Today, October 23, 2019, organizations across the county are urging people to “Imagine a Day without Water.” The event, coordinated by the US Water Alliance, is intended to remind us all about the value of water, and to push us to think for just a moment of where we would be without it.
When I recently attended the OneWater Summit in Austin, TX, also put on by the US Water Alliance, many stories were shared about the struggle communities and individuals are facing in Texas when water is scarce or contaminated or inaccessible. Whether the costs arise from hauling in bottled water for years to a community with a dried up well, or from the economic effects of a 6 day boil water notice in a city with a population of almost a million people, the immense value of clean, reliable and sustainable water sources is real for Texans. 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
Attention all North Carolinian water and wastewater systems: the State Water Infrastructure Authority announced that $168.5 million in water and wastewater funding will be available this upcoming fall.
In response to this announcement, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality: Division of Water Infrastructure held application-training workshops across the state of North Carolina in August. Here are some tips and takeaways learned from the training.
“Won’t you pay my bill?” is a question that the water utility asks of the customers who do not pay their water, wastewater, and even stormwater bills. But low-income customers are, essentially, asking the same question: will you—higher income customers—help pay the water bills of the poor?
National organizations like the American Water Works Association have policies related to non-payment. AWWA says “[f]ailure on the part of the customer to pay a water bill for services rendered necessitates that other customers bear the costs associated with the non‐payment of water service.”
But is it worth it to the water utility to use the rate revenues from one group of customers to subsidize the rates of another group of customers via an assistance program? More than that, is it even legal? Continue reading
It’s college football season again, and thoughts among many in the South, and elsewhere, turn to tailgating and touchdowns, hot dogs and sodas, field goals and fun. (Here in Chapel Hill, we like to remember alumnus Andy Griffith’s famous 1953 comical monologue about football, “What It Was, Was Football.”) Meanwhile, those of us at the UNC Environmental Finance Center (EFC) have completed our first-ever Alabama Residential Water and Wastewater Rates Dashboard, which, in fact, ties in with – you guessed it – football! (As well as tying in with the affordability of water and sewer bills by customers in Alabama, of course.) Continue reading