Category: Drinking Water & Wastewater (Page 2 of 49)

How are North Carolina Utilities Faring During the Pandemic? Four Key Insights from Survey Results

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, utilities across the nation continue to adapt to rapidly changing conditions through a number of measures, from suspending water shut-offs to implementing cost-saving maneuvers like reducing energy costs.

To better understand some of the financial implications of the pandemic, the Environmental Finance Center surveyed 93 water and wastewater utilities in North Carolina in early May on a range of topics, including payment plans for delinquent customers, how long they can pay all operating and capital expenses, changes in total revenue collected, staffing for utility operations, plans for the next fiscal year’s rates, and the scope, funding, or timing of capital infrastructure projects for the year.

Four key insights from the survey are detailed below. Each finding is coupled with graphs showing the response distribution for the survey question connected to the key finding. Continue reading

Measuring the Impact: An Evaluation of 379 ARC-Funded Water and Wastewater Projects (FY 2009 – FY 2016)

Funding programs that support drinking water and wastewater infrastructure projects generate benefits that exceed simply providing cost savings to the communities receiving subsidized loans and grants. Water and wastewater infrastructure is critical for economic development, environmental protection, public health, and various aspects of improving communities’ quality of life. When investing in water and wastewater systems, attention is often given to the funding amounts, cost savings, and improvements to the physical infrastructure, such as how many miles of distribution lines were replaced. Quantifying the broader outcomes, such as improvements to local economic and quality of life conditions, is more challenging. Yet, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) sought to evaluate the impact of its water and wastewater investments in those terms. To accomplish this program evaluation, the EFC at UNC and researchers at Virginia Tech recently assessed 379 projects that were at least partly funded by ARC between Fiscal Years 2009 – 2016. The results show that ARC’s water and wastewater investments contributed to significant positive economic growth and development across the Appalachian Region. Continue reading

Visualizing the Value (of a State Revolving Fund Loan)

Imagine a town called “Smallville.” Smallville, as you might guess, is small. The town’s water utility needs a new water tank, and they need it now. Like most systems across the US, Smallville’s system is aging and has significant infrastructure needs. Smallville generally knows the assets that are most critical and has assigned a level of risk to each. The numbers say that Smallville needed to replace the tank a few years ago, and failure is imminent. The tank will cost Smallville $400,000.

So, what does Smallville do? The utility does not have a lot of cash on hand and has historically relied on grants to supplement the funding package for infrastructure replacement. The customers are just like those across the county–sensitive to rate increases. Unfortunately, Smallville has felt the reduction in available grant funding and worries that even if the utility does get a grant for the tank that the asset could fail during the “waiting” period between applying for funds and receiving them. Continue reading

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

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