Utility Service Partners, Inc.

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


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Three Environmental Factors that Cause Service Lines to Fail

Are your residents aware of their responsibility to maintain their water and sewer service lines?

In the State of the Home Winter 2018 survey, 13 percent of respondents thought service lines are the responsibility of the municipality or utility, and 18 percent didn’t know who was responsible. Additionally, 11 percent thought their homeowners’ insurance would cover it. That means one-third either don’t know who is responsible or think the responsibility lies with their service provider, and more than 40 percent are not prepared for a break.

As unprepared as they are, they likely don’t know the three environmental factors that lead to plumbing failures: roots, cold and ground settling.

Roots

Sewer service lines are an especially tempting target for tree roots, since they’re a source of water, nutrients and oxygen the tree needs. Once a root has found a crack or loose joint, it will grow into the pipe, destroying it as it goes. During a drought, the water and nutrients in the sewer service line are an even bigger target. Tree roots generally extend up to two or three times the height of the tree, but can extend as far as seven times the height.

When roots worm their way in, their growth causes pressure at the crack or joint where they found their way in, worsening it. Clay and cast iron are particularly prone to root invasion, because their joints are loose-fitting and an easy target for roots. Most modern sewer lines are made of plastic pipes, which are more resilient, but there are still millions of homes that have older style sewer service lines – and they are reaching the end of their usable lifespans, roots or not.

Roots don’t need to destroy a sewer line to cause issues – as the root mass invades the pipe, growing larger, the mass itself will begin clogging the pipe, leading to slow-flowing drains and overflowing, neither of which are pleasant prospects for residents.

With most root intrusions, the first line of defense is using a plumbing auger, or “snake,” to clean out the line, using a bladed cutting tool on the end to power through roots and debris in the line, followed by root killer to discourage – but not entirely stop – future growth. However, some older lines, especially corrugated iron, have such thin walls that the cutting tool can damage them.

If a line is beyond what can be mediated with an auger, a plumber can line it with a plastic-and-cement sleeve or, in a worst-case scenario, dig a trench and replace the failed section of the line. This is the worst-case scenario, because it’s the most expensive, costing thousands of dollars.

Cold

Frozen water pipes impact a quarter million households each winter, and, while service lines are buried safely below the frost line, interior plumbing isn’t. If that plumbing is poorly insulated and exposed to quick drops in temperature, it can freeze.

Even a small crack in a pipe can lose hundreds of gallons of water a day, flooding a home and exposing it to structural damage and mold.

Surprisingly enough, it’s the warmer, southern states where homeowners are more vulnerable to frozen pipes. The reason is simple – northern home builders account for cold weather and insulate pipes and don’t put them in the danger areas, such as crawl spaces, outer walls, attics and garages. In addition, southern homeowners are less likely to be on guard for freezing pipes.

Pipes running through uninsulated spaces isn’t solely a southern problem – older homes in the north also may have issues with uninsulated pipes, and 37 percent of all pipe breaks occur in basements, a feature more likely to be found on the east coast. Whatever region a home is in, plumbers agree that 20 degrees Fahrenheit is the magic number for water line breaks caused by cold. It rarely gets so cold in the south, but when it does, those uninsulated pipes are in danger of freezing.

When the water in a pipe freezes, it expands, but this usually isn’t enough to cause a pipe to break – it’s the downstream pressure that now has no release, because of the ice blockage. This is why plumbers recommend opening all your interior taps – outdoor taps should have the water turned off – if you feel your pipes are in danger of freezing, because it reduces the pressure on your pipes.

In addition, homeowners can buy insulation sleeves that slip over their pipes to protect them. Anyone who is concerned about possible breaks can purchase sleeves at their local hardware store – they are much less expensive than the average $5,000 cost for interior plumbing breaks.

Ground settling

Pipes settle – a series of rain, freezing and thawing will cause ground movement and cause the pipes to move.

Most of the time, pipes should be fine, but older pipes can begin to leak at the joints and fittings. This will either attract roots, or, if it is a sewer line, soil from around the pipe can be washed into it, then into the sewer main, causing blockages and also a void around the pipe that can cause it to bow. If a sewer line begins sagging, it will trap water and debris in the sagging portion, and the debris will harden until it causes a blockage.

If water or sewage leaks into the soil surrounding the pipe, it can exacerbate the freeze-thaw cycle, causing increasing damage, and attract roots, which, as noted, are bad for pipes.

All underground pipes will be subject to shear forces, bending moments, curvatures and joint rotations caused by settling, but the ability to withstand it differs across types of pipe. Most homeowners won’t know there’s an issue until there’s a problem, and that’s often too late.

