Water System Partnerships, Interconnections, and Interlocal Agreements

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Project Overview

This project, part of the NC Water System Capacity Development Support project funded by the Public Water Supply Section of NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources, provides resources and assistance to water systems, local governments and regulators who are involved in water system partnerships (often called regionalization).

What forms of partnerships exist between water systems in North Carolina? How many water systems are physically interconnected and what are their characteristics? What are the geographically feasible interconnection options for water systems that are currently not connected? What should a utility consider while creating a new inter-local water agreement? Are there other forms of water system management partnerships that do not depend on physically connecting two water systems and are they feasible?

Why focus on inter-system partnerships?

There is evidence suggesting that systems that enter into partnerships with other systems increase their capacity to provide high quality service to their customers. These arrangements may take the form of simple bulk water sales agreements to full out consolidation. Forging these types of quality partnerships can be extremely difficult for many reasons including the lack of impartial mediators, lack of adequately reviewed agreements, and proper financial assessments. One of the other obstacles facing the state and water systems is the lack of readily accessible information concerning what types of partnerships are technically and legally possible in a given area. The EFC provides support to the Public Water Supply Section to assess types of partnerships and carries out a series of tasks to support the ability of systems in the state to enter into these agreements.

Tools and Documents

After extensively reviewing and creating databases, examining hundreds of interlocal agreements, and working closely with certain communities across North Carolina that are attempting to create new regional partnerships, the EFC at UNC produced the tools and documents listed in the Resources tab and conducted trainings to answer these questions and to assist water system managers in their capacity to partner with their neighboring systems.

Examples of the resources and completed work include:

Development of Tips and Guidelines for Establishing Water Inter-Local Agreements

After reviewing hundreds of inter-local agreements between water systems in North Carolina, mostly focused on bulk sales agreements, the EFC at UNC developed Crafting Inter-Local Water Agreements: Tips Relating to Issues You May Not Have Thought of or that You Were Hoping to Avoid (June 2009). The tips are written in the form of answers to a key set of questions that we believe should be asked (and in most cases addressed) as agreements are developed. Many of these tips apply to creating a water purchase agreement, whether for regular use or for emergency use. These guidelines are a critical supplement to many templates of inter-local agreements that water systems use.

Inventory and Interactive Map of Current Water System Interconnections in North Carolina 

The EFC at UNC worked with Public Water Supply Section of the Division of Water Resources to inventory and map all of the community water system interconnections across the state. In recent years, the EFC at UNC compared interconnections data across different datasets in the Division of Water Resources and contacted water systems directly to verify information, and currently maintain a comprehensive database of all water system interconnections in the state. The information is displayed in this interactive map

Assessment of Current and Potential Water System Interconnections in North Carolina

In 2011, the EFC at UNC assessed the statistics and characteristics of the existing network of interconnections between North Carolina's 2,124 community water systems for emergency and regular use. The report also describes and applies a new methodology developed to determine the most geographically feasible options available for potential interconnections for water systems currently not on the receiving end of any interconnection. This GIS analysis takes into account the geographical challenges of transporting water, such as topology, environmental and infrastructure barriers, and determines the optimal route for potential interconnections between systems. Supplemental maps were generated highlighting the existing and potential water system interconnections in each region of North Carolina.

Analysis of Water System Interconnections in the Central Coastal Plains of North Carolina  

Since 2002, water systems in the Central Coastal Plains of North Carolina have faced mandatory cutbacks on groundwater withdrawals, which has led to a significant increase in the number of interconnections between systems in the region. Here is a Google map of the water system interconnections as they were in the Central Coastal Plains in 2002 before the cutbacks, and again as they existed in 2008. These data were obtained directly from utility managers as part of this project.

Assessment of the Potential for Shared Management of Small Water Systems

The EFC at UNC assessed the potential to enhance management capacity for small community water systems through cooperative (shared) management. Rather than physically interconnecting or consolidating of water systems, shared management (often called "restructuring" by EPA) allows water systems to benefit from the experience of full-time, trained water managers and staff that are shared among neighboring systems, while maintaining the existing ownership structure. The EFC at UNC developed a methodology in 2009 to assess the geographical feasibility of shared management organizations, based on distances between water systems, and analyzed the potential in North Carolina in 2012.

Direct Assistance to Several Communities Considering New Regional Partnerships

The EFC at UNC provides direct assistance to several local governments and communities in NC and in other states that are/were considering creating new inter-local agreements and partnerships to provide water services. Click here to read an example of this work, promoting inter-local water partnerships among five units of local government in Surry County, NC.