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Three Things Local Officials Should Know About Water Infrastructure

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

Today, local officials face a problem decades in the making: aging water infrastructure systems and the costs of repair and replacement.

Much of the country’s one million miles of water lines are approaching — or have already exceeded — the end of their usable lifespan. Millions of gallons of potable water are lost beneath our streets, representing not only money lost, but harm to another part of our essential, but underfunded, infrastructure.

Our water systems are in crisis, and it is local officials who have carried the burden of addressing this challenge.

Water Infrastructure Needs an Upgrade

Water is a matter of public health, as shown by several recent outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease and lead poisoning in Flint, Michigan. Although lead pipes have been banned for decades, many cities have them and can’t find them. Corrosion may leach metals — as seen in Flint — into the water, including cadmium, copper and iron, and the leaks introduced may allow contaminants to enter the water after it has been treated.

More than 40 percent of water infrastructure is considered poor, very poor or elapsed. It is old, with portions installed prior to the Civil War, especially in older cities on the East Coast. An estimated 2.1 trillion gallons — or 6 billion gallons a day — are lost each year. This isn’t surprising, given that 240,000 water main breaks occur annually. Our infrastructure is leaking water and money, and it won’t stop any time soon.

It Will Be Expensive

The American Water Works Association (AWWA) estimates it will cost $1 trillion over the next 25 years to repair our ailing systems. Federal, state and local governments have spent an estimated $2.2 trillion over the past 60 years. Local government investments account for 95-98 percent of all water and sewer infrastructure spending, including more than $120 billion in 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The bill has come, and it won’t be pretty — the AWWA estimates that in those communities with the greatest need, household water bills will triple.

While nearly 90 percent of Americans agree that our water infrastructure needs an upgrade, fewer than 20 percent of water utilities are confident they can cover the needed cost through rates and fees alone — with the investment shortfall estimated at $655 billion over the next 20 years.

Federal Dollars Alone Won’t Solve the Problem

President Trump announced an infrastructure plan including $200 billion in federal dollars over the next decade. Administration officials said the proposal includes $50 billion in direct funding for rural projects and $100 billion for an infrastructure incentives program for state and local projects. It is hoped that the federal dollars will spur state and city governments to invest an additional $1.5 trillion –either from their own budgets or through public-private partnerships. However, those numbers fall short of the estimated $4.6 trillion in infrastructure work needed, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Federal spending reached its peak in 1976, at $16.8 billion, and has steadily declined since, to about $4.4 billion in 2014 — a nearly fourfold decrease in funding over 30 years. In addition, most of the federal funding since the 1990s have been in the form of loans, while state and local governments shouldered increasing costs. Before the 1980s, government spending on water infrastructure was an upward trend – but those days are long gone.

Five Things Local Leaders Can Do

While the water infrastructure crisis is a problem that must be solved in coordination with all three levels of government, local officials can still make improvements and plan for the future right now. There are several ways to integrate resilient and flexible infrastructure planning into current systems.

  1. Green infrastructure and grey water reuse are environmentally friendly, lower-cost alternatives. Green infrastructure uses existing infrastructure to filter water and direct it away from storm sewers. As one example, Washington, D.C., encourages residents to install their own green infrastructure to divert water from aging systems. Grey water recycling reuses water for industrial or agriculture uses. Orange County, California, has been recycling water since the 1970s, and recently began recycling grey water into potable water.
  2. Rural areas and smaller municipalities may consider regionalization. There are more than 53,000 water authorities in the country, many of them serving areas that can’t supply the resources an aging infrastructure demands. Ratepayers may see savings through the consolidation of administrative employees and resources and increases in efficiency, but regionalization can meet with opposition.
  3. Privatizing allows the system to be taken over by private, for-profit companies. Under some agreements, the municipality can retain ownership and receives a much-needed cash infusion, while the private partner maintains the system, produces water and bills customers. However, some municipalities have found that turning the system over may result in higher water bills.
  4. Planning isn’t the only concern – projects also must be funded. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has worked with private lenders through Public-Private Partnerships (P3s) to provide financing for rural areas, but municipalities also can enter into such agreements. Some P3s tie environmental benefits to financing, which may attract environmentally interested capital, and there is increasing interest in “blue bonds” for water infrastructure.
  5. Just as municipalities wrestle aging infrastructure, so do residents. Local officials can help their community plan for the future by informing residents that they are responsible for the water and sewer lines on their property. In many cases, these lines have not been properly maintained and will need service updates as the infrastructure grows older.

