posted on June 22, 2015 23:01
The Environmental Finance Center at the University of North Carolina has developed a series of free Financial Sustainability and Rates Dashboards for water and wastewater systems. These interactive dashboards provide utility managers with a benchmarking tool that allows them to compare their rates with other similar utilities and see where they stand in regards to affordability for customers, cost recovery, and financial sustainability. Dashboards are currently available for ten states, each of which has its own unique features, but for the purpose of this blog post we will be focusing on Arizona.
The Arizona Water and Wastewater Rates Dashboard contains rate structure information from 355 utilities from across the state. To begin comparing rates, you must first select a utility from the dropdown menu; Arizona is one of the states that allows users to manually input information from their own system, so if your utility was not surveyed for the dashboard you can still compare it. After selecting comparison criteria on the left side of the page, your results will be graphically displayed in four simple dials on the right side of the page. These dials, which represent bill comparison, conservation signal, cost recovery, and affordability, are color-coded with greens, yellows, and reds to provide users with a clear illustration of where their utility stands in comparison with others. Users can then adjust their comparison criteria to see what would happen if certain variables changed, for example if they raised rates or if water consumption increased.
If you are interested in learning more about the specifics of the rates dashboard, the EFC created a 9-part video tutorial series on YouTube to walk you through the features and benefits of the tool.
posted on June 15, 2015 23:01
As more exaggerated weather variations accompany climate change, many utilities are being forced to adapt. Coastal utilities may be particularly aware of their vulnerability to storms after Superstorm Sandy, but other parts of the country are projected to experience more frequent flooding, drought, and other severe weather events as well. One resource designed to help utilities prepare for climate changes is the USEPA’s Climate Ready Water Utilities (CRWU) program.
Tools to Help You Prepare
If you click on the Tools tab of the CRWU page, you’ll find a number of resources intended to help you evaluate your utility’s climate readiness and plan for the future. These resources include links to maps of projected climate changes, storm surges, and hurricane strikes; the CRWU Toolbox; an adaptation strategies guide; reports on utility resilience exercises using the Climate Resilience and Awareness Tool (CREAT); and various reports and links to relevant materials from other programs. It also links to the CREAT homepage, which includes even more information on the tool and its use.
Climate Planning Guidance
In addition to the materials listed under the Tools page, the CRWU website also includes a Training tab, with slides and video recordings of training webinars on CRWU and CREAT topics. This page includes several presentations introducing the basic of CREAT, CRWU, climate change, and climate change planning. It also includes some more advanced topics, such as methods of future planning, case studies, and financial planning. For utilities who need some background before jumping into the resilience evaluation process, these presentations can be a good place to start.
What Climate Planning Might Look Like for You
All of these resources may sound well and good, but what does climate change planning actually mean for your utility? Stocking up on tinfoil hats? Getting your Chicken Little dance down? Thankfully, the answer is much more practical. In this video, CRWU profiles a small utility in Kentucky that was forced to adapt to increased flooding.
Climate planning can provide the extra ounce or two of prevention that is worth several pounds of cure. If you’re interested in investigating ways to protect your utility from weather variation, CRWU can be a great place to start. For more resources, type “climate change” into our document database keyword filter and click “Retrieve Documents.”
posted on June 08, 2015 23:01
A healthy environment can make an area a pleasant place to live, visit, and do business. For water utilities, healthy ecosystems are often associated with compliance, whether they contribute to cleaner sourcewater, or indicate a properly adjusted TMDL. However, healthy environments don’t always happen on their own, particularly when humans get involved. If your local government needs help managing environmental issues, LGEAN can be a good place to get started.
Water Environmental Resources
The Local Government Environmental Assistance Network (LGEAN) is intended to provide environmental management, planning, funding, and regulatory information for local government officials, managers, and staff. Water utilities will likely find their water topic areas to be of most interest, with pages for drinking water, groundwater, stormwater, wastewater, watersheds, and wetlands. These topic pages include issue summaries followed by links to resources from the EPA and other federal and non-government programs, as well as links to relevant publications, databases, and financial assistance programs. These resources may not provide detailed information on specific problems a utility is facing, but they can be a great place to begin wrapping your head around an important issue in your community.
Other Environmental Issues
In addition to the water-specific resources, it can be worthwhile to explore the other topic areas on the site. For example, the environmental management systems and smart growth sections can provide good context for community-wide approaches to problems like watershed management and distribution/collection system expansion projects. And the financing section can be a good place to skim for programs related to issues your area is facing.
If you find the resources at LGEAN useful, you can also sign up for their email update, which keeps subscribers informed on new funding opportunities, federal policy updates, and upcoming conferences/events, among other topics. (For an example, see the most recent update here.)
If environmental issues are a problem at your utility (and where aren’t they), LGEAN can provide a great starting point for your response. If they have a particularly helpful program we’ve missed here, tell us in the comments!
posted on June 01, 2015 23:01
If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably already aware that the Internet exists, and hopefully you think some websites (like ours!) are useful. But have you considered getting a website for your own utility? If you don’t have a website already, here are some things to consider.
Benefits of Going Online
A utility website can provide a number of services, both to you and to your customers. At the most basic level, a website can house the information people ask you for all the time: utility fee information, FAQs, maybe some fact sheets on common local concerns like water conservation or winterizing. Not only does this provide a convenient place to direct people for more information, but some people may Google first, and find what they’re looking for before they have to try tracking you down by phone.
Beyond this basic usefulness, websites can be outfitted with customer service contact forms, new service request forms, CCRs, board meeting schedules and minutes, online bill pay options, and other resources. Contact forms usually feed into an email account, which can be used to collect and organize non-emergency customer communication even when you’re not available. Online bill pay is a convenience for your customers, and online CCR distribution, if your utility is eligible, can be a convenience for you.
Rural Water Impact
If you’d be interesting in gaining the convenience of a website without having to set one up on your own, there are services that can help. As an example (but not an endorsement), Rural Water Impact provides website setup and migration services specifically for small water utilities. In addition to the utility information, contact forms, online bill pay, and other features mentioned above, Rural Water Impact also offers unlimited web support and a subscription service that can send text alerts from you to the people who have signed up for it. If you already have a website, Rural Water Impact also helps you move it to their service. There are fees: a one-time setup fee of $199, plus either a monthly rate of $32.50/month or an annual subscription for a reduced rate of $356.50/year. At the time of this blog post, they were offering a free 14-day trial period as well.
Planning for the Future
The convenience and organization of a good website can provide plenty of benefit in the present. But those benefits can stretch into the future, as young people accustomed to cell phones and internet use start getting old enough to pay the bills. In addition to providing convenience to you and your customers now, having an established website can prepare you and your utility for a new, more digital future.