These are unprecedented times. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, social norms have changed and unemployment has risen sharply across the nation. As states have pushed residents to stay home, water usage patterns have altered for both commercial and residential customers. In many cases, commercial customers have decreased use while residential customers have increased. Schools have been closed for months, some of which are the largest water customers in a small town or county. Executive orders have been passed, mandating that service cannot be cut-off for non-payment.
In short, revenues have changed. The level of change varies based on the makeup of the utility’s customer base and the specific hardships within the area, but the change exists in every case. These changes in revenues are typically associated with losses, meaning that budget predictions are off and the actual revenue collected will be much lower than planned.
Utilities will need time to recover these losses. But how do we measure a utility’s ability to bounce back? Bring in the buzz word: Resilience.
At the EFC, we see this pandemic as both very different than anything the US has ever experienced, and also very similar to some of the short-term shocks experienced by utilities in past emergencies. For example, a drinking water utility serving a coastal community that has been walloped by a hurricane. In both cases, utilities that are more financially resilient are more likely to bounce back faster. Continue reading
Ever need to know how many single-family wood-framed houses were sold in the Midwest last year? Or the latitude and longitude of every farmers market in Wisconsin that sells herbs, flowers, and soap? What about the number of planes that sat on the tarmac more than three hours this past June? Or the annual sales volume of book stores in the United States for the past 20 years?
These might sound like crazy questions, but all of the above information is available through the federal government’s data portal www.data.gov. Data.gov houses more than 130,000 data sets that are freely available for download (and, no, that’s not a typo—more than one hundred thirty thousand data sets). These data can be invaluable resources for making smart managerial and financial decisions for our water and wastewater systems. Continue reading
Stacey Isaac Berahzer is a Senior Project Director for the Environmental Finance Center at the University of North Carolina, and works from a satellite office in Georgia.
Stormwater utilities are an interesting finance tool for addressing nonpoint sources of water pollution, flooding etc. They are enterprise funds within a local government, which means that they are supposed to be self-sufficient. Getting a stormwater utility approved in a community can be controversial, to say the least. But, it has been proven time and time again that one key to success is a proper public vetting process, incorporating all the relevant stakeholders. Georgia boasts some examples of how cutting-corners in the initiating of a utility can be the demise of the whole affair. But, the state can also claim some very well-run utilities that have managed public expectations on the “level of service” practical with the utility fees. Continue reading