For more information on water infrastructure maintenance and planning, and to find out how your residents can learn more about their responsibilities, contact us.

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A Message from John Kitzie, CEO

As HomeServe’s new CEO, I wanted to take this opportunity to introduce myself. I joined HomeServe in October 2012 as Chief Operating Officer overseeing our customer experience and field technicians. Throughout my years in this role, I have been privileged to work with a group of people who truly care about delivering the very best customer service throughout all aspects of that customer’s interaction with us. I’m very excited to take on the leadership of this company and to continue all the great progress that has been made over the past 15 years.

HomeServe has grown considerably since its inception and since I joined in 2012, we now service 3.6 million customers, with 5.6 million policies, including 1.6 million water line and 940,000 sewer line service contracts. We are proud of our association with the NLC and have been pleased to deepen the relationship through alignment with NLC events, initiatives and communications.  We are reaching more and more cities every month about the benefits of the program for their residents. We take an educational approach to our communications, both with cities and their residents because, in many cases, there is a lack of awareness about service line responsibility which leaves homeowners vulnerable to potentially large unexpected repairs, and city officials blindsided by unhappy residents who feel the city didn’t inform them. In this issue, the use of educational communications is explored as a way to inform residents about water-related issues such as lead service lines and water conservation.

The NLC Service Line Warranty program also helps many cities generate incremental revenue to fund important initiatives. The story about the City of Tucson in this issue is one great example of this.

We currently partner with nearly 500 municipalities in the U.S. and Canada to offer the NLC Service Line Warranty Program and look forward to growing that number significantly in the coming years. I welcome the opportunity to get to know you and learn more about the challenges you face in your cities. As I embark on my new position, I am energized to further the outstanding leadership of my predecessor, Tom Rusin, and to help proliferate our important programs for North American homeowners. Tom has taken on a new global role as Global CEO, HomeServe Membership and will continue to work closely with us in the North American business.

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Pillar #1 – Education

Earlier this year, we introduced the idea of Six Pillars that must be addressed to reverse the dire state of America’s water infrastructure. The solution lies in leadership and a plan that addresses these many challenges comprehensively.

Pillar #1 is Education. 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.

There are many water topics that need to be communicated to stakeholders. Lead is a big issue that has received tremendous media attention in the last few years, for good reason. According to the EPA, approximately 10 million US homes and buildings utilize service lines containing lead. Cities and utilities approach the situation in a variety of ways, but private-side water service lines and interior plumbing fixtures are a significant part of the problem. Those are the homeowner’s responsibility, so extensive consumer education is warranted. According to an AWWA publication, “in the near future, utilities may be encouraged and even required to increase their communications efforts to better protect their customers from lead exposure at the tap.”

At AWWA’s Drinking Water Week in 2016, more than 100 water utility leaders from throughout North America shared strategies for communicating about lead service lines.

The Cincinnati Water Works has expanded its outreach on lead, including the addition of a new lead website, a lead hotline, social media outreach, direct letters to more than 20,000 customers, a speaker’s bureau and the distribution of pitcher filters to homes thought to be at higher risk.

Boston Water has an online database that allows homeowners to search by address to determine if their property has a lead service line. Boston Water also offers a credit of up to $2,000 ad interest-free loans to assist homeowners interested in remove the portion of lead pipe on private property.

Louisville Water Company has a long history with lead, having installed over 74,000 lead service lines until 1937. They began replacing lead service lines in the early 1970s. After the Flint, Michigan debacle, Louisville Water assessed their communications plan and developed a “think 3” approach of three overall water quality/public health messages and three points on managing potential risks with lead. In addition to customers, stakeholder targets included the local public health department, elected leaders and schools and daycares.

They developed a wealth of assets to communicate, including an updated website, brochures and fact sheets, how-to postcards on flushing pipes and taking water samples, and animations and videos. This comprehensive communications plan resulted in increased customer trust in the water company to produce safe, high quality drinking water, a renewed partnership with the local health department, and an enhanced understanding of the consumer’s role in water quality.

