The Environmental Finance Center Network
The Environmental Finance Center Network, through its member Environmental Finance Centers, work with communities across the country to address a variety of environmental finance challenges including water and wastewater affordability. Some of the EFCs, such as the Southwest EFC, address affordability by helping communities control their costs through asset management and leak reduction programs. Other EFCs, such as the EFC at UNC, have developed tools that assess financial capacity of customers and pricing and non-pricing programs to reduce the financial impact of water service on low wealth households.
EFCs work at the regional, state and individual utility level on affordability issues. At the state level, EFCs such as at Wichita State University and at UNC have developed statewide assessment and benchmarking tools to determine and track affordability challenges over time and across regions. Many of the other EFCs address this essential topic through utility-level advising or through multi-topic water finance education events that include material on affordability strategies. EFCs are also involved in applied research projects that study national trends and best practices related to affordability. EFC activities and resources related to affordability include:
EFC at the University of North Carolina
The EFC at UNC worked with Abt Environmental Research and other researchers on a National Association of Clean Water Agencies-funded project. Along with NACWA, the AWWA, AMWA, NAWC, WEF and the Water Research Foundation were members of the project steering committee.
This project summarizes the principle legal barriers and opportunities to establishing an assistance program for low-income water and wastewater utilities in each of the 50 states, as well as the U.S. territories and District of Columbia. Several case studies at the utility level highlight how customer assistance programs were designed in light of the relevant state regulations. The project also includes potential model programs from other utility sectors, as well as potential model programs internationally.
This project focuses on how these programs can be financed by the utility. Specifically, there is an emphasis on the ability to finance programs directly from rate revenue. Equally, while there are a wide array of customer assistance programs that a utility may engage in, the project focuses on financial assistance in the form of Utility Bill Discounts, Temporary Assistance, and Flexible Payment Plans. The maps and summaries are periodically updated and can be accessed on the project homepage. To receive notifications of updates, also visit the project homepage.
The EFC at UNC worked with Abt Environmental Research on a Water Research Foundation funded study entitled “Customer Assistance Programs for Multi-Family Residential and other Hard to Reach Customers.”
The primary objective of this project is to provide water utilities with pragmatic options, evaluation criteria, lessons learned, and guidance for customer assistance programs targeting hard to reach customers. The intent is to help water providers identify and assess their options for reaching these customers directly, and/or indirectly through other channels and programs. The objective is also to better enable utilities to establish a business process for effectively implementing, monitoring the effectiveness of, and continually improving their assistance programs aimed at hard to reach customers. A secondary objective is to extend the insights gleaned on customer assistance program to enhance other utility communication and outreach activities that pertain to hard to reach members of the community.
More Resources on Affordability
- Water and Wastewater Residential Rates Affordability Assessment Tool: An Excel tool that helps utilities to assess affordability for residential customers.
- Water Utility Customer Assistance Program Cost Estimation Tool: An Excel tool that helps a utility estimate how much an affordability program might cost the utility.
- Utility Financial Sustainability and Rates Dashboards: These interactive water and wastewater rates dashboards include an affordability assessment dial in most cases.
- An Overview Of Clean Water Access Challenges In The United States. Clean water access is not limited to certain countries or regions. In the United States, millions of people still struggle to get access to clean water. This research highlights water and sanitation access challenges, specifically in the United States, references current solutions and initiatives, and suggests further options to be investigated and considered.
- Affordability and Principal Forgiveness in the State Revolving Fund Programs of the Environmental Protection Agency Region 4 States. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act required the State Revolving Funds (SRF) to provide additional subsidization through the form of principal forgiveness, grants, or negative interest rates. This report focuses on how EPA Region 4 states are determining eligibility for principal forgiveness in their SRFs programs.
- Rate Approval Process Communication Strategy and Toolkit. This toolkit provides utilities communication strategies for rate and budget approval.
- “Low-Income Affordability Programs” chapter of the AWWA “M1 Principles of Water Rates, Fees and Charges 7th Edition," published in 2016.
- Affordability chapter from "Defining a Resilient Business Model for Water Utilities" report, funded by the Water Research Foundation.
- Defining Affordability: Targeting Federal Funds to Improve Water Quality to "Disadvantaged Communities" in North Carolina. Under the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) Program, states receive capitalization grants to improve their drinking water facilities. States may provide longer term loans and principal forgiveness (not to exceed 30% of their annual DWSRF grant) to “disadvantaged communities.” This research explores how North Carolina should define a “disadvantaged community” as it relates to the DWSRF.