In the State of the Home survey, nearly 90 percent of respondents said municipalities should educate their residents about their service line responsibilities. At no cost to your municipality, you can offer protection to your residents and educate them not only on their service line responsibilities, but on a host of other plumbing issues through a partnership with the NLC Service Line Warranty Program. Municipalities may also receive royalties from the program. For more information visit Utility Service Partners, a HomeServe company.


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Conservation: Partnering With Ratepayers to Reduce Costs

Potable water is valuable and requires time, labor and resources to produce and deliver to ratepayers, and water utilities are expected to maintain a constant, clean supply with aging infrastructure and rates that are less than ideal. We’ve looked at recouping costs through reducing loss and theft, but you also can partner with ratepayers to further reduce costs.

When you’ve done all you can to shrink loss and theft, water conservation is another cost-cutting tool. Conservation isn’t just for customers – it’s up to community leaders to show the way. Use of low-flow fixtures, WaterSense-rated appliances, aerators and native plants in your home and yard is a great way to show that you take conservation seriously.

Low-flow fixtures will pay for themselves in water savings, and some, such as aerators, are easy to install on most taps and significantly reduce usage. It’s estimated that aerators will pay for themselves within a year with saved water costs – sinks and showers account for a large part of a home’s daily water usage. The Environmental Protection Agency estimated that switching to low-flow appliances would save an average of $380 annually in water costs. Even more impressive, it can help reduce water usage by 20 percent. Those installing efficient appliances won’t only save on their water bill – they also will save on energy costs and extend the life of their water heaters.

Water also can be conserved outdoors by using native plants and landscaping that requires minimal watering. Native plants are much more likely to thrive in your lawn, saving water and worry, while providing natural beauty. They also reduce erosion and improve the soil, while reducing the amount of storm water runoff and fertilizers and pesticides used. Their deeper roots help retain and filter water, conserving and cleaning the water before it reaches natural bodies of water. Mulching also can help conserve water – it retains soil moisture and reduces the amount of watering plants need.

Engage with the public and find champions – like-minded people who will help spread the message and provide them with resources to share with family and friends. Educate customers about the cost savings to them and simple, entry-level conservation habits they can adopt before challenging them to think bigger. You may want to choose monthly educational focuses by sharing information in newsletters, holding workshops, defraying costs for low-flow fixtures or providing volunteer work crews to help with installing low-flow fixtures and aerators.

You also can see results with a tool you may have overlooked – water bills. In Belen, Costa Rica, for example, utilities have seen success in encouraging conservation by using social norms and noting the difference between customers’ water bills and those of their neighbors with a smiley face if consumption was less and a frowny face if it was more. Smart billing also can show customers their consumption, including when they use the most and least amount of water and how much money they save with conservation measures and efficient appliances and fixtures. Some utilities have seen success by including conservation planning worksheets with bills, and the EPA provides tips for consumers to understand their water bills.

Encouraging water conservation isn’t only good for your system, but for your ratepayers, and the better you’re able to communicate that, the sooner you’ll see results.

The NLC Service Line Warranty Program, administered by Utility Service Partners, a HomeServe company, partners with municipalities and utilities to provide service line repair plans to homeowners. Customers with a repair plan are more likely to have a leak fixed more quickly, thereby wasting less water. Through this program, a customer simply makes one phone call to our toll free number 24/7/376 to have a local, insured and licensed plumber promptly dispatched. For more information, please contact us.


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Water Theft: Leaks Aren’t the Only Way to Lose

Providing clean, potable water to your residents isn’t an inexpensive or simple proposition, but many residents don’t understand the process – they turn on the tap, and they have water. Perhaps it’s the naivety about the process that makes water theft plausible.

Theft can do a lot of damage – for one, there is a cost associated with producing that water and when a utility doesn’t recoup the costs for stolen water, that cost must be spread out across those customers who are paying, increasing their bills. Frequently, when businesses or contractors access water without authorization, they open a fire hydrant or tap into a sprinkler system – something that could damage those life-saving systems. Of course, during a drought, when supplies are low, water theft is especially egregious.

Residential customers who are stealing water usually employ a meter jumper – a piece of pipe or hose that replaces a meter. It is usually removed between meter readings and the meter replaced for the reading, resulting in artificially low billing. This can be prevented by locking meter housings or meter yokes or easily discovered by varying the schedule for meter readings. Running a usage auditcan show if a homeowner has a steep drop in gallons used.