Water conservation is another topic requiring extensive educational outreach. WaterSense is a voluntary partnership program sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It serves as a resource for helping residential and commercial users save water and offers a wealth of information about outdoor irrigation, conservation in the home, technical product specifications and certification programs. Municipalities and utilities can utilize this resource in their communications efforts. WaterSense also offers product labeling that assists consumers in selecting water-efficient products.

An important component of infrastructure education and communication for municipalities and utilities is related to private side service lines. When a water or sewer line breaks, the homeowner is generally responsible for the portion of the line from the house to the water meter, called the “private-side” and the City or utility is responsible for the portion of the line from the water meter to the water main, called the “public-side.”  When private-side service lines break, many homeowners call the city or water utility first, and then are surprised to learn that the City can’t help solve this expensive problem.

For example, the City of Newark is one of America’s oldest cities.  In recent years it has experienced a steady increase in water infrastructure challenges and problems.  City Council members were being contacted often by residents with water line issues and they were growing increasingly concerned about citizens who may experience financial hardships from water line repairs.  Approximately two years ago, Newark decided to offer the National League of Cities (NLC) Service Line Warranty Program to residents.

Educational marketing about homeowners’ responsibility for service lines is a key component of the program.  Residents receive information about the program via direct mail, bill inserts and through digital media.  Program materials are available in different languages which is helpful to cities with ethnically diverse populations. Newark homeowners have been enthusiastic about the program, and the council has received positive feedback from citizens who appreciate the City providing information.

Education and communication is certainly key to making infrastructure improvements with regard to lead, water conservation, and private-side issues that are addressed quickly and competently before they lead to extensive water loss and cause further damage to private and public infrastructure. However, there are many additional factors to consider, which will be featured in upcoming blogs.

Next up, Pillar #2 – Data.

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Tucson Park Enhancements Financed by NLC SLWP

Municipalities that partner with the NLC Service Line Warranty Program receive a revenue share from policies sold that can be dedicated to a wide variety of beneficial community programs.  The City of Tucson, Arizona utilizes the funding to improve the city’s public park facilities.  The following is excerpted from a recent newsletter article written by Paul Cunningham, Tucson’s city councilman for Ward 2.

There is some good news for those of you that live near Palo Verde Park: we will be expanding the pool and installing a splash pad. The project will cost about $85,000. Here’s another piece of good news: that $85,000 does not come from the city’s general fund, which means this doesn’t come from your tax dollars. The money comes from the service line warranty fund. You may have gotten a letter asking if you’d like a service line warranty. Five years ago, the city authorized the company that sells them to send those letters out. In exchange, the city gets a bit of the money generated. It is divided equally among the council wards. One of my priorities as a councilmember has been to make sure that our city pools are open and available to as many people as possible, and I was glad to find out that this money was available.

Many of the projects that we have been able to build in parks have been done through impact fees. Impact fees are small fees assessed on new homes built within the city. There are a lot of state-mandated restrictions on that money, however. For example, the money can only go to new projects. Building a new basketball court would be doable with impact fee money, but improving or fixing an existing one would not. Another legal restriction is that impact fee projects have to come off of a priority list from Parks and Recreation. The service line money, however, is spent at the discretion of your elected officials.

Councilmembers must consult with Parks officials (they will be managing what we build, after all), but it leaves us with more discretion and more ability to respond to community concerns.

That flexibility meant that over in Ward 1, they will be fixing playground equipment that was lost at Bonita Park due to vandalism. Ward 3 made some repairs in the basketball courts and Amphi Park and, with the help of neighborhood volunteers, has revitalized it. Ward 4 repaired old sidewalks at Lincoln Park. In Ward 6, seven neighborhood parks have gotten or will get new recreational equipment. None of those projects could have been funded with impact fees.

By the way, some of you that use the Fort Lowell Tennis courts have seen the repairs there. Those were also funded through service line money. Like I said, an important thing to remember here is that this is not general fund money (money that competes with fire, streets, police et cetera), but money collected from a voluntary program. The city collects between $85,000 and $90,000 in fees annually.

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Not All Home Warranties Are Created Equal

Linda J. of Baton Rouge thought she was covered in the case of an emergency home repair – after all, she had a plumbing policy from a national home warranty company.

So when Linda started having drainage issues, she called on K&S Plumbing.

The plumber removed roots from her sewer line, but advised her that the problem was larger than she had anticipated – her entire sewer line had been overtaken by tree roots. In addition, the huge water oak in front of her home – the roots of which were chewing up the pipe – couldn’t be cut down.

