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Fiscal Sustainability Plans – A Rose by Any Other Name

April 15, 2015

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet; – From Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, 1600 This often-quoted phrase by Shakespeare’s Juliet seeks to nullify the fact that Romeo has the surname … Read more

An Ally of the People: Good Governance and Sustainable Finance for Environmental Services

April 2, 2015

In honor of the UN’s World Water Day, a group of us from the Environmental Finance Center attended last month a performance of the play, “An Enemy of the People,” at Playmakers Theater here on UNC’s beautiful campus. It was well done and featured timeless, dramatic themes such as the struggle of one man’s battle to awaken the conscience of the community, the role of a whistleblower, the struggle to protect one’s family, and more. But the play also revolves around environmental finance and governance themes, which got me to wondering: How might this story (essentially set in nineteenth century Norway) fare differently in our own time and place? What different options for protection of public health and promotion of sustainable finance would governments, utilities, and the people have today, especially in regard to safe, clean water?

Solving the Puzzle: Understanding Customers through their Water Use History

March 27, 2015

Earlier, I posted a graph of my household water use for the past few years and challenged our readers to identify as many interesting characteristics about my household as they can. Often, the only data a water utility has on their customers are what they have in their billing records. Other household characteristics, such as size of household, income, age, house and lot size and features, water use behavior and preferences, etc., are very difficult to obtain for each customer. However, as demonstrated by my own personal example, mining the billing data alone can reveal much about each household. Here is what my water use history reveals about my household, and the application of this exercise in water resources and utility finance management.

What Can You Tell About My Household Based on Our Water Use History?

March 24, 2015

Are you up for a challenge? I have disclosed in the graph below my own household’s water use between June 2006 and December 2014, as reported on my water bills. Without any more information about my household’s characteristics (except that it is residential, on a single 5/8″ meter, and using drinking water and wastewater service from one utility), this is the extent of knowledge that my utility has about my household. Yet, my water use data – which are present in the utility’s billing records – reveal much about my household. My challenge to you is to look at this graph and identify as many interesting characteristics about my household as you can. Think about it, too, from the perspective of how the utility should interact with my household. I will reveal answers later this week (stay tuned!).

Springing Forward from a Great 2014 at the EFC

March 19, 2015

Springtime in North Carolina normally showcases two things I love: the environment and teamwork. Even if your work doesn’t involve environmental protection, it’s hard not to think about environment this time of year with trees budding out in a green … Read more

Clearing the Air: Reducing Residential Wood Smoke in Portola, CA

March 17, 2015

It was a beautiful morning as I made the one hour drive from Reno, Nevada to the small rural mountain valley community of Portola, California. Each turn brought increasingly picturesque views of mountains, forests and lakes. As I started my descent into the city, I noticed a slight haze in the valley. Could it be fog? Was it an oncoming storm? Perhaps a forest fire? At another time of year, it might have been any of these natural causes. But at this time of year – early March, temperatures in the 30’s, no wind – it was none of these. What I was seeing hovering in the valley was a layer of smoke and I was going to be spending my day discussing the environmental, economic and health benefits of reducing it.

The Power of Words: Survey Results on Communicating the Need for a Water Rate Increase Part 2

March 13, 2015

Our first post this week presented overall findings from a survey conducted on communication between staff and elected officials regarding water utility finances. As many would assume, a solid working relationship between the two parties is important to full-cost recovery. But, when hearing a rate case, what information matters most to elected officials?

The survey asked elected officials what kind of information is the most important in helping them make the best decision about a rate increase for the water utility. It also asked administrators what they believed to be the most important information to share with elected officials. This allowed a comparison to be made between elected officials’ and administrators’ responses.

Get What You Need: Survey results on communicating the need for a water rate increase

March 10, 2015

The water industry is facing unprecedented capital needs, needs which will largely be recovered through increased rates. Sitting between public utilities and the public are governing boards trying to make the right decision for their community and the utility. What information do governing boards need to approve a water rate increase? What are the most effective methods of communicating the need for a rate increase?

The Triangle: Best Place to Live, Work, Play… and Innovate for Water Quality Protection?

March 3, 2015

North Carolina’s Research Triangle has for years been featured on the list of seminal bests. Raleigh, Durham, Cary, and Chapel Hill are some of the most educated, economically prosperous, family friendly, sustainable, and high-performing cities in the country. The area is even known for happy marriages, rockin’ music scenes, and tasty food. All of these distinctions have helped the Triangle, particularly Raleigh, achieve prominent spots on Forbes 2014 list of America’s fastest-growing cities.

These great features have drawn hundreds of thousands of new residents to the Triangle and its surrounding regions. Researchers at the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) at UNC Charlotte estimate that the population in the Triangle and Rocky Mount areas grew by more than 1 million between 1976 and 2005, a surge of nearly 90 percent. During that time, RENCI found that land development increased nearly 570 percent, from 39,743 developed acres to 264,883 developed acres.

This rapid urbanization has significantly impacted surface water quality in nearby Jordan and Falls Lake and the Upper Neuse River Basin. The 2009 Jordan and Falls Lake clean up rules are estimated to total $750 million and $1.5 billion, respectively. Though the rules have been delayed, larger cities such as Cary, Apex, Morrisville, and Durham could bear the brunt of these costs. The Upper Neuse River Basin rules also place nutrient reduction limits on new development in Durham, Johnston, Orange, Wake, and Wayne counties.