Stealing water also can do damage to the meter, while costing quite a lot in lost revenue. A Waynesboro, Virginia, man stole more than 96,000 gallons of water, at a cost of $10,000, and much of it was because he had stolen a water valve from an empty home and installed it in his own meter box poorly, allowing an untold amount of water to simply spill into the ground.

Those who can’t afford their bills aren’t the only ones committing water theft. Actor Tom Selleck settled with a California water district for $21,000 after a water tanker allegedly filled up at a Calleguas district fire hydrant, then trucked the water to Selleck’s ranch in Westlake, outside the district, more than a dozen times over two years, ignoring a cease-and-desist order. The settlement covered the cost for the private investigator the district hired to produce proof of the theft. Across the pond, Thames Water, facing unprecedented water losses, has hired detectives to seek out water theft.

In a similar vein, West Virginia American Water announced a crackdown last year on those stealing water – particularly those who have damaged water meters and meter housings, are repeat offenders or threaten employees. The utility announced plans to press charges for stealing utility service with local law enforcement officers.

While some utilities are employing stringent measures to stop theft, some communities have seen success with amnesty – allowing residents to admit their theft and pay for the water, but avoid fines. Others have turned to more modern, tamper-proof meters and hiring regulators to enforce compliance.

Advanced meter infrastructures use real-time data, which can tip utility employees off to sudden changes in usage – and those with accelerometers can alert employees when the meters are removed as it is happening.

Your best and most cost efficient ally in the fight against water theft are your customers. When water is stolen, they subsidize that cost, and you can be sure they’re not happy about it. Tucking a notice about your water theft policy, the cost to ordinary rate payers and an encouragement to report water theft into their monthly bill is a pre-emptive measure to fight water theft.

The NLC Service Line Warranty Program, administered by Utility Service Partners, a HomeServe company, partners with municipalities and utilities to provide service line repair plans to homeowners. Customers with a repair plan are more likely to have a leak fixed more quickly, thereby wasting less water. Through this program, a customer simply makes one phone call to our toll free number 24/7/365 to have a local, insured and licensed plumber promptly dispatched. For more information, please contact us.


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How to Conserve Water When You’re Losing It: Pt. 1

Three percent of water on our planet is freshwater and only 1 percent is suitable for drinking, so it’s not difficult to see that water conservation is an important issue for the planet – and one that can save utilities and their customers money.

Conservation is good for the planet and your bottom line, but it’s not as easy as asking your customers to use less water, especially when your system is losing water because it’s aging and in poor repair. An estimated 2.1 trillion gallons – or 6 billion gallons a day – are lost each year, and 240,000 water main breaks occur annually.

Much of the country’s one million miles of water lines are approaching the end of their usable lifespan. More than 40 percent of water infrastructure is considered poor, very poor or elapsed, and the American Society of Civil Engineers has consistently given the nation’s infrastructure failing grades.

Of $200 billion needed to update aging infrastructure to meet regulatory requirements and quantity and quality concerns, approximately $97 billion, or 29 percent, will be needed for water loss control. The average loss is 16 percent through loss and theft, and 75 percent of that is recoverable.

Losses can come from authorized, but unbilled consumption; unauthorized consumption, or theft; and data handling errors and metering inaccuracies.

In fact, an audit of the entire system is a great opportunity to find places where water is being lost because of failing pipes. A data audit can look to compare authorized and unbilled consumption, billed consumption and unauthorized and unbilled consumption.

Non-revenue losses, including real losses from leaking pipes, apparent losses from billing and meter errors and both authorized and unauthorized, unmetered use, can stack up. Leaks can cause damage to other infrastructure, such as roadways and sewers, and even to customers’ homes, while large breaks can be costly both in cash and good will.

An American Water Works Association assessment of 246 utilities’ water audits found a collective apparent loss of more than 29 billion gallons at a cost of $151 million. At the same time, real losses because of leaks was more than 130 billion gallons.

A water audit, including physical inspections, flow analysis and leak detection tools such as sonic leak detectors and visual inspections, will help determine where these real losses are most likely originating from and which ones are in greatest need of repair through pipeline and asset management. Pipeline management is a plan for maintaining, repairing and replacing old pipes and installing new ones based on condition and demand.

The AWWA also notes that the great majority of hidden leaks are found in customer service lines – and they are not repaired in a timely or efficient manner.

The NLC Service Line Warranty Program, administered by Utility Service Partners, a HomeServe company, partners with municipalities and utilities to provide service line repair plans to homeowners. Customers with a repair plan are more likely to have a leak fixed more quickly, thereby wasting less water. Through this program, a customer simply makes one phone call to our toll free number 24/7/376 to have a local, insured and licensed plumber promptly dispatched. For more information, please contact us.