Tree roots typically seek out the warmth generated by sewage lines, particularly in colder months. To compound Linda’s problem, the sewer line was an old clay tile. K&S Plumbing recommended the entire line be replaced with root-resistant PVC pipes and be re-routed to avoid the tree roots as much as possible. The job would cost approximately $10,000, she was told. However, Linda was confident that she was covered under her home warranty policy.

Only she wasn’t.

“I called them, and anything outside the house wasn’t covered,” Linda said.

Not only would Linda be responsible for the entire $10,000 repair cost, but her sewer line, riddled with holes from the encroaching roots, was leaking raw sewage into her front yard. Desperate to have the repair done, Linda applied for financing, but was denied. Despite her job as a custodian at a local school, Linda’s income was limited.

Linda had done everything right, but she was still faced with a costly repair she couldn’t afford. She didn’t know where to turn.

But Danny, K&S Plumbing owner, hadn’t forgotten her. A network contractor for the NLC Service Line Warranty Program, Danny knew they had a program that could help Linda. So Danny contacted them and suggested Linda’s repair be covered under their Cares program, which offers no-cost, emergency repairs to qualifying residents who don’t have NLC Service Line Warranty Program plans.

They came through for Linda, and K&S Plumbing recently installed a brand-new sewage line at no cost to Linda.

“I’m getting rid of [her prior warranty company],” Linda said. She inquired that day about obtaining a NLC Service Line Warranty Program policy.

Contact us to learn more about how the National League of Cities (NLC) Service Line Warranty Program can benefit your community.

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In Honor of NLC Small Cities Month, We Are Highlighting Hendersonville, N.C. – a Small Community With Growing Population Turning to Tech to Manage Water

For Small Cities Month, the National League of Cities is exploring innovative projects and developments that bring will bring small cities to the next level and improve life for residents and business owners.

Hendersonville, N.C., is a small city, but its Water and Sewer Department serves a growing population as Henderson County sees an influx of residents – who also will receive their water from Hendersonville.

“I think this is the best water you can get,” Jeremy Poss, Technology and Metering Manager, said. “The water source is protected by tens of thousands of acres of national forest.”

Water from that unspoiled forest goes to a water treatment plant outside of Hendersonville, where it then is distributed to residents throughout the county. Henderson County is growing by leaps and bounds, and the water department is using the latest technology and implementing a water system master plan to meet milestones in increasing capacity.

Although Hendersonville itself is a small town of 17,000 residents, tens of thousands more live in Henderson County and that number is expected to increase. To provide clean, safe water, the Hendersonville water department employs a number of new technologies that help staff determine what areas need an increase in capacity and what areas are in need of repair.

When Hendersonville water employees make a repair in the system, they enter it into their work routing system and include that information on a “heat map” to see which areas have the most breaks.

“The more breaks you have, the more likely it is that the line will fail,” Poss said, noting the practice allows them to prioritize which areas to replace or upgrade lines and pumping stations.

Recently, the department began using a modeling program that takes into account a host of variables, including line size and population clusters, to determine where flow needs to be improved or increased. Poss explained that the model could account for developments not yet built so the water department could be proactive in upgrading the lines and preventing a low-flow problem before it could develop.

The water department also shares that information with the local fire department, so they can determine whether their hydrants have adequate flow. Not only does this make the community safer, but it also lowers insurance rates for homeowners.

Hendersonville also implemented Advanced Metering Infrastructure, allowing customers to see their usage online and even establish alert thresholds for usage and billing – something that improves customer satisfaction for the water department.

“[The customers] really like that,” Poss said.

Customers can register on AquaHawk and view their usage when it’s convenient for them, and some even use it to keep an eye on their homes when they’re out of town.

“We’ll get a call, ‘I think I left the outside bib faucet on,’” Poss said. “That happens more than you would think.”

That isn’t even the extent of the technology the Hendersonville water department employs – the department also uses a Geographic Information System to help map their system.

Hendersonville’s water department was established in the 1920s, and it wasn’t an easy task – locomotives and mule trains were needed to haul the pipe needed to carry water from the national forest to the community.

“It’s pretty wild, to see the pictures of the horse-drawn wagons that hauled the pipes,” Poss said.

Although the community’s water system has grown and modernized since then, that old system has still left its mark on Hendersonville.

