Last month, as part of our Smart Management for Small Water Systems project, I traveled with Glenn Barnes, Senior Project Director at the Environmental Finance Center at UNC Chapel Hill, to visit a small water system that is in quite a financial bind. The system, which has the highest rates in its state, needs an estimated $5 million in infrastructure updates, including a new water tower, upgrades to piping, and treatment facility repairs. With a population of only 900 people in the rural town, revenues are not high enough to cover the cost of repairs. And with some members of the community already paying almost 20% of their monthly income to their water bill, raising already high rates is not an option. This situation is by no means unique, and in fact, is very common to small systems across the country. As water infrastructure ages, many utilities are asking the same questions: how did we get into this situation, and now that we’re here, how do we pay for expensive repairs for our aging infrastructure?

Continue reading