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Three Ways P3s Can Benefit Your Community

Originally published on the National League of Cities (NLC) CitiesSpeak blog.

The Trump administration has proposed expanding the U.S. Department of Transportation Private Activity Bond program, encouraging the development of public-private partnerships (P3s) in transportation projects. While P3s do not work for all communities or all types of projects, they can provide some key benefits to help meet local infrastructure needs. And with the Trump Administration’s emphasis on them, it may be worth looking into whether a P3 would suit your community’s latest project.

At their best, P3s are a good way to bring in new technology and expertise that local government might not otherwise be able to exploit. In many cases, private corporations take on the greater part of the risk and management responsibility, and their profit is often tied to their performance, while local governments retain ownership of the assets.

Though allowing private entities to finance, construct and manage public assets is not something to be entered into lightly, below we’ve outlined some of the benefits P3s can yield.

P3s Can Stretch Your Budget

When considering bids, local governments must look at the tradeoffs between the cost and quality details of the project being proposed. Some may interpret as the lowest bid, only to find out later it wasn’t the best. P3s focus on long-term operation and maintenance costs, which means they consider those – and how to keep them low while avoiding deferred maintenance – when awarding a bid. In addition, set performance and maintenance standards into the P3 contract, the projects are orchestrated to meet the standards the community expects over time.

P3s are designed so the cost of the project is paid over the lifetime of the asset and costs are known up front. Private corporations earn a return on their investment either by payments from ratepayers, such as in a water district, or they receive a portion of the higher taxes generated by improved infrastructure.

P3s Can Get Projects Done More Quickly

When it comes to red tape, private corporations may have more flexibility than governmental bodies. P3s can bring quick decision-making and best practices honed in the business world to a project. Studies have shown that P3s increase the likelihood that projects come in on-budget and on-schedule over those completed solely by public entities.

Los Angeles County’s Metro system is looking toward P3s to dramatically accelerate the dozens of projects – some by more than a decade.

Deficient bridges are a problem across the country. Pennsylvania used a P3 and economics of scale to repair more than 550 small bridges across the state in one project – with the repair completed over a decade earlier than they would have, had the state done them one-by-one. In addition, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation saved 30 percent on the cost to build them and the private partner will maintain the bridges for 25 years.

P3s Can Improve Innovation

Popular in Canada and Europe, P3s have also changed the landscape in China.  An early win for P3s, forty years ago, the Central Park Conservancy saved New York City’s Central Park. The conservancy started small, by saving the park’s unique structures, but has seen such success that it has taken over the park management altogether. In 2014, Chicago used a P3 to invest its Riverwalk, a downtown area that was once unused and neglected by pedestrians; today, this area has seen major revitalization and economic development.

Other levels of governments have also explored the use of P3s. In addition to the state and county examples mentioned above, the U.S. Department of Energy and the American nuclear industry have partnered as “innovation incubators,” using a blend of resources across laboratories, academic facilities and private sector companies to improve reactor and fuel technology.


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Smart Meters Can Help Stop the Loss of Water… and Dollars

A state audit found that Pittsburgh is losing half of the clean water it processes; Olean, N.Y., loses two of every five gallons; Ontario, Canada, is losing $700 million a year in water leaks – the list goes on and on. America alone loses an estimated 2.1 trillion gallons of water each year.

The causes for leaking lines are legion, including aging infrastructure, mechanical damage and lack of corrosion protection. In addition to the environmental and financial impact of leaking water lines, leaks of more than 20 percent of a utility’s water volume also will reduce the amount of pressure in the lines – an issue when the local fire department taps into a fire hydrant.

Finding a water leak can be difficult – most methods include sonic leak-detection equipment, which helps service crews by identifying the sound of water escaping a water line. Larger leaks that bubble up to the surface may lose less water in the long run, because they are quickly identified and repaired, but small, subtle leaks can drain water – and money – from a utility for months and even years.

An important tool in leak detection and repair are detailed records of water production, sales, unmetered use and metered use. This, paired with information such as historical leak statistics, information on line age and composition and intelligence about variable factors such as heavy usage and exposure to traffic vibration, can help predict or find leaks.

Leak detection and repair can be paired with a range of initiatives, including education programs; encouraging the conservation of water for landscaping, filling water features and washing vehicles and paved surfaces, whether by education or ordinance; conservation rebate programs; and water recycling.

One way to help residents save water is by providing smart meters. Smart meters have been around for more than a decade – and are particularly popular in the electricity sector — but they’ve seen a surge in popularity in the past five years.

