Category Archives: Utilities

A National Water Crisis

Source: Henry Cisneros, U.S. News and World Report, June 29, 2016

Fixing the water infrastructure is one of the greatest challenges of our time. ….

….As Flint has taught us, neglecting our water infrastructure can present real and immediate danger. According to the American Water Works Association, there are 6 million lead lines in American water systems today. Approximately 7 percent of homes connected to community water systems have a lead service line and up to 22 million Americans are served by lead lines.

There are three broad questions that ought to be addressed:
– What is the extent of the danger associated with water systems in terms of linear miles?
– What is the cost of fixing them to ameliorate the immediate danger?
– What are the options for solutions?….

Workforce Strategies — Benchmarking Helps a Utility Chart a Path to Success

Source: Kipp Hanley, Opflow, Volume 42, Number 6, June 2016
(subscription required)

Since its board of directors established a new vision for the organization 10 years ago, the Prince William County (Va.) Service Authority has worked to become a top-performing utility. To reach this goal, the Service Authority established more than 100 benchmarks to track its performance. Instituted in 2009, benchmarking has helped the utility achieve measurable results, improving processes, customer service, and employee morale. … The Service Authority has had a solid track record for maintaining infrastructure and working with its customers. Until just a few years ago, however, much of what the utility accomplished wasn’t measured as thoroughly as it is today. The benchmarking process involves compiling monthly reports to track multiple metrics, from service interruption time to the time taken to hire new employees. The reports’ statistical data show the organization’s performance against established benchmarks and trend lines…..

The Economic, Job Creation, and Federal Tax Revenue Benefits of Increased Funding for the State Revolving Fund Programs

Source: Water Environment Federation (WEF) and WateReuse Association, April 2016

The Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund programs are considered to be among the most successful infrastructure funding programs administered by the federal government and implemented by States. They have provided billions of dollars in low-interest loans for thousands of projects. This investment has improved public health and the environment and currently supports part of the needed continuing efforts by communities all across the United States to provide safe drinking water and wastewater treatment to millions of Americans. However, substantially higher investments are needed if we are to maintain and increase our infrastructure’s ability to keep up with the demands of our population and economic development.

The Water Environment Federation (WEF) and WateReuse Association recently conducted an analysis to estimate the economic impact of proposed increased SRF appropriation levels, including taxes that return to the federal government, and employment and economic output that the spending generates. This study shows that for every federal dollar of federal SRF spending, 21.4% is returned to the federal government in the form of taxes. The study also shows that federal SRF allocations account for approximately 23% of total SRF spending, which also includes state matching funds and funds from state program loan repayments. Thus, the proposed $34.7 billion federal allocation will leverage an additional $116.2 billion in state spending ($151 billion total). Therefore, together, the proposed federal allocations and state SRF program funds will result in $32.3 billion in federal tax revenue. Thus, when leveraged state program funds are taken into account, every dollar of federal SRF spending results in $0.93 in federal tax revenue. The study also shows increased employment and labor income as well as increases in total economic output. This report summarizes the study findings and output of the economic model.

Why Your Water Could Be Worse Than Flint’s

Source: Laura Orlando, In These Times, March 28, 2016

Our nation’s water crisis requires radical solutions. … Most municipal water departments in the United States work very hard to keep the water coming out of the tap as safe as possible, but they do not have the authority or money to change pipes and fixtures or stop the more than 23 billion pounds of toxic chemicals generated annually by U.S. industry from entering their water supplies. …

Clean Jobs America: A comprehensive analysis of clean energy jobs in America

Source: Gail Parson, Jeff Benzak, Grant Carlisle, Bob Keefe, Peter Voskamp, Lauren Kubiak, Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), March 2016

In a comprehensive analysis of clean energy and clean transportation jobs, Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) has found that more than 2.5 million Americans now work in clean energy at businesses across all 50 states. These are workers who install solar panels, manufacture electric vehicle parts, and retrofit our homes, schools and businesses to make them more energy efficient. They build wind turbine blades, invent battery technologies, and assemble the most energy-efficient kitchen appliances on the planet. This first-of-its-kind analysis was completed for E2 in late 2015 by the research team at BW Research Partnership. It is based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S Department of Energy and was done in conjunction with partners Clean Energy Trust, The Solar Foundation and Advanced Energy Economy. As part of the study, BW Research surveyed more than 20,000 businesses nationwide….

