Utility Service Partners, Inc.

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Green Infrastructure: Three Ways to Partner With Residents

As municipal officials turn to the cost-savings and environmental and social benefits of green infrastructure, there’s one important factor that can mean the difference between success and failure: community buy-in.

How do you convince residents not only to buy-in to green infrastructure, but to green their own homes and businesses? Residents need to get informed, get involved and get green.

Get informed

Green infrastructure can have an immediate impact on – and be immediately visible in – communities, while a storm water sewer may take years to fund and build. In addition, since green infrastructure is more cost efficient, it can mitigate increases in water rates, which is attractive to residents. For example, Philadelphia chose a green infrastructure system that officials estimate will cost $1.6 billion over 25 years – a savings of $4.3 billion over a grey system.

While green infrastructure also can mitigate water costs, if your municipality has storm water fees based on the amount of impervious surface on a property, like Washington, D.C., it also can save your residents money. D.C. gives residents credits when they install green infrastructure, such as rain barrels and cisterns, on their properties, and resident even may sell excess credits to third-party buyers.

In addition, residents could see a boost in their property values – the closer a home is to a greenspace, the more valuable it is, studies have shown – according to Smart Money Magazine, a home’s value can increase by more than 11 percent when it’s near a greenspace.

Green infrastructure is a good investment for commercial properties as well. Adding landscaping, such as a water garden, increases the average rental rate by 7 percent and shoppers spend an average of 8 to 12 percent more in shopping districts with tree canopies, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In some cases, it’s not about the money for residents, but the social benefits of green infrastructure. Tree canopies can reduce urban heat islands and improve air quality, while water gardens and green roofs mitigate flooding and improve water quality. In addition, having access to greenspaces, especially in densely populated areas, have positive psychological effects.

There are several ways to introduce green infrastructure to residents, such as hosting a community clean up or a River Sweep, garden preparation or planting; holding a tour of another green infrastructure site or water or sewer treatment plant; or holding a program or hosting a lecture featuring a green infrastructure expert. With more community engagement, the more knowledgeable residents will be, communications between officials and residents will improve and trust will build.

Get Involved

When launching a project in a community or neighborhood, facts and figures are useful, but getting local groups, whether they’re nonprofits, local schools or service groups, to partner with municipal leaders can get you even further. Both can bring different, valuable ideas and expertise to the table.

In the case of a community cleanup, municipal leaders have resources such as trucks to pick up garbage and bags to collect it, while community groups are skilled at organizing and rallying volunteers.

Partnerships can be unlimited: Partner with an art association to paint a mural or install a temporary exhibit in a greenspace or park; community groups to plant gardens and urban farms; a school to teach children about environmental science; and gardening clubs to provide educational programs.

What you can do with green infrastructure as a framework is only limited by who you can bring to the table. As noted above, the more partnerships you leverage, the more trust you will build in the community.

As greening takes effect across neighborhoods, residents will begin to see the social benefits of green infrastructure.

Get Green

Once your residents are informed and involved, it’s time for them to take ownership of the projects in their neighborhoods and even begin their own green infrastructure projects.

Baltimore allows residents to adopt lots to create community gardens and urban gardens, turning formerly vacant, abandoned lots into community greenspaces. On their properties – especially if storm water reduction credits are available – they can incorporate their own green infrastructure improvements.

Such improvements can include rain gardens, planting trees, green roofs, permeable paving and rain barrels. Making green infrastructure improvements to their homes not only will reap financial and social benefits, but environmental, including improvements to air and water quality, improving climate resiliency and creating urban wildlife habitats.

Working with residents to educate, leverage partnerships and incorporate green infrastructure across the board shouldn’t be a minor detail of your green infrastructure plans, but the cornerstone. Building social acceptability for it should be part of your plans from the very beginning.

The NLC Service Line Warranty Program is proud to partner with more than 500 municipalities to offer important protection to residents. Contact us to learn more about how program can benefit your community!


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Green Infrastructure: Three Key Concepts

As municipal officials look to improve infrastructure, rehabilitate distressed neighborhoods and make communities more livable, many are turning to green infrastructure, which uses existing infrastructure, such as parks, to contain and filter water and direct it away from storm sewers.

Green infrastructure improves water quality, reduces flood risk and manages storm water. It also provides outdoor recreation, educational programming and entertainment space.

Sound too good to be true? Establishing green infrastructure requires planning, innovation and collaboration. Many cities are implementing creative green infrastructure programs. In this article we discuss examples from the cities of Baltimore, Maryland and Kansas City, Missouri, both NLC members and participants in the NLC Service Line Warranty Program.