Smart meters are able to record water usage and report it wirelessly, sometimes over a cellular network, at regular intervals. Real-time metering not only encourages conservation, but it can help residents detect leaks and consumption patterns. Some smart meter software can even analyze the data provided by meters operating throughout a utility’s territory, providing valuable data or alerting a customer to a spike in water usage.

Although they are more accurate over time than analog meters, which lose their effectiveness and underreport usage as they age, smart meters also are much more expensive, costing as much as seven times as much as an analog meter. Water meters have their detractors – some because the cost, others have doubts about the accuracy and yet others are concerned about “catch up” readings, or readings showing the gap between the estimated and the actual reading.

Each community will have a different approach, using different tools, to address water leaks. Among those tools available, consider the National League of Cities (NLC) Service Line Warranty Program, which offers water line warranties to homeowners, so they will be in a position to fix any leaks in their service lines. It is another tool in your arsenal to combat an aging delivery system leaking water and dollars. In addition, qualifying municipalities can receive royalties they can apply toward infrastructure projects.

Contact us to learn more about how the NLC Service Line Warranty Program can benefit your community.


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Three Issues Facing Veterans in Your Community

Veterans bring a lot to the table, and many of the skills they learned in the armed forces can benefit your community once they’ve been discharged. Many times, a veteran just needs a helping hand, like Edward Andruskieicz, of Lynn, Massachusetts.

Edward, an 87-year-old World War II veteran, saw several feet of flood waters invade his home during the record-setting January storms. The water ruined his boiler at the same time record low temperatures struck the area. However, a national company – Utility Service Partners, a HomeServe company – stepped in and replaced his boiler at no cost.

While veterans bring unique skills, they also have unique hurdles, including higher than national average rates of unemployment, homelessness and suicide, but with the help of their communities, they can overcome them. Like Edward, many need a helping hand at the right time – especially offered by the people, organizations and businesses in their communities.

Veteran Unemployment

Veteran unemployment is twice the national average. Veterans’ biggest obstacles in obtaining employment are translating their military background into work experience easily understandable by civilians, meeting licensing requirements and finding employment while disabled.

The older a veteran is and the longer he or she has been separated from military service, the better their prospects are for employment. Enlisting immediately following high school means much of a recently separated veteran’s networking opportunities and skills training have taken place in the military.

While 80 percent of military jobs have a civilian counterpart, licensing requirements can differ. They may require a veteran to go through civilian education in a field they have already mastered. In addition, the educational and testing requirements may vary from state to state. The Veterans Administration will pay for testing, but the cost of education – even if it goes over the same ground veterans covered in their military training – falls on the veteran.

Disability rates are higher among veterans; about 29 percent of recent veterans have some sort of service-related disability. Most common are missing limbs, burns, spinal cord injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, hearing loss and traumatic brain injuries. Veterans with service-connected disabilities had an employment-population ratio of 43.3 percent, lower than the ratio for those veterans without a disability at 49 percent.

The VA provides a Military Skills Translator, which translates military jobs into resume-ready information – and imports it to the organization’s Resume Builder. Additionally, there are special unemployment benefits for ex-service members. Those who were discharged honorably from active duty can apply in their state of residence.

In partnership with the Department of Labor, the VA offers Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment services, which helps with training for new job skills, starting a business or receiving educational counseling. The Veterans Opportunity to Work program can extend those vocational rehabilitation benefits for those who have completed the initial program and qualify.

RallyPoint provides post-military professional networking opportunities for veterans, and Jobless Warrior provides employment and job search resources, including career coaches and information on employers looking to hire veterans.

Those veterans with service-connected disabilities have preference when applying for certain federal jobs or winning federal government contacts. Disabled veterans also are eligible for Vocational Rehabilitation. Those who hire service-disabled veterans qualify for tax incentives through the Special Employer Incentive program. The VOW program also can assist veterans in receiving disability accommodations.

Veteran Homelessness

One in ten of those who are homeless are veterans, 50 percent are disabled and three-quarters of homeless veterans have mental health issues. Another 1.4 million veterans are at-risk for homelessness, because of poverty, lack of support networks and overcrowded housing. Half a million veterans pay more than half of their income in rent.

Many veterans who are homeless or at-risk for homelessness have service-connected disabilities, especially PSTD, or substance abuse issues. Unemployment because of the inability to transition military training to civilian work also factors in.

The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans stresses the need for housing, nutrition, physical and mental healthcare and job services for homeless and at-risk veterans. The coalition reports that community-based programs with veterans serving veterans saw the greatest success rate.

