Utility Service Partners, Inc.

Sharing industry news, best practices and program highlights from experts in the field.


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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.


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Don’t Let Your Residents Be Left Out in the Cold

The recent bomb cyclone has played havoc across the country, from frigid flooding in the Northeast to abnormally low temperatures and snowfall in the south.

And as the temperatures sank, water line breaks cropped up. Municipalities everywhere have been scrambling to repair water lines – and the NLC Service Line Warranty Program’s network contractors have been dispatched to repair water service lines at homes across the states impacted by the weather event.

HomeServe’s contact center processed over 55,000 repair calls from customers between December 28 and January 7, including nearly 4,200 calls on New Year’s Day alone. The call volume was 87% higher than normal for this season.

As the cold gripped the country and 80,000 people lost power, areas unaccustomed to icy temperatures, such as Florida, Louisiana and Georgia saw record-breaking snowfalls and record-breaking water line repairs as systems vulnerable to freezing temperatures felt the impact of the bomb cyclone. In the south, homeowners unfamiliar with severe winter weather saw their water lines fail under the stress, and even in the north, record cold caused similar failures.

As first responders reacted to the fallout, so did NLC SLWP contractors, answering thousands of calls pouring in from distressed homeowners who were without water service in the middle of an extreme weather event. As first responders battled the elements, contractors trekked through the snow to fix heating and water systems as temperatures nosedived.

“I woke up on a Sunday morning, preparing for Sunday worship, only to find that the pipe leading to my water heater was dripping,” a customer wrote in a Jan. 10 Google review. “My problem was resolved in less than three hours, which is incredibly fast when you take into consideration that we have been experiencing extreme cold in the Northeast and there were probably others without heating that needed attention.”

Be proactive and don’t wait for another severe winter event to leave your residents without water or heat – Learn more (hyperlink) about how the NLC Service Line Warranty program can help residents in your community.

The Service Line Warranty Program is administered by Utility Service Partners, a HomeServe USA company.


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Resiliency in Action

For the past three years, the National League of Cities (NLC), the Urban Land Institute (ULI), and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) have joined efforts to host the Resilient Cities Summit, providing a forum for cities to discuss how they can be better prepared for climate risk and build for a more resilient future.

Resiliency—we know what the word means, right? But resilient cities? According to the American Planning Association (APA), the American Institute of Architects (AIA), ULI, and a number of other organizations that focus on the built environment:

The definition of resilience is “the ability to prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from, and more successfully adapt to adverse events.”1

What kinds of adverse events? And how does a city plan to recover?

“As weather events become more frequent and intense due to climate change, disruptions and stressors become a common concern among city officials and residents alike.”

In her keynote address to the 2016 Resilient Cities Summit, Katherine Hammack, Former Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Army for Installations, Energy, and Environment, put it this way: “a resilient city or installation provides reliable communication and mobility; ensures continuity of critical resources; and provides and enhances man-made and natural resources.”1

What does that look like in action? Let’s visit one of our NLC Service Line Warranty Program Partners, Tulsa, Oklahoma, for an idea. The City of Tulsa was selected as one of one hundred cities to be part of 100 Resilient Cities, pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation (100RC), an organization dedicated to helping cities around the world become more resilient, in 2014.2

In December 2016, Mayor G.T. Bynum appointed DeVon Douglass to become the city’s new Chief Resilience Officer. That selection follows Tulsa’s ongoing commitment to resiliency. According to the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum, the discovery of oil in 1901 set in motion events that would tie Tulsa’s future fortunes to the oil industry for many succeeding decades. Over time, however, Tulsa diversified to include telecommunications, finance, and aviation. 100 Resilient Cities notes, “The city has seen significant economic growth, in part due to concerted urban revitalization plans.”2

Given its position in “Tornado Alley,” one area in which Tulsa needs a plan for resiliency is in establishing reliable emergency communications that reach all residents when weather emergencies arise. “Potentially deadly tornadoes and high wind events regularly harm structures and power lines, and do significant financial damage. The city has responded to high flood risks by creating one of the top floodplain management plans in the country, with a particular focus on urban planning and relocation.”2

That is in keeping with Tulsa’s history, too. CRO DeVon Douglass noted as much when she committed to “…building upon a foundation…in disaster resilience.”2

“Tulsa may seem an unlikely spokes-city for flood control, but it is a leader in storm-water management design in the United States,” writes Olivia Stinson, 100RC Associate Director of City Relationships.3 

Catastrophic flooding of waterways such as Mingo Creek in the 1970s and ‘80s led the city to use local, State and Federal resources to “design and build a comprehensive storm-water management system—a dramatic change in the way Tulsa managed its land and infrastructure.” Building on these relationships and the funding made available, the city acquired over 900 private homes and businesses located in flood-prone areas and turned them into green spaces that function as detention ponds and parks, soccer fields and walking paths. The result is “a system that is visually appealing, environmentally sustainable, and perhaps most importantly, provides other benefits in the absence of flooding.” For example, as 100 Resilient Cities reports, Tulsa Centennial Park serves as valuable public space most of the year and provides essential flood water detention when it rains.