Calculate

While green infrastructure is more affordable than man-made infrastructure such as storm water sewers, it does require funding and initial maintenance. However, grant funding is available through federal sources including:

Funding also can be sourced locally, through utility, development, impact and usage fees and carbon credits. Private grant and funding programs are available.

When considering areas where initial resources and funding should be focused, it may be difficult to decide what should be a priority. Analyzing data – including going beyond environmental data – will provide a snapshot of not only the environmental needs of your community, but the needs of your residents. Consider the amount of greenspaces versus impervious surfaces that create storm water runoff; the amount of tree cover, which can prevent heat islands and provide urban wildlife habitats; and air and water quality.

While developing your green infrastructure action plan, get input from local planning committees, solicitors and engineers. Local ordinances and regulations and can benefit – or hinder – green infrastructure, so work with other local municipalities to address how local laws impact efforts.

Don’t think small: Kansas City’s MetroGreen includes 1,444 miles of interconnected greenspaces passing through two states and several counties. Working as team with other local stakeholders opens up additional funding, resources and ideas.

Restore

While green infrastructure is a powerful environmental tool, it also can improve quality of life and promote development by turning unattractive properties into greenspaces, green parking, community parks and gardens or urban farms.

In addition to environmental factors, consider population density, median age and income, and access to public parks. It will not only give a broader, clearer picture of your community’s needs, but identify the boots-on-the-ground stakeholders who will make your green infrastructure projects successful.

Baltimore City’s goal is to have a community greenspace within walking distance of all residents. Baltimore officials found younger, less affluent and higher population density neighborhoods also had the least amount of greenspace. Information on blighted areas, from dilapidated houses to blocks of vacant lots, can provide a map of areas that can be restored and transformed.

Baltimore’s Vacants to Value program helps transform lots into community greenspaces, including parks, athletic fields and gardens, depending on that neighborhood’s needs. The Growing Green Initiative encourages repurposing vacant lots, including encouraging homeowners to purchase and rehabilitate adjacent lots, residents to adopt lots in their neighborhoods and residents, city departments and community groups to plant trees.

In Kansas City, the Heartland Conservation Alliance, a grassroots organization dedicated to conserving, restoring and protecting natural lands, partnered with the Mid-America Regional Council, which oversees the MetroGreen, to launch the Vacant Lots to Greenways program. The program is an effort to create a greenway, utilizing vacant lots, to provide community access to the Blue River.

That’s not the only way Kansas Citians are repurposing vacant lots. In October, the EPA awarded $30,000 to Kansas City Community Gardens to establish 15 to 20 community orchards through the Giving Grove project. The Giving Grove helps establish community gardens for those at risk for food insecurity.

Connect

Collaboration is a constant in green infrastructure success. Community collaborators can include schools, service organizations and neighborhood and environmental groups.

Collaboration thrives on communication and community ownership of projects. Promote engagement through regularly updated websites and apps.  For example, Baltimore has the Green Pattern Book, a guidebook on its green infrastructure programs available online, and the Park Finder app, which gives directions to the nearest park and filters parks by their amenities, including playgrounds, swimming pools and athletic fields.

The Mid-America Regional Council offers a free printed map of MetroGreen hiking and biking trails – or residents can download the free app, which includes a digital version. The agency also provides an online resource guide, including maps, videos and PowerPoint presentations, for speaking about MetroGreen’s benefits to the community.

Additional outreach and education efforts in Kansas City include the Blue River Watershed Association which leads several educational programs, including:

The Baltimore Office of Sustainability also incorporates youth education and leadership in outreach efforts. The office’s Youth Environmental Internship Program launched Baltimore Beyond Plastic, a Brower Youth Award-winning program, and GreenScape, an annual celebration of youth environmental leadership.

Green infrastructure requires cultural change, but your community will realize environmental, economic and social benefits through increased flood and storm water resiliency, increased greenspace and lower infrastructure costs.

The NLC Service Line Warranty Program is proud to partner with more than 500 municipalities to offer important protection to residents. Contact us to learn more about how program can benefit your community!


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CitiesSpeaks Focuses on How P3s Can Benefit Your Community

As the Trump administration encourages the use of public-private partnerships in addressing infrastructure issues, you may question whether a P3 is the right choice for your community. The National League of Cities’ CitiesSpeak explores three ways P3 can benefit communities – by stretching the budget, allowing flexibility and shortening project timelines, and providing access to innovation not otherwise available. P3s can allow a municipality to share the risk and responsibility while retaining ownership of infrastructure assets.


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A Three-Pronged Approach to Water Conservation in Drought

What Can Residents Do?

Here are a few tips to help residents conserve water during a drought.