The Interagency Council on Homelessness has established a benchmark guide for communities looking to actively address veteran homelessness. The council also has published a strategy guide, recommending public commitment to eradicating veteran homelessness; coordination between programs and with private landlords to match homeless vets with housing; identifying available resources on the federal, state and local levels; and coordinating with job assistance programs to provide training and services.

In April, the Department of Labor’s Veterans Employment and Training Service announced $12 million available in grant funding to provide veterans with job training to transition them from homelessness to sustainable housing.

The VA provides housing assistance in conjunction with Housing and Urban Development; the Health Care for Homeless Veterans program, which includes exams, treatment and referrals; Domiciliary Care for Homeless Veterans program, which offers mental health and rehabilitation services; and job services targeted specifically toward homeless veterans.

Veterans Matter is a nonprofit organization that provides housing to homeless veterans and was founded by a formerly homeless man. Veterans Matter works directly with organizations to raise awareness and funding.

Veteran Suicide

Veterans represent one in five of all those who die of suicide in America. Twenty veterans die of suicide daily. Many of those either lack access to or don’t utilize available VA services.

Veterans who suffer from isolation, with little to no meaningful social connections, are particularly prone to suicide, especially during transitional periods – such as separation from the military, according to a University of Southern California study. Unemployment and homelessness — periods when veterans may see themselves as burdens to their communities – are significant stressors, the study found. The risk of suicide is greatest during the first three years after separation.

This isolation or loneliness can be especially acute in veterans who suffer from PSTD or were prisoners of war, even if they have an adequate support system. In such cases, veterans may feel that it is impossible for others to understand the trauma they’ve endured, even while yearning for that understanding, causing a feeling of disconnection.

Prevention measures recommended in a Veterans Health Administration report include outreach; focusing on gun and medication safety; focusing on those with a higher risk, including young men aged 18 to 25, women and those who had prior mental health conditions and made prior suicide attempts; and offering skill building to prevent stressors such as unemployment and homelessness.

A Center for Disease Control report on suicide prevention includes recommendations such as strengthening financial security, stabilizing housing, increasing access to mental health care, improving safe storage practices for firearms and medicines, promoting community engagement, strengthening communication and problem-solving skills, encouraging emotional intelligence and identifying and intervening with those most at-risk.

The VA has a dedicated crisis line – call 1(800) 273-8255 or text 838255 – including resources for veterans and concerned loved ones, information on suicide warning signs and crisis resources.

The VA Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention has developed “Signs, Ask, Validate, Encourage and Expedite” training to help those who encounter veterans to recognize suicide red flags and act. The training is available in partnership with the nonprofit PsychArmor Institute and covers a variety of subjects from military culture and myths to supporting veterans and self-care.

The VA Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide addresses veteran suicide in a multi-pronged approach: visibility and awareness; preventive services; treatment and support; and research. At the heart of it – at the heart of all efforts to address major issues impacting veterans – is a community-based approach that puts those professionals and organizations, the “boots on the ground,” at the front lines in providing care and services.

Through awareness, pro-active and preventive measures and support, your community can best serve its veterans, reaping the benefits of all they have to offer in return and thanking them for their service. Learn more about how NLC member cities and private industry are working together to tackle these issues.

 

Utility Service Partners, a HomeServe company, administers the National League of Cities Service Line Warranty Program, offering education on homeowners’ service line maintenance responsibilities and offering warranty repairs from local, licensed and vetted contractors.


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Parks Serve as Beneficial Infrastructure for Many Cities

When you think essential infrastructure, you may not think about parks or playgrounds, but providing residents a place for recreation garners socioeconomic benefits, and parks designed for mixed use also can be used in water management and transportation.

A park will increase adjacent properties’ value by 15 to 20 percent, and businesses cite the presence of a robust park system as one of the top three reasons to relocate to a community. While parks generate revenue with user fees, they also generate indirect revenue through hosting special and sporting events – America’s local parks generate $154 billion in economic activity.

Parks, especially in urban settings, provide psychological restoration, lowering stress and mental fatigue and improving concentration, and surveys have shown that minor crimes, such as vandalism, graffiti and littering, are reduced near greenspaces.

Many cities are reclaiming industrial corridors, such as railways, and turning them into linear parks, including bike and walking paths – and residents are using them for transportation to work, school and shopping. Parks, both existing and new, can be part of a city’s green infrastructure by diverting storm water away from sewer systems and acting as a natural filter.

These aren’t the only exciting developments in park improvements – inclusive playgrounds, designed to be accessible to children with mobility, sensory and neurological issues have been gaining attention and support. An inclusive, or all-abilities, playground can include ramps, wider aisles, soft ground surfaces and accessible swings and merry-go-rounds for children with mobility difficulties. It also can include sensory games or musical equipment and safe, quiet spaces for children on the autism spectrum.

