Category: Smart Management for Small Water Systems (Page 1 of 10)

If you build the data platform, will they come?

This is the first of a series of three posts on utility data management. The Environmental Finance Center collects all sorts of data for projects. The EFC uses data from regulatory agencies, financial reports, and data on area residents from the US Census Bureau.

 

The project design questions the EFC asks are:

  1. Know the users! Are they:
    1. Decisionmakers?
    2. Staff?
    3. The public?
  2. What should be shown?
    1. Decisionmakers need reliable data on cost and benefits
    2. Staff may need to drill down on details
    3. Overall, tell a story
  3. What data exists to support and analysis and how can different data sources be connected?

 

For water and wastewater rates dashboards, the EFC’s primary audience is staff of utilities and the secondary audience are utility board members and decisionmakers. The EFC shows utility rates and, importantly, the context for those rates. Multiple dials show the user the balance between factors such as operating ratio and affordability. Comparison groups let the user look at their rates in comparison with other utilities in their watershed or with utilities serving similar numbers of customers. This year, the EFC has added dials for non-revenue water and for wastewater inefficiency to the North Carolina dashboard.

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The Nation’s Workforce Related to Water

Some of our workshops for small drinking water systems cover the topic of workforce planning—how do we keep our best employees, and how do we find more great employees to bring on board?  As part of the day, we ask all participants to share how they got into the water business, and we hear a variety of stories.  Some people got into the field based on the recommendation of a friend or family member.  Some start with the broader organization in other roles but eventually find themselves working in water.  Several attendees explain that they were in other fields up until the Great Recession or up until their jobs were outsourced and were looking for a job unlikely to go away. Continue reading

Partnerships and Regionalization—A Real Life Situation

Did you know there are over 250 publicly owned small water systems serving less than 1,000 connections in North Carolina? In the case of water and wastewater utilities, bigger can often mean better.

The Environmental Finance Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was asked earlier this year to take the lead on a wastewater regionalization study for a small town of 700 people in Western North Carolina. The Town (which will remain anonymous as the study is still in progress) had been awarded a regionalization grant from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Water Infrastructure (DWI) to study alternatives to their existing wastewater business model. Continue reading

Metrics to Determine Principal Forgiveness Eligibility: Highlighting EPA Region 4

The State Revolving Fund (SRF) programs have become a well-known financing option for many water and wastewater infrastructure projects across the country. This is mainly due to the longevity of the clean water (CWSRF) and drinking water (DWSRF) programs and the appealing financing options, such as low-interest rates, offered in each state. However, many communities across the country still struggle to obtain this federal money, despite the borrowing incentives, due to capacity at the community level. In 2014, changes in the Clean Water Act permanently added an affordability section[1] to the CWSRF program. On the DWSRF program side, the American Recovery Act of 2009 required states to offer additional forms of subsidization to applicants, including principal forgiveness[2]. This brings up the question: What metrics are states using—or should consider using—to determine principal forgiveness eligibility for low-income communities? Continue reading

Are Your Rates Special?

In the course of conducting our statewide utility rates surveys, we here at the Environmental Finance Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill examine thousands of rate structures each year. We’ve seen it all, from the especially complex to the most basic. One thing we have noticed is that sometimes utilities create complicated rate structures when the same outcomes could be accomplished in simpler ways.  We internally deem these “special cases.”

Everyone wants to be special, right? But when it comes to rate structures, special often means needlessly convoluted. One of the most important objectives for utilities should be to communicate their rates clearly to their customers. When rate structures are complicated, communication with customers also becomes complicated. Simple rate structures can have the same desired outcomes as more complex ones, while making communication with customers more straightforward and billing easier. It can pay to be plain. Continue reading

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