According to a case study published by Naturally Resilient Communities, “the construction of this network of landscaped buffers and detention basins provided Tulsa with the critical green space needed to manage flooding during major storms. Since the project’s creation, local property owners and businesses have not had any major property losses due to flooding. And by allowing the city to plan around flooding hazard areas, the plan has reduced any negative economic impacts that flooding in the area could cause, which has led to social and community benefits as well. Because of its successful flood protection approach, Tulsa boasts one of the nation’s best flood insurance policies. Residents have received up to a 35 percent discount from their premiums that are adjusted to reflect their properties’ reduced flood risk.”

As 100 Resilient Cities concludes, “embracing the natural dynamism of the floodplain has made Tulsa more resilient.”

 

1  2016 Resilient Cities Summit, Solutions for Sustainable Land Use, US Green Buildings Council

2  100 Resilient Cities, Tulsa’s Resilience Challenge,   http://www.100resilientcities.org/cities/tulsa


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Q&A with Cooper Martin

Can you tell us a little bit about what the Sustainable Cities Institute (SCI) at NLC is responsible for?

Our goal is to inform, support, and celebrate city-led sustainability initiatives. The SCI team educates and helps to develop the leadership skills of local elected officials in sustainable energy, water, transportation and other policies. A lot of our time is spent working directly with the officials and their staff that make up the NLC membership.

What are some of the projects in process?

Everything we do is to help cities lead on climate action. NLC helped launch the “We Are Still In” campaign for cities, businesses, universities, and other stakeholders who still uphold the U.S. commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement, and reinforcing that kind of leadership is the most fundamental part of the whole program.

Our two main projects are SolSmart and the Leadership in Community Resilience program. SolSmart provides recognition and assistance to local governments to develop their solar markets and provide cheaper, cleaner energy to citizens. The program covers everything from permitting, construction codes, zoning, financing, utility coordination, and consumer education and has already designated over 100 cities for their efforts.

Our Community Resilience program has established a network of 10 cities and provided them each with grants and technical support to help implement a portion of their local sustainability or climate action plan. This program has been running a little over one year and we hope to invite a new round of communities to participate in 2018.

What are some highlights/recent successes?

At the end of September we celebrated our 100th community to be designated through the SolSmart campaign. I’m confident that we’re making a real impact by reducing the cost and delay of new photovoltaic solar panel installations in communities nationwide and helping the U.S. become a leader in renewable energy.

We also had a very successful Resilient Cities Summit in July. The event is run in partnership with the Urban Land Institute and the US Green Building Council to connect mayors, builders, developers, financiers, planners, and other experts to discuss what each of these sectors needs in order to be truly sustainable in economic, environmental, and social terms.

What is the difference between sustainability and resilience? Can cities be pursuing both at the same time?

This question comes up a lot. I like to say that sustainability is primarily about reducing your impact on the environment, while resilience is about reducing the environment’s impact on you. It’s not perfect, but thinking about it this way allows decision makers to set goals and evaluate trade-offs. For example, if you’re upgrading a building to be safer in earthquake or hurricane zones, can you add some efficiency features and use utility savings to finance the project? Then, are there local policies that help with that kind of holistic approach? I think it’s absolutely necessary to pursue both at the same time because it gives you more complete information to make long-term policy or investment decisions.

What are some ways cities can get more involved/committed to sustainability?

The first thing is to get more involved with the National League of Cities. Elected officials have such a tough job to be educated in so many aspects of running a city and we’re helping make them better leaders all around. After that, sustainability is no different from any other issue. Cities can identify and reach out to local civic associations that are interested in sustainability. Ask them what their top priorities are, what the city can do, and what they can offer in support.

Cooper

Cooper Martin
Program Director,
Sustainable Cities Institute
National League of Cities


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A Message from Tom Rusin, CEO

At USP, a HomeServe Company, our focus on delivering an exceptional customer experience can only be realized with a passionate and engaged workforce.

Feedback from employees has revealed that many wish to be involved in activities that support community initiatives. So our corporate social responsibility initiatives also serve as a platform for meaningful employee engagement.  Through a company-wide charity pitch program similar to “Shark Tank,” we deliberately solicited ideas from our employees for organizations to support. This has enabled us, through a company matching program, to provide significant monetary assistance to a number of organizations that have a personal connection to them. To date, our total contributions in the charity pitch program alone have exceeded $194,000. Many of these organizations also hold events, such as 5K races, that allow groups of our employees to participate, further solidifying their connection to USP HomeServe and the initiatives we support.

As part of our corporate social responsibility program, we grant each employee a day off with pay per year to dedicate to community service.  Many departments have chosen to use the day as a team-building event, cooking meals for the homeless or cleaning up a park. Those who have participated in these activities have expressed their appreciation for giving them the gift of time to help others.