  • Use washing machines and dishwashers for full loads only.
  • When washing dishes or hands, brushing teeth or shaving, don’t let the water run.
  • Take shorter showers and install low-flow shower heads.
  • Mulch plants and trees, while watering either early in the morning or late in the evening to reduce evaporation.
  • Put the hose away. Use a broom to clean sidewalks, patios and driveways and a bucket and sponge to wash cars.

Aging infrastructure can be costly – and even more so during a drought, as thousands of gallons of potable water spill from leaking pipes when municipalities can least afford the loss. More than 2.1 trillion gallons are lost across the country each year. That hurts a municipality’s bottom line, but especially so during a drought, when every drop is precious.

Drought doesn’t only impact homeowners – businesses, especially restaurants, hospitals and farms, need a steady water supply. In 2012, two-thirds of the country suffered a chronic drought and, over a twenty-year period from 1980 to 2000, droughts cost U.S. communities and businesses more than $100 billion. In addition, cities are seeing historic growth – and historic pressure on resources such as water.

The most successful approaches to water conservation during a drought mitigate the impact on the system, residents and businesses. While you can’t always predict a drought, you can prepare for one by being proactive, flexible and communicating with your customers.

Be Proactive

Planning for a drought may seem overwhelming, but many best practices double as drought preparation. Integrating water, storm and wastewater and sanitation management with planning and economic development not only will improve water resilience, but also help address environmental and economic issues in your community.

A holistic approach can combine planning with water management to encourage green spaces and ground cover, which not only improves water availability, but also decreases vandalism and stress, with studies showing green space can be mentally restorative and invoke community pride.

Pairing up economic development and water management also can pay dividends: The Alliance for Water Efficiency estimates that a $10 billion investment in water efficiency across the country could increase the GDP by $13 to $15 billion and create 120,000 to 260,000 jobs.

Combining a cross-department approach with analytics – such as the analytics being used to produce real time data by the Sacramento Area Sewer District to prevent spills – will allow you to make improvements with an eye toward multiple benefits. Investments in resilient infrastructure also can save thousands of dollars in potable water by reducing water loss while improving performance and supply capacity and reducing operating costs.

Be Flexible

Every community has finite water resources – being flexible in their management is key to ensuring a steady supply through a drought.

There are several ways to diversify water supply, including increasing storage capacity, working cooperatively with other water utilities to share resources and using innovative technology, such as desalination systems and recycling grey water.

Although desalination has been expensive in the past, it is rapidly becoming more affordable, leading to Tampa Bay Water opening one of the largest desalination plants – alongside a 15 billion gallon reservoir. Even if you have your own supply of water, having a purchase agreement and connection in place with another municipality may provide the flexibility needed to survive an extreme weather event.

Reusing water that has been used in sinks, showers and washers for flushing toilets and doing laundry can reduce a household’s water usage by a third, and homeowners are beginning to take note, either retrofitting their plumbing or having homes built with systems to treat and store grey water for reuse. Some utilities, such as the Orange County Water District, have replicated grey water recycling across an entire water system.

There are several ways to store water, from more traditional water towers and reservoirs to less conventional practices, such as recharging groundwater in times of excess water and irrigation canals.  With global declines in water storage, increasing storage capacity is more important than ever.

Communicate

Another way to increase your water supply is to communicate with your customers – a water conservation education program can free up supply by reducing use.

It is crucial to educate residents about simple practices to reduce their water use, as well as more elaborate conservation measures, such as installing cisterns or rain barrels to collect rain water and landscaping with native, drought-resistant plants.

Encouraging water-use efficiency across residential, agricultural and commercial sectors, in conjunction with infrastructure efficiencies, such as leak detection and energy audits, can be scaled to the size of the system and have both long-term and short-term benefits. The Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program helps identify plumbing products, such as low-flow fixtures, meant to conserve water and energy. Low-flow fixtures can save thousands of gallons of water over their lifetime.

Communicating regularly with your customers about water conservation keeps it top of mind, but it also keeps open a line of communication if you need to inform them about voluntary or mandatory restrictions on water usage.

Private side water and sewer lines can also be a cause of potable water loss, and many homeowners are unaware of their responsibility for these lines. Consider educating them through a partnership with the NLC Service Line Warranty Program.


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Don’t Let Low Pressure Problems Get Your Residents Down

Sometimes more pressure is a good thing!

Your residents turn on the shower and get a weak drizzle or can’t run the sink and washer at the same time without the water slowing to a sluggish trickle – they have low water pressure.