Lead in Flint, Michigan’s Drinking Water: Federal Regulatory Role

Source: Mary Tieman, Congressional Research Service, CRS Insight, IN10446, March 2, 2016

In April 2014, the city of Flint, Michigan, stopped purchasing treated water from the city of Detroit and began using the Flint River as its water source without providing corrosion control treatment . (A key source of lead in drinking water is the corrosion of plumbing materials in the distribution system and households.) While some water quality changes were quickly apparent, elevated lead concentrations were identified over a longer period through monitoring conducted by the city and others and detections of elevated blood lead levels in children. On October 1, 2015, city officials urged residents to stop drinking the water. On October 16, Flint reconnected to Detroit’s water and advised residents not to use unfiltered tap water. The city and the governor of Michigan each declared a state of emergency. President Obama issued an emergency declaration on January 16, 2016. On January 21, 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an emergency order directing the city and state to take immediate actions to address concerns over the city’s water system. Requirements include, among others, that the city and state re-optimize corrosion control, post online lead monitoring results and weekly reports, and ensure the city’s capacity to operate the system in compliance with federal regulations. EPA’s current Flint responses include providing technical assistance for water testing and treatment, conducting water monitoring, and identifying lead service line locations.

Allocation of Wastewater Treatment Assistance: Formula and Other Changes

Source: Claudia Copeland, Congressional Research Service, CRS Report, RL31073, February 5, 2016

Congress established a statutory formula governing distribution of financial aid for municipal wastewater treatment in the Clean Water Act (CWA) in 1972. Since then, Congress has modified the formula and incorporated other eligibility changes five times, actions which have been controversial on each occasion. Federal funds are provided to states through annual appropriations according to the statutory formula to assist local governments in constructing wastewater treatment projects in compliance with federal standards. Congress has appropriated more than $91 billion since 1972. The formula originally applied to the act’s program of grants for constructing such projects. That grants program was replaced in the law in 1987 by a new program of federal grants to capitalize state revolving loan funds (SRFs) for similar activities. The most recent formula change, also enacted in 1987, continues to apply to federal capitalization grants for clean water SRFs. ….

… This report describes the formula and eligibility changes adopted by Congress since 1972, revealing the interplay and decisionmaking by Congress on factors to include in the formula. Two types of trends and institutional preferences can be discerned in these actions. First, there are differences over the use of need and population factors in the allocation formula itself. During the 1970s, the Senate strongly favored reliance on use of population factors in the allocation formula, while the House strongly advocated a needs – based approach. During the 1980s, the period when categorical eligibilities were restricted in order to emphasize water quality benefit s, the Senate favored needs as the basis for grants distribution, while the House position generally was to retain formulas used in prior years, which incorporate both needs and population elements. When population has been used as a factor, differences have occurred over whether a current or future year population estimate is appropriate, but there is no clear trend on this point.

Second, there have been gradual increases in restrictions on types of wastewater treatment projects eligible for federal assistance. Beginning with a limitation that denied use of federal funds for stormwater sewer projects in 1977, debate over categorical eligibility has had two elements. One has been fiscal: a desire to not fund types of projects with the highest costs and often the most unreliable cost estimates. The other focus has been environmental: a desire to use federal resources to assist projects which benefit water quality protection most directly. While some of these eligibility restrictions presented Congress with rat her straightforward choices, others have been more complex. Some continue to be debated, such as whether certain types of projects should be fully eligible for federal aid or should be the responsibility of state and local governments. …..

Uncharted Waters: The Emergence of Low-Income Water Affordability in Philadelphia

Source: Robert W. Ballenger & Thu B. Tran, Clearinghouse Review, February 16, 2016

Philadelphia’s city council passed an ordinance on November 19, 2015, to establish a new income-based water rate affordability program for low-income Philadelphians. Mayor Michael Nutter signed the ordinance on December 1, 2015. The law marks the beginning of a fundamental shift in how the City of Philadelphia will assist low-income families in maintaining life-essential water service…. While we at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia have advocated for many water revenue assistance program approvals for individuals and achieved limited success with systemic improvements, the overarching problems of inaccessibility and unaffordability persist. The city’s new ordinance mandating a new income-based water rate affordability program stands in full recognition of longstanding problems with the current mode of water-bill assistance….