We also dedicate our resources and expertise in the home repair space to help those in need.  HomeServe Cares is an initiative to help disadvantaged homeowners in communities we serve around the country who are faced with a home repair emergency and don’t have either one of our repair service plans or the necessary funds to cover the repair costs. Additionally, in the case of severe weather events, such as this year’s devastating hurricanes, we were able to offer assistance in a number of ways.  During the aftermath of the recent hurricanes in Florida and Texas, we leveraged our greatest asset—our network of high-quality contractors across a number of trades—mobilizing them to provide service at discounted rates to customers in these affected areas, covering the contractors’ investigation costs for repairs not covered under our typical service plans. We also partnered with the Red Cross to raise funds to assist, matching all employee contributions dollar for dollar.

At USP and HomeServe we believe that participating in community service with our employees creates connections that go above and beyond titles or positions. The best part is: our customers ultimately benefit from receiving service from a company with a deeply engaged workforce.


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AMERICA’S WATER INFRASTRUCTURE CRISIS: THE SIX PILLAR SOLUTION

By James L. Good

 

Utility Service Partners

Clean water technologies (filtration and chlorination) are likely the most important public health intervention of the 20th Century.

—Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Every day, we habitually turn on a faucet, draw a bath, and flush a toilet with no more thought than we give to breathing or walking. Yet over the vast span of human history that unfolded prior to 1900, these commonplace household activities would have been viewed as miraculous. In fact, water was often as much a threat to human health as an essential ingredient of life.

Before the turn of the last century, water was a primary carrier of infectious diseases like typhoid, cholera, and dysentery. In the crowded conditions of a rapidly urbanizing America, this could mean a death sentence for city dwellers. For example, an outbreak of cholera that hit Memphis in September 1873 killed 2,000 out of the 7,000 who were infected, in a city with a population of 40,000.

It’s only been about 100 years since the advent of the chlorination of drinking water and the treatment of raw sewage, which virtually eliminated water as an acute public health threat. This also made possible and desirable the expansion of water and sewer networks, which by 1940 had been extended to 94 percent of urban households. It is no exaggeration that this mostly unknown and unheralded investment in water treatment and networks is what makes modern life as we live it possible.

Sadly, such minor miracles can no longer be taken for granted. The maintenance and improvement of our nation’s water systems[i] have been ignored for so long that we are now reaping the consequences, as these sobering statistics demonstrate:

  • 250,000 – the annual number of water main breaks
  • 7 trillion – the amount in gallons lost through these leaks
  • $2.6 billion – the estimated cost of water lost through leaks
  • $1 trillion – the amount estimated by the American Water Works Association that must be spent on drinking water systems over the next 20 years

Even the most casual followers of news and current events have heard of the lead poisoning that struck Flint, Michigan and its water supply a few years ago. A tragic event; but because of the publicity it received, the importance of addressing the presence of lead in our water systems has moved to the forefront of the nation’s consciousness. However, in many ways, the statistics listed above are just as sobering as they point to the deteriorating status of the water systems that we cannot live without.

The magnitude of this crisis is daunting. Fixing it will not be cheap or simple. And there is no single policy, approach, or initiative that will get our nation’s water systems out of this predicament.

What will solve this problem is leadership and a plan that addresses these many challenges comprehensively. Because water systems form an integral part of the built environment and are an entrenched component of it, there are no “do overs.” Instead, getting the water systems we need will require a plan that builds on the systems we have.

The plan that follows consists of Six Pillars. It is based on lessons I’ve learned over the last 25 years of building, running, improving, and thinking about water systems. The emphasis placed on them will vary over time, but they are complementary and must be pursued simultaneously for the plan to succeed. The Six Pillars are:

  1. Education – This pillar is first among equals. Before this crisis can be solved, its dimensions and consequences must be known. Continuous education of and communication to customers, policy makers, the media and other stakeholders is the essential element needed to build the water systems we need.
  2. Data – Water utilities generate terabytes of data daily. Harnessing it generates insights into more effective and efficient ways to operate and improve water infrastructure.
  3. Efficiency – The financial needs of this sector are great, and funds are limited. To close this gap, water utilities need to make the most of every dollar.
  4. Technology – The innovation in processes and systems that can benefit the water sector is unprecedented. Let’s harness them to benefit customers and disseminate innovation rapidly throughout the sector.
  5. Alternative Financing – Local utilities cannot afford to address this crisis alone. They need financial assistance from all levels of government as well as the private sector through alternative contracting approaches such as Public Private Partnerships (P3s) and concessions.
  6. Local Investment – Utilities are largely funded through customer rates. Even with third-party assistance, the cost of solving this crisis will fall primarily on the backs of local ratepayers. Let’s make sure the first five pillars are addressed before any more demands are put on utility customers.

Every participant in the water sector has an important role to play in advancing one or more of these Pillars. That includes the NLC Service Line Warranty Program, which is uniquely positioned to make an impact in each of these areas. For example, on education, the Company is sponsoring this series of articles and using its channels to communicate our nation’s water infrastructure crisis to audiences who may have little knowledge of its magnitude. Increasing the general public’s awareness of this crisis and its solutions is foundational to building a constituency that demands it be addressed.

Through a series of articles, I will be examining each of the Six Pillars, discuss their importance and how HomeServe products and services are being used by water utility customers to help solve our nation’s water infrastructure crisis.

Our civilization literally depends on it.

[i] In this article, unless the context indicates otherwise, “water” denotes both water and sewer.