Low water pressure usually is caused by clogged pipes, especially galvanized steel pipes, which have a rough interior which provides the perfect environment for mineral build-up. If residential pipes are clogged, they will either have to be replaced, in the case of galvanized pipes, or removed and the mineral build-up removed before being replaced, in the case of copper pipes. In both cases, the work should be done by a licensed and insured plumber.

To eliminate other causes before calling in a plumber, homeowners should check the water shutoff value near the water meter to see if it is fully open, or contact their local water service provider and request a pressure reading.

The optimal pressure for households is between 45 pounds per square inch, or PSI, and 55 PSI, according to the Family Handyman. Less than 40 PSI will result in low water pressure in the home and above 80 PSI will wear out the washers on plumbing fixtures, waste water and damage water heaters, faucets and appliances.

Low PSI in the home can result from an obstruction in the pipes or a leak in the water main. To check for a leak, homeowners should visually inspect the area where the water main comes into the home, usually the basement or garage.

They should also inspect the area outside the home where the water main comes into the building. The outside inspection should be conducted after there have been several dry days to see if there is an area where the ground is soggy. If there is a suspected leak between the home and where the service line meets the utility line, then a resident will need professional help – and homeowners may be unaware they are responsible for repairs to their service line. As these repairs can be costly, a water service line repair plan can protect homeowners from an unforeseen expense.

If only one or two fixtures have low pressure, the fixtures may be causing the problem. An aerator in the faucet can be checked by unscrewing it from the bottom of the faucet and disassembling it, according to Bob Vila. If there is mineral buildup, soaking the parts in white vinegar overnight and then scrubbing with a toothbrush and rinsing before re-assembling them might remedy the issue. Shower heads also can be soaked in a mixture of white vinegar and water for several hours.

If low water pressure is associated with running hot water, the water heater’s shut-off valve should be checked to assure it is open. If the problem persists, a professional should be consulted.

The National League of Cities (NLC) Service Line Warranty Program, administered by Utility Service Partners, a HomeServe company, was conceived in partnership with the NLC to educate property owners about their service line responsibilities and to help residents avoid the out-of-pocket expense for service line repairs. Contact us to learn more about how the NLC Service Line Warranty Program can benefit your community.


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From Rome to New Jersey: A History of Water and Public Health

The relationship between public health, clean water and sanitation has been explored since ancient times – the Greeks observed a connection between lifestyle, social class and health, but there were no public water supplies or sewers. It is speculated many ancient Grecian cities were established so far from bodies of water to protect the population from waterborne disease.

Although the Romans are cited as a benchmark for sanitation and hygiene, their idea of cleanliness was different from modern times. It is theorized water wasn’t frequently changed in the famous baths, spreading disease and parasites, and the sewers beneath Rome didn’t remove waste and sewage, but provided drainage and prevented flooding. The Romans were more successful at providing potable water. Using a series of aqueducts, water was brought from as far away as 60 miles outside the city and treated using methods such as aeration and settling basins, although some water sources were cleaner and more desirable than others.

Like ancient Greece, Medieval towns didn’t have sewers, but unlike the Greeks, Medieval people threw their garbage and waste into the street. Monasteries did have fresh running water, washrooms, latrines and sewers. Public health and sanitation were more strongly linked following the bubonic plague of 1348, and attempts were made to improve sanitation by improving water supplies and better garbage and sewage disposal.

Cleanliness improved in the early modern age, but in crowded urban areas, poor sanitary conditions and a lack of clean drinking water meant disease – especially waterborne diseases – ravaged populations. Waves of epidemics, including cholera, typhoid and dysentery, all waterborne illnesses, ravaged communities, and doctors simply didn’t know what caused them, only that they seemed to be related to environmental causes – many believed in the miasma theory, that poisoned air caused disease.

Cholera, known as “King Cholera,” was one of the most deadly. Caused by water or food tainted by fecal matter, cholera ripped through communities across the globe, including among the Ohio canals, filled with stagnant water that was the perfect breeding ground for the disease, in 1832. Thousands more died in New York City in the late 1840s

One of the first people who linked public health and water cleanliness in modern times was Edwin Chadwick, who wrote a report on the sanitary conditions in English slums in 1842, noting a correlation between the lack of a sanitary system and clean water with disease and high mortality rates among the poor. His research led to one of the first modern attempts by a municipality to operate a sewage system.

Dr. John Snow, an epidemiologist, was another early pioneer in linking contamination of public water sources and disease. In 1854, during a cholera outbreak in London, he complied a data map of deaths in the city and analyzed the data.

Snow already suspected disease was spread through contaminated water, having theorized a prior cholera outbreak was linked to the Vauxhall Water Co. It was a theory few others were willing to believe. As a result, more than 600 people died and many more fled during the 1854 epidemic.

