Post by Evan Kirk, Project Director at the UNC EFC
This blog is part of an ongoing series of blogs on the integrated planning framework and its benefits. See previous posts on how integrated planning has empowered communities to address environmental justice issues and advance climate resiliency.
Ever had writer’s block? Just like authors searching for the next word to finish their novel, the EFC has found that communities are searching for the next step that will get their integrated planning process started in earnest. Moreover, small- to medium-sized communities have less capacity than their large counterparts. Recognizing lesser capacity, the EFC hosted a virtual workshop for small to medium-sized municipalities to answer key questions about the integrated planning process and help them get started. So, what are the most important takeaways from the workshop?
- Start by getting informed. The EPA maintains a comprehensive Integrated Planning for Municipal Stormwater and Wastewater webpage with community profiles, example integrated plans, and past webcasts.
- Plan ahead. It typically takes between 18 and 36 months to complete an integrated plan and incorporate it into a permit or consent decree. Follow the steps laid out in the integrated planning framework.
- Define the scope of the potential integrated plan through stakeholder engagement. First, communities should determine which permitted sources of discharge they manage. These sources include wastewater treatment facilities, combined sewer overflows, sanitary sewer overflows, and stormwater systems. Communities may have existing plans that characterize infrastructure priorities within permitted sources such as a long-term control plan, a stormwater management plan, or a master facilities plan. Next, communities should identify non-Clean Water Act drivers such as protecting source waters and providing for climate resiliency of critical assets. Accurately identifying all priorities requires active conversation with staff, decision-makers, and community residents. Thus, developing a stakeholder group to engage throughout the integrated planning process is especially important. Luckily, communities may be able to identify existing stakeholder groups. Start the conversation today!
- Think about funding early. The integrated planning process is comprehensive and often requires a team of consultants. The overall cost of developing an integrated plan can vary by municipality depending on existing plans, staff capacity and expertise, and the completeness of existing data but it is typically less than one percent of the total cost of implementing a plan. Many options exist for funding plan development including tax and rate revenues as well as loan and grant programs. Nonprofit organizations have also participated in cost-sharing arrangements mostly through in-kind contributions. Communities may prefer utilizing federal or state grant and loan programs but should not be reluctant to use rate revenues from wastewater or stormwater utility funds. Reviewing the EPA Funding the Development of an Integrated Plan factsheet is an excellent place to begin.
Communities searching for inspiration or support to get them started with integrated planning may find what they are looking for by conversing with the right people. It depends on the community’s situation but speaking with the right person may help cure ‘writer’s block.’
- If community staff need help to determine the scope of a potential integrated plan, they should speak with their colleagues that manage their permitted sources such as the utility or public works director(s).
- If community staff have a grasp on the scope of a potential integrated plan and need support from decision-makers, they ought to start the conversation with the city council and the mayor.
- If a community has established support from decision-makers and is ready to discuss the logistics of their permit(s) or consent decree, they should speak with their state permitting authority.
Ready to get started? Integrated planning may feel overwhelming, but many resources are available! Check out the EPA Getting Started Fact Sheet or reach out to the EFC for free one-on-one support (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Many communities have succeeded in developing integrated plans to meet clean water goals by prioritizing investments to achieve the most community benefit possible. Join them!
Need technical assistance? The Environmental Finance Center is here to help!
The Environmental Finance Center at UNC-CH offers free one-on-one technical assistance for small water systems. If you have an interest in our support, fill out our interest form here or contact email@example.com.
Visit https://efc.sog.unc.edu/technical-assistance/ to read more about technical assistance.