“We still come across the wooden pipes, excavating downtown,” Poss said, noting that while the pipes remain in the ground, they are no longer part of the system.

Hendersonville has come a long way – from wooden pipes to high-tech models – and has partnered with the National League of Cities Service Line Warranties Program, administered by Utility Service Partners, a HomeServe company, to better educate their residents about their responsibility to maintain and repair their water and sewer service lines.

“A lot of people are surprised to learn that [service lines] are their responsibility,” Poss said. “They think we can come and locate and repair their leak, but we have no way to know where the lines even are. The line from the meter into the house is [the homeowner’s] responsibility.”

While the water department isn’t responsible for repairing leaking lines on private property, employees will attempt to help determine where a leak is, if possible. Only licensed plumbers are permitted to open the department’s meter boxes. The department encourages homeowners to install their own shutoff valve on their side of the meter and offers a discount for doing so.

Poss noted that many more homeowners are aware of their responsibilities since the SLWP began educational campaigns in the community. He also encourages residents to sign up for the service line warranties through SLWP.

“When you need it, it’s a good thing to have – I’ve heard a lot of stories,” he said, adding that he has looked into several other vendors offering similar products, but SLWP offers the best value for the price.

In addition to educating homeowners about their service line responsibilities, the Service Line Warranty Program offers warranties for service lines. The work is performed by licensed, local plumbers who will call the customer within one hour of filing a claim. For information about the program, contact us.

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A Community Effort Brings an All-Abilities Playground to Partner City Orem, Utah

The All Together Playground in Orem, Utah, is the first of its kind in Utah County and on the crest of a movement to make play accessible to all children and provide children with disabilities a way to play alongside their peers, and the playground’s story began when the city sought public input about making recreational improvements.

“We reached out through social media to find out what the needs and wants were in the community,” Steve Downs, Orem deputy city manager, said.

Two mothers, Katrina Bleyl and Mindy Gleason, whose daughters used wheelchairs, suggested an all-abilities playground.

“They didn’t have a local place to play,” Downs said. “They had to go to Salt Lake City to play [at an all-abilities playground].”

Bleyl and Gleason hoped for a wheelchair accessible swing set, but the city committed to an entire playground, at an estimated cost of $1.2 million. The city pledged $600,000, and the community rallied to raise the funds needed for the playground and local businesses donated materials and labor.

“Just knowing that it wouldn’t just affect (my daughter), but knowing that it would affect other kids in the area, and not just Orem,” Bleyl told the Daily Universe. “It just builds awareness and kindness, and all sorts of good stuff.”

As city officials began to work with the community to plan the park, they reached out to local elementary school pupils, asking them what they wanted in a park, while considering the needs of children of all abilities and Orem’s unique history.

Children asked for – and received – a pirate ship, space ship and castle, and Orem’s past is represented with a clock tower, train and mammoth-themed slide. Utah’s mountain peaks are invoked by the playground’s design, particularly nearby Mount Timpanogos. James C. Christensen, an award-winning artist, author and Orem resident, created a one-of-a-kind mural for the playground.

“He actually just passed from cancer – he was going through that, and he spent some of his final days painting for us,” Downs said.

Most importantly, those planning the park listened to families with children impacted with mobility and neurological issues. One of the items included a fence around the playground to keep children on the autism spectrum safe.

“Some of them are runners, and parents were worried they could run into the parking lot or the street,” Downs said. “They wanted some type of protection, a border between the parking lot and the playground.”

Other considerations include switching to a soft rubber matting instead of a mulch that could cause issues for those children with mobility or sensory issues, making the walkways wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs and including ramps instead of stairs.

“We wanted everything to be without barriers,” Downs said. “There are no stairs; we have ramps the whole way up to the highest point. There isn’t anywhere they can’t go.”

One of the primary pushes was to design a playground that would be attractive to all children while allowing children of all abilities to play side-by-side with their peers.

To encourage cooperative play, games such as the NEOS 360 – an interactive game system that improves auditory and spatial awareness and peripheral vision – were incorporated. The playground also features zip lines with chairs alongside traditional set ups so children of all abilities can race one another.

“One of the big pushes is to allow children with disabilities to socialize with their peers,” Downs said. “This playground allows them to do the same activities beside their friends.”