Whether through planning a new space or converting an existing space, envisioning parks as infrastructure addresses a variety of needs facing contemporary communities, including population density, environmentalism, health and accessibility.


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Six Tips to Help Residents Age in Place

Since Jan. 1, 2011, 10,000 Baby Boomers are eligible to retire daily, and Americans 65 and older will make up 19 percent of the population by 2030. Many of those Baby Boomers would like to stay in their own homes as they age – a trend called “aging in place” – born of their desire to remain in familiar surroundings.

This is a happy trend for municipalities, because not only does it costs less for older adults to remain in their own homes, but they have a lot to contribute to their communities. However, many municipalities could be more senior friendly.

There are several key areas that make a city more livable for seniors, including: providing reliable transportation; making neighborhoods walkable; providing social engagement and reducing isolation; providing low-cost housing and job training opportunities; and making older adults safe in their homes.

Reliable transportation

When older adults can no longer drive, they become very isolated – since roughly 90 percent of trips are taken by automobile – and that is the root of health and mental problems for many seniors. One of the indicators of good mental and physical health is a support network of five or more people. A strong public transportation network can make it easier for older adults to engage socially, access necessary services and participate in community events.

General improvements for your public transit system won’t only benefit older adults, but the entirety of the commuters in the community. Commuters want three things: frequent service, an efficient ticketing system; and attention to transit as a public space.

Making service available every fifteen minutes is the gold standard, and your ticketing system can be made more efficient through the use of available technologies, such as using smart phone ticketing apps. Consider making transit buildings and stops a public space that combines infrastructure, architecture, programming and public art. Additionally, installing benches at stops and stations make waiting easier for older adults.

When considering older adults’ needs in the transit sphere, consider transit as regional infrastructure – don’t force commuters to have multiple passes and maps to get from one place to another, even if they are switching between both means of transit and transit authorities. Several communities have seen success with one pass covering multiple authorities. Furthermore, some municipalities, such as Seattle, have given flat, discounted rates to older adults.

Walkable neighborhoods

In addition to social engagement and avoiding depression, the best indications of healthy aging is moderate drinking, not smoking and walking. Making your neighborhoods more walkable doesn’t only benefit the health of older adults, but the entire community.

However, not enough cities have invested in improving the walkability of their neighborhoods – the National Physical Activity Plan Alliance has given the country an “F” for walkability.

Improving walkability isn’t only about smooth sidewalks and curb cuts for wheelchairs and walkers, but creating mixed use neighborhoods with “walk appeal.” A neighborhood with a mix of residential, retail, business and public spaces becomes a destination to go to, instead of a place to travel from.

Improving streetscaping features, such as lighting, handicap-accessible sidewalks, curb cuts and benches, improves not only appearance, but also safety, while additions such as trees, landscaping and building facades provides valuable “greening” of public spaces and improves the “walk appeal,” or how welcoming it is to be in a neighborhood versus the mere ability to navigate it. To encourage walking, new buildings should be oriented to the street, with an entrance on the sidewalk and parking at the rear.

Again, while an entire community would reap the benefits of walkability, making small tweaks, such as increasing the time to cross the street at intersections, adding pedestrian friendly medians and benches and renovating lighting and sidewalks with an eye toward accessibility and safety, makes it workable for older adults as well.

Social engagement

One in six adults 65 or older lives alone, and suffering from loneliness means older adults are 45 percent more likely to die and 59 percent more likely to see a decline in health over six years. If encouraging older adults to exercise through creating walkable neighborhoods addresses physical health, then providing social engagement opportunities improves mental health.

In fact, providing reliable transportation and creating walkable neighborhoods is the first step in encouraging social engagement. If you can’t get residents out of their homes, then they won’t become engaged. Transportation is part of the solution, not the entirety – older adults need somewhere to go, which is why providing cultural and volunteer opportunities geared toward older adults is important.

When providing volunteer opportunities, consider community organization training. Older adults are in a position to assess what their community needs and how best to address it. Having a sense of purpose helps older adults combat depression and reduces dementia-related diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.

Volunteer opportunities also are available through AmeriCorps’ Senior Corps, which provides grants and stipends, funding programs such as Foster Grandparents, Senior Companions and the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), which offers opportunities in tutoring and teaching English as a second language.

