Every year, North Carolina coasts are a destination for tens of thousands of tourists and locals. But how often do visitors to NC’s beaches think about the strategies to keep beaches pristine? Every year, coastal erosion, a natural process exacerbated by factors like coastal development and climate change, eats away at the wide beaches that attract so many visitors.
What is Beach Nourishment?
Coastal erosion is the process by which local sea level rise, strong wave action, and coastal flooding wear down sands along the coast. Coastal communities adapt to these threats with shoreline stabilization measures. Shoreline stabilization is performed with the use of soft structures and hard structures. Historically, coastal municipalities have fought erosion with the use of hard structures. These solutions include rock, concrete, and steel to build sea walls, sills, and breakwaters. Soft structures are natural, and can include the use of fabrics, beach dewatering systems, sand bags, re-vegetation, and beach nourishment.
In 2003, the NC General Assembly banned hard structures in coastal erosion management, so the majority of coastal municipalities in North Carolina now rely on soft structures, specifically beach nourishment, to stabilize their shorelines. Beach nourishment is the process of adding large amounts of sand or sediment to the beach in order to resist erosion and increase the width of the beach. Sand is typically dredged from another location; usually, from the offshore portion of the site being nourished. Historically, beach nourishment projects have been performed on a town-by-town basis. Evidence suggests that towns tend to make isolated decisions about beach nourishment that do not account for their neighbors. Continue reading
In the past few years, the EFC has been asked to evaluate the different financial impacts of regionalization, from simple shared services agreements to full-on consolidation. Additionally, we have been evaluating barriers to and opportunities for the creation of new and different governance models. We have identified some key takeaways and, in the process, developed quite a few useful resources that might be of interest to communities or state and local leaders interested in moving the needle toward more regionalization in the water sector. Continue reading
Many organizations and government agencies have studied and written about the potential benefits of regionalizing* the provision of water and wastewater services, but progress implementing this management tool has been relatively slow in many states including North Carolina.
*The terminology used to describe the transition from a more isolated independent service provision model to one that is more integrated is not always consistent or standardized. The term regionalization is used here to describe a range of different collaboration mechanisms that are commonly found in North Carolina and across the country.
Regionalized service provision can range from the creation of a new water utility by combining or merging two or more utilities; one utility absorbing or acquiring other utilities; or multiple utilities that choose to remain autonomous to some degree but share components of service provision such as water supply or water treatment. Many regions that appear to be ideal candidates for regionalization remain served by independent and often isolated utilities and when regionalization does occur, it is often a laborious process that can take years of planning and negotiation. While many regionalized systems thrive once they are created, others fail to fully meet their goals and may encounter a range of challenges including fiscal distress, recurring political and public disagreements, and the occasional lawsuit.
In order to learn more about practitioners’ regionalization experiences, expectations, and concerns, a group of researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill hosted an interactive workshop at the UNC School of Government in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The event was designed to share emerging research and solicit practitioner views. Funding for the workshop was provided as part of a National Science Foundation project (award no. 1360442) funded by the Water Sustainability and Climate program. The workshop was attended by approximately 75 participants comprised of utility management staff, consultants that work with utilities, non-profit technical assistance providers, and state funding programs. Participants included staff from the state’s largest water utilities that provide service to hundreds of thousands of customers, all the way down to smaller rural utilities serving as few as 1,000 customers. Twenty-six separate utilities were represented. The workshop included research presentations, facilitated group discussions, audience polling, and small group exercises. Continue reading
Co-authored by Liz Harvell
Across North Carolina, population shifts, flooding and drought, changes in industry and manufacturing, and the continuous move toward a reduction in overall water use has continued to create partnership opportunities for large and small water and wastewater systems alike. For large systems anticipating future growth, increased and more economically-savvy water supply may be accomplished through partnering with surrounding communities; smaller systems struggling with increasing costs and decreasing revenues may look towards partnerships with other systems to increase access to capital and reap the benefits of economies of scale. Systems that find themselves with excess capacity due to the loss of large industrial customers may view selling water or wastewater services to neighboring communities as the only realistic way of plugging revenue holes. And while general economic downturns and natural disasters continue to drive water and wastewater customers to relocate, making their systems no longer financially sustainable without some type of intervention, various partnership models are appearing more and more appealing.
While the number of models for creating water partnerships is as numerous as the number of reasons systems have for pursuing them, the most common tool for creating water partnerships in North Carolina is the interlocal agreement.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of these agreements in place throughout the state, ranging from simple agreements intended to cover sale of water by Community A to Community B, to a complex series of individual agreements that when taken together can be used to create a consolidated regional utility model.
Earlier this summer, the Environmental Finance Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (EFC) published Crafting Interlocal Water and Wastewater Agreements, a guide laying out important considerations for communities contemplating how a local agreement might benefit their community. Using the EFC experience of providing direct assistance to communities developing partnerships over the last 20 years, this guide identifies 21 key topics of governance, financial, and technical issues that are integral to the success of these agreements. Below are 10 key topics, but be sure to see the full guide complete, with examples: Continue reading
Calling all North Carolina water and wastewater systems who are considering merging/regionalization or other state funding agencies that want to promote regionalization. The North Carolina Merger/Regionalization Feasibility Grant offers water and wastewater systems an opportunity to conduct a study to evaluate the merging of two or more systems. This program emerged from Session Law 2015-241 to help water and wastewater utilities explore pathways that can improve their finances and overall operating efficiency. Continue reading