Long-Term Planning to Improve Resiliency and Environmental Service of North Carolina's Water and Wastewater Utilities

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This project seeks to examine the long-term planning of North Carolina's water and wastewater utilities and how such planning (or the lack thereof) affects the resiliency and environmental service of these utilities across the state.

Why Long-Term Planning?

Water and wastewater utilities in North Carolina have recently suffered from flooding, hurricanes, droughts, economic recession, loss of industry, and other factors that have negatively affected their financial resources, which in some cases are not resilient to unforeseen changes. These factors have significantly affected many utilities’ ability to provide clean drinking water to customers and to protect environmental resources from pollution.

What We're Doing

This project aims to support clean drinking water and clean rivers for North Carolinians by enhancing utilities’ resiliency to changes that could impair their financial resources and ability to effectively provide services. The EFC at UNC plans to accomplish this by studying long-term planning methods at utilities and sharing information about best practices with the utilities themselves.

The project team is currently researching the connection between long-term planning at North Carolinian utilities and good outcomes for their customers; specifically, financial stability and fewer violations of regulations. Just as companies with sustainability strategies have higher stock market returns and lower volatility, the research team posits that utilities generating future-looking plans will perform better and be more resilient, thereby providing better environmental services. Future-looking plans can include comprehensive capital planning, asset management, disaster/resiliency planning, water shortage response planning, and other forms of long-term infrastructure and financial planning.

This research is currently being conducted through surveying utilities across North Carolina and completing regression analyses. The analysis of results will be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal in Fall 2018 for publication. A summary of results from the 2017-2018 North Carolina Water and Wastewater Utility Management Survey can be found in the above Resources tab.

Next Steps

After the survey portion of the project is complete, the research learnings will be applied to assist state and local governments in North Carolina. The project team will summarize the state of, gaps in, and best practices of long-term planning efforts across the state in a report to be disseminated to officials who are responsible for creating a master plan for water and wastewater in the North Carolina (the State Water Infrastructure Authority (SWIA) and the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ)), as well as all local governments. The survey findings will also be used to identify long-term planning gaps at individual utilities and facilitate trainings and sharing best practices that can assist those targeted utilities.