Providing cultural opportunities can be as easy as discounts and hours reserved for older adults during cultural events and at community facilities. Colleges and universities can play an important role, as many offer tuition waivers or scholarships for older adults who want to continue their education and tax benefits are available to those who go back to school. A program of informal history, art, literature, science and technology lectures also can promote learning, which helps older adults’ cognitive abilities and social engagement. Continuing education can touch many areas, from cultural to exercise to civic engagement.

When it comes to civic engagement, there are many low-cost or free ways to bring local government to older adults – and the rest of the community. Holding informal open houses, utilizing tools such as social media and smart phone applications to communicate and holding occasional meetings at times and venues more convenient to the public are all ways to promote engagement.

For older adults’ special needs, consider the venues used for meetings: turnstiles and stairs can prevent older adults from attending. Many public buildings don’t take into account older adults’ particular needs, and involving them in plans for renovations or new construction are great ways to get them involved.

Finances

One in six Baby Boomers live in poverty and half of those facing retirement have less than $10,000 in the bank – the real estate bubble destroyed a third of Boomers’ wealth. Only one-third of them have developed a retirement plan, and many may underestimate how much inflation will eat into their purchasing power after retirement. Meanwhile, a year in a nursing home has a median cost of $85,000.

Even those who are remaining in their own homes may have difficulty managing bills and debts after retiring and moving to a fixed income, while others may have incurred debts while assisting children or grandchildren. Those older adults who have had a spouse die may have not handled finances prior to their spouse’s death or had a reverse mortgage in their spouse’s name.

As the overall working population ages, there is the potential for a labor shortage and knowledge gap, as well as many Baby Boomers coming to the realization that they won’t be able to fully retire. As they transition into “encore careers,” the U.S. Department of Labor’s Senior Community Employment Program allows them to gain work experience at schools, hospitals, day care centers and senior centers for approximately 20 hours a week. Job centers like New York City’s Workforce 1 Career Centers offer services tailored to older adults, like workshops, courses and job training to improve their employment prospects.

Affordable housing

While 84 percent of older adults own their own homes, more than 40 percent of Baby Boomers are looking to downsize from their current homes to affordable housing in attractive neighborhoods.

For those older adults who don’t own their own homes, housing should only cost about 30 percent of monthly expenses and the median income of retirees 65 to 74 is approximately $47,000. However, the average income for those between 65 and 69 is $37,200, with roughly one-third of income coming from Social Security, one-third from work and one-third from pension or retirement benefits, according to U.S. News and World Report.

In January 2018, the median monthly rent for a one bedroom apartment in the country’s 100 largest cities ranged from a low of $560 in Wichita, Kansas, ($6,720 per year) to a high of $2,390 in San Francisco ($28,680 per year). Since this is the median, some older adults will be in better circumstances, while others will be in worse.

Inclusionary zoning can make high-density, diverse neighborhoods affordable for low-income residents, including older adults by incentivizing developers to set aside units in new housing for low-income residents. Accessory Dwelling Units – so-called “granny flats” – are additional units, such as apartments in a basement or attic or over a garage or tiny houses on foundations, on the same property as a single family home. They have become a way to expand housing to include relatives or earn extra money through rental – both things that make them attractive to older adults.

Safety

While two-thirds of Baby Boomers plan to age in place, more than 80 percent of them own their own single family homes – 32 million of them. As they age, their at-home needs are changing – many need retrofits to their homes so they can remain there longer and more safely.

Older adult friendly fixes, include widening doorways and removing thresholds, placing power outlets higher on walls, replacing doorknobs and faucet handles with levers, replacing toggle switches with rocker switchers, placing handrails on both sides of a stairwell, and installing moveable shower heads and bathroom grab bars, make it possible for them to remain in their homes – and out of elder care facilities.

Home maintenance is where home safety and finances intersect for older adults. Georgia Institute of Technology researchers studied how aging affects performing home maintenance, exploring issues older adults have with maintaining their home and issues they might have in performing those tasks in the future. The most difficult home maintenance activities included cleaning, outdoor work, home upkeep and repair and indoor updating and remodeling. Home upkeep accounted for 16 percent of difficult tasks, including heating, ventilating and air conditioning maintenance.

When it comes to finances, while the HomeServe USA State of the Home Winter 2017 survey indicates that older adults are more financially prepared for emergency home maintenance – approximately 48 percent of older adults have funds set aside – but would rather spend the money on remodeling their homes.

The National League of Cities Water Service Line Warranty Program, administered by Utility Service Partners, a HomeServe Company, can help older adults keep that money in their pocket with warranties covering everything from water and sewer service lines to indoor plumbing, making home maintenance low-cost and as easy as picking up the phone.

Contact us to learn more about how the NLC Service Line Warranty Program can benefit your community.


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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.