensive strategy involving the areas of planning, policy, and communication.
Guest post by Urooj Amjad
Accurately identifying vulnerable groups and their commitment to pay, or incapacity to pay, is a timeless challenge in household water services. When consumers pay for household water service delivery, they are paying for the water, its delivery to their home, the infrastructure used in delivery, and the maintenance of supply and safety of their water. And depending on the water utility, sewerage charges are also calculated based on the water used. Similarly, the water provider depends on revenue from consumers for maintaining its services to be financially sustainable and aligned with public health standards.
However, not all households have consistent or sufficient income to pay for their water bill among other utilities, housing, and living costs. Adding to the challenge, some households may not perceive the quality of the water or its volume to be sufficient to fully pay their bills or on time. Some water utilities may already have a plan for supporting their most vulnerable consumers, or are exploring how to enhance existing plans. Strategies for identifying who are willing and able to pay could include:
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.