Tag: regionalization (Page 2 of 3)

What We Can Learn from Consolidated Utilities

Post originally published by the US Water Alliance

Now is a time of growing uncertainty and change in the water sector. Meanwhile, there are tens of thousands of water utilities and authorities in the United States. Collaboration will be essential to securing our nation’s water future. As the adage goes, there’s strength in numbers.

Consolidating water utilities is one of many options communities may consider to pool resources, streamline decision-making, and increase efficiency. While complex, consolidation may be an appropriate consideration when the community value proposition outweighs costs. Leaders need access to more information about the financial effects of consolidating water utility service to assess their options.

To meet that need, the US Water Alliance and the UNC Environmental Finance Center are releasing a new report, Strengthening Utilities through Consolidation: The Financial Impact. This report synthesizes the existing body of evidence and presents eight case studies from communities who have consolidated utility service in different ways and contexts. Continue reading

Partnering via Water and Sewer Authority Board Structures

As utilities across North Carolina consider new ways of partnering with each other, including full consolidation, many are looking at the Water and Sewer Authority model as a potential governance structure. Local governments devolving water asset ownership and control to an Authority or other regional governance structure are often concerned about maintaining some form of control in input on essential services. Under the Authority model, local governments can continue to participate in governance by appointing members to the Authority board.

State statutes provide local government members with the ability to structure their boards to meet their local needs and conditions. Board structures vary across the state based on number of board seats, number of seats allocated to (appointed by) each member, and voting rights of members. In order to better understand the driving forces behind the existing structures, staff from the Environmental Finance Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reviewed bylaws and articles of incorporation for all of the authorities, and additionally carried out informal interviews with individuals familiar with the board structures from many of the authorities.

The research focused on answering the following questions:

  • What is the status of existing board representation structure for Authorities across the state relative to the communities they serve?
  • What approaches were used to allocate seats on boards?
  • Have boards been modified over the years and, if so, why and how?

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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

Catawba County’s Innovative Water Service Partnership Model

It seems like almost everyone, including regulators and utility organizations, recognize the benefits and need for expanded partnerships and collaboration in the water and wastewater sector. Small towns are finding it difficult to meet their growing infrastructure and regulatory needs and are talking with each other and their larger neighbors about different regional service models.

Partnerships are not limited to small systems; the cost of new water and wastewater supply is so great, that even large, financially healthy systems are increasingly working together to share costs and partner on  large facilities. Most of these partnerships involve two or more utilities working together, but in at least one North Carolina county, one of the key partners in many of the region’s recent water partnerships is a local government that is not a direct utility service provider.  For more than 20 years, Catawba County has assisted many of the municipalities in the county to install high impact water and wastewater projects without ever sending out a single water or wastewater bill to a retail customer. Continue reading

A Tale of Two Water Authorities: Paying for excess capacity in shared water and wastewater systems

Dividing the costs of shared water infrastructure equitably among many potential users may not be as straightforward as it seems. In particular, infrastructure designed to meet future demands in a growing region will not operate at full capacity for significant periods of time while demands catch up with projections. In a previous installment, we wrote about how reservations can be made on this excess capacity by individual entities when ownership is shared. These reservations can be used to split the costs of development, operation, and maintenance based on projections of future growth. Agreements can also include provisions for redistributing capacity reservations when actual growth differs significantly from initial projections. In some cases, these provisions call for retroactive payments between the partners to make the distribution of cost sharing in previous years reflect the new capacity reservations.

However, shared infrastructure capacity is not always directly owned by the end-users. In many circumstances, it is instead owned by a regional entity such as water management authority (WMA). These entities may issue debt, operate facilities, and provide maintenance for regional water and wastewater systems components (reservoirs, treatment facilities, major transmission lines). They can act as wholesalers, recovering their costs through fees charged to member utilities that in turn directly sell water services to retail (individual) customers. Under this arrangement, individual members do not need to take ownership over excess capacity, instead paying only for the water services they use in a given year. However, these systems may still operate with excess capacity, and the cost of that capacity is passed along implicitly in the fees charged to utilities. Under this structure, the costs of excess capacity are not always borne by the members that end up using it. This post profiles two different approaches used by regional authorities, the Karengnodi Water Authority and the Tampa Bay Water Authority, to examine the different ways in which water authorities pass their costs to member utilities.

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