Snow noted most of the deaths clustered around a single water pump – one that had been contaminated with sewage from a nearby cesspit. Not only did the deaths cluster around this one pump, but several nearby facilities with their own water sources didn’t have nearly as many cholera cases.

Snow took a sample of water from the offending water pump and found it to be full of small white particles – the bacteria, vibrio cholerae, that causes cholera – after examining it under a microscope. With this information, he convinced officials to remove the pump handle, preventing anyone else from drinking the tainted water. Within a few weeks, the contagion was ended.

During the American Civil Water, three times as many soldiers died from epidemic illness, including dysentery, typhoid and cholera, as did in battle. The practice of digging latrines conveniently near encampments exacerbated the issue. It was these practices that likely polluted the Potomac River and infected Willie Lincoln, President Abraham Lincoln’s son, with typhoid, causing his death in 1862.

Epidemics of waterborne diseases continued to regularly plague the country until the early 20th century, when municipalities began providing treated drinking water through reliable delivery systems, beginning with Jersey City, N.J., in 1908. Within 10 years, typhoid cases dropped by two-thirds and it is nearly unheard of today. Drinking water treatment became widespread, virtually halting waterborne disease in its tracks.

Despite the importance of water systems in maintaining public health, our water systems are reaching the end of their usable lives – some of the Washington, D.C., water system dates back to Lincoln’s tenure in the White House. It is estimated that it will cost $1.3 trillion to fix the country’s water and waste water systems. Billions of gallons of clean drinking water are lost to leaky pipes, and there is no clear path to a system overhaul in sight.

Citizens may not realize they also own part of that aging system – the service line between a water main and a residence is usually the homeowner’s responsibility. Many are unaware of that responsibility or how costly it can be.

Contact us to learn more about how the National League of Cities (NLC) Service Line Warranty Program, administered by USP, a HomeServe company, can help educate your residents about their service line responsibilities while providing an affordable repair program.


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Is Your Water System Reaching the End of Its Life Span?

Approximately 90 percent of Americans get their water from public systems, and the country’s overall infrastructure has been graded D-plus by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Drinking water systems received a D and waste water systems a D-plus – and that grade hasn’t improved in years.

Most Americans receive their water through pipes that are coming to the end of their usable lifespan of 75 to 100 years, according to the ASCE drinking water report card. Those failing systems lose six billion gallons of treated water every day, or nearly 20 percent. The ASCE estimates it will cost more than $1.3 trillion to fix America’s drinking water problem.

Investment in our water systems has been inadequate for decades, and rate payer-generated revenue is flat and even declining as some municipalities see their populations shrink. The federal government provides low-interest loans for water infrastructure projects, but the millions invested in the program can’t keep pace with a need that exceeds $1 trillion. Meanwhile, state and local governments have decreased spending by more than 20 percent.

To compound water woes, public sewage systems, already serving more than 75 percent of Americans will see a demand increase of nearly 25 percent by 2032. An estimated 532 systems will need to be added to the 14,748 plants treating sewage to meet that demand, and the EPA estimates the cost to update and expand wastewater infrastructure to do so would cost $271 billion.

The problem with upkeep and expansion is the expense, and many smaller communities don’t have the economics of scale to fall back on. Neither can municipal governments count on the federal government to shoulder more than a small portion. Over the past five years, the federal government has provided $1.4 billion per year to all 50 states and the District of Columbia for sewage improvements.

The greatest portion of repairs will fall on the municipality themselves, because little money is available at the state level. States provide approximately $5.8 billion per year, usually discounted loans through Clean Water State Revolving Fund programs. At that rate, it will take nearly 40 years to make the repairs and upgrades needed by 2032.

Our water systems are facing decades of neglect, no clear consensus on what should prioritized, and no clear source of funding. Public spending on total infrastructure dropped from 3.6 percent of the Gross National Product in 1960 to 2.6 percent by 1985, according to Rebuild America Coalition. The coalition estimates spending to improve wastewater operations needs to increase by $13.8 billion annually. Additionally, the EPA estimates that $76.8 billion is needed for immediate infrastructure improvements to maintain drinking water quality and protect public health.

As public system age and government officials struggle to find the finding to repair them, so do private service lines and residents. In addition, many residents are unaware of their responsibility to maintain their service lines until there is an issue – an unhappy realization for many.

The National League of Cities (NLC) Service Line Warranty Program, administered by Utility Service Partners, Inc., a HomeServe Company, addresses aging private infrastructure by offering homeowners an affordable protection plan through partnerships with cities at no cost to the city.

Contact us to learn how Service Line Warranty Program can educate your residents about their service line responsibilities while providing an affordable repair program.