- US Water Alliance's One Water Summit 2018: "Redefining Water Affordability for the 21st Century: Defining Actionable Affordability Challenges"
- National Assosciation of Regulatory Utility Commissioners 2018: "Strategies for Addressing Water Affordability"
- Making Ends Meet: A Workshop on Water Affordability 2018: "How Utilities and Cities Can Develop CAPs and Rate-Based Solutions to Affordability"
- ASDWA Conference 2017: "Navigating Legal Pathways To Rate-Funded Customer Assistance Programs"
- Georgia House of Representatives Committee Meeting 2017: "Local Government Utility Payment Options for Customers in Need of Assistance"
- AWWA Online Presentation 2017: "Innovative Strategies For Customer Affordability"
- Water and Health Conference 2017: "Ensuring Drinking Water Affordability: Challenges and Opportunities in Local and State Policy Making"
- CIFA State Revolving Fund National Workshop 2017: "Strategies for Addressing Affordability"
- AWWA Annual Conference and Exposition 2016: "Affordability Programs: New Options & Resources From The 7th Edition Update Of The M1 Manual"
- CIFA State Revolving Fund National Workshop 2016: "Household Affordability, And Why SRF Managers Should Pay Attention"
- NC Water and Wastewater Finance Course 2016: "Paying for Water and Wastewater? Is their a problem and what should you do about it?"
Read our blog posts focused on water affordability topics.
Other Network Members' Resources
EFC at Wichita State University
The WSU EFC developed a Community Affordability Assessment Tool for all 745 rural communities in Missouri for the Missouri Dept. of Natural Resources. The project involved extensive national literature review to determine which factors effect rural population change. Those factors were then analyzed to determine which are applicable to Missouri and then used to create pre-populated assessment tool for all rural Missouri communities that includes data for 20 individual community data points. MDNR will use the tool to identify communities that may have challenges now or in the future paying for water and wastewater infrastructure improvements and develop innovative solutions. (Funding provided by the Missouri Environmental Improvement and Energy Resources Authority.) A full report may be read here. The tools are available by request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Great Lakes EFC at Cleveland State University (Now at Michigan Tech)
‘Improve Detroit’ is a mobile application (available on: iOS, Android, Windows, Blackberry), as well as a web-based option, for reporting non-emergency quality of life issues—clogged catch basins, illegal dumping, potholes, snow plow requests, dead animals, etc. The Great Lakes EFC has been working with the City of Detroit and mobile app developer SeeClickFix.com to find ways to improve information quality and efficiency for reporting threats to water quality. The lessons we learn from the work in Detroit can be immediately available to any city that uses the SeeClickFix platform nationwide –which includes cities of all sizes. The goal is to reduce costs of delivering services, thereby freeing up resources with in Detroit Water and Sewer to be use on other needs.
The EFC at the University of Louisville (CEPM) supported the national Sustainable Communities Learning Network as a capacity building provider to the nearly 400 HUD Sustainable Communities Initiative grantees across the nation. CEPM lead a team comprised of members of the Environmental Finance Center Network (EFCN), specifically the New England Environmental Finance Center, the Environmental Finance Center at the University of Maryland, and the Southwest Environmental Finance Center, as well as two other University of Louisville centers: Center for Hazards Research and Center for Infrastructure Research. The team’s technical assistance focused on integrating water infrastructure planning into the grantees regional planning and challenge grants during phase I with additional topics covered during phase II.
HUD has archived many of the resources we created. Simply enter Water in the Search by Keyword and most of the resources we created under this grant related to water infrastructure. These resources include elements of asset management and integration in other planning efforts, all of which speak to affordability efforts.
This practice guide considers the economic costs of poorly planned growth on the provision of linear utilities (including electricity, natural gas, telephone, cable and drainage), but focuses on water and sewer service because they are most likely to be key to project approval. Written for utility managers and regulators, municipal officials, and planning commissioners—and the consumers and voters whom they serve–this Practice Guide aims to improve awareness, facilitate communication and promote better resolution of the challenges they face together as they try to manage growth.
Development Impact Fees are a commonly proposed method of raising revenue to help pay for the added costs of new infrastructure and services required as a result of new growth in a community. This practice guide discusses the overarching issues associated with the use of impact fees. Specifically impact fees are discussed in their role as a revenue generator and a planning tool. Furthermore, some of the problems associated with the use of impact fees, unanticipated consequence potentials resulting from the use of impact fees, and examples of the real world use of impact fees are also included in this practice guide
This practice guide is intended to be used as a resource for local government and water utility officials who are exploring ‘best practices’ for managing a water utility, especially as it relates to setting and regulating water rates. This guide is broken down into four sections. The first section focuses on considerations and objectives when setting water rates; the second takes a brief look at the concept of interactive dashboards which can be used to convey complex financial data to the public and elected officials; the third part is an overview of a ‘Rates Dashboard’ designed specifically for water utilities. Lastly, case studies provide anecdotal evidence of how water utilities have benefited from the use of these Rates Dashboards.
Managing stormwater is a central concern for municipalities struggling with more intense weather events and increased pressure to develop land that would have previously accommodated stormwater through infiltration. Green infrastructure, which creates an infrastructure through engineered and natural components that act as a living infrastructure for stormwater management, and low-impact development that manages stormwater close to the source in a way that replicates the pre-development management of water on a site, are proven methods to manage stormwater more efficiently. This practice guide makes the case for using green infrastructure on brownfield sites as a way to offer an environmentally friendly amenity while also meeting cleanup requirements. It includes a brief history of brownfields, a description of cleanup practices, examples of potential uses of green infrastructure and low-impact development on brownfield sites, a summary of current sources of funding for including green infrastructure and low-impact development on a site, followed by case studies of developments that successfully included green infrastructure or low-impact development.