When the community was called upon for volunteers to build the playground, more than 4,000 showed up – almost a thousand more than city leaders had asked for, and Habitat for Humanity donated the tools used to build the playground. A local Boy Scout, Leo Parcell, made 50 sawhorses for the playground’s construction, and volunteers worked from sunup to sundown for seven straight days.

“All of them took time away from work and family to build this for our children,” Downs said.

The Daily Herald wrote an editorial praising the effort, noting “Many local children suffer from physical disabilities, while many others fall on the autism spectrum. Traditional playgrounds oftentimes are not equipped to provide the same play experience for children who must use wheelchairs or walkers or who deal with certain sensory issues.

“There are a handful of nonprofit organizations that have recognized this, and have created all-ability facilities for the use of their own patients and clients. Now, thankfully, we have a local city stepping forward and recognizing the need for a public space that offers those same benefits.”

Downs was moved by watching Brinley Bleyl play in the park shortly after completion.

“She got behind the wheel [of the pirate ship], she was giving orders and you could see that she knew what she wanted to do,” he said. “She was participating in imaginative role play and she had a story for the ship. She’s always had this imagination, but she couldn’t express it this way before. And we were able to take away that physical barrier.”

“Play is called the work of children. We believe that children of all abilities deserve an opportunity to play,” Orem Mayor Richard Brunst told Utah Valley 360. “That’s what this playground is all about. Families, individuals, college students, city staff, businesses and residents have all volunteered time and money to help build this great and beautiful playground with love. All people need to feel love. I hope that all the love that has been put into this park will be a reminder to the children who play here how much we love and appreciate them.”

Downs noted the city encourages the local school district to utilize the park, especially those classes that include children with mobility issues or who are neurodiverse and he enjoys driving past the park and seeing school buses in the parking lot.

“This playground was founded in the minds of our young children and built by their parents and neighbors,” Downs said. “At the end of the day, the community built this for their kids, their neighbors and their friends’ kids.”

Utility Service Partners, a HomeServe USA company, was one of the playground’s sponsors. Utility Service Partners administers the National League of City’s Service Line Warranty Program, which provides emergency repair warranties and education on service line responsibilities at no cost to cities. Qualifying cities can receive royalties that can go toward similar and other programs and needs. For information on how the Service Line Warranty Program can benefit your community, contact us.

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The NLC Service Line Warranty Program Helps a Young Couple with a Major Repair

Adam and Jennifer F. loved the first home they bought together, a historic 100 year old house in a quiet Wichita neighborhood – but they didn’t love the sewer line problems that came with it.

The couple bought the home knowing that the sewer line would need attention, and Adam and a friend rented equipment and spent hours cleaning out the line. The couple believed that would keep the problem from worsening until they were able to implement a more permeant fix.

However, within two years, the couple noticed they once again were experiencing drainage problems.

“I thought, ‘I just fixed that,’” Adam said. “I didn’t think it had been long enough to have another problem.”

But it was – one of the features of the backyard the couple loved was an enormous tree, easily as old as their home, but the sewer line passed beneath it. The tree’s roots sought out the warmth the line emitted, especially during the colder months. In addition, the line was an old clay pipe and offered little resistance to the encroaching roots.

To compound the problem, at some point between the house initially being built and Adam and Jennifer purchasing it, an outbuilding had been erected at the rear of the property, directly over the sewer line. The line would have to be replaced using an auger to dig beneath the outbuilding without damaging the foundation or completely re-routed to avoid the tree and the building.

The cost would be thousands of dollars – an expense the young couple simply could not afford. Fortunately, Adam had assisted a local church, and the pastor put him in contact with Sunflower Services.

Sunflower recommended replacing the clay pipe with sturdier, more resistant PVC and rerouting it to avoid the tree and outbuilding to prevent continuing root encroachment and make the line more accessible if it should ever need repair in the future. The problem was the $7,000 price tag, representing a significant portion of their annual income.

Sunflower Services employees knew just what to do and reached out to contacts at Utility Service Partners to see if the couple could have their job covered through the company’s charitable program. Utility Service Partners, a leading home warranty company providing plumbing and electrical warranties throughout the U.S. and Canada, agreed to cover the cost of the repair.

Utility Service Partners also offers low-cost water and sewer service line warranties through the National League of Cities Service Line Warranty Program in partnership with municipalities and utilities. The program also has been endorsed by several state leagues, including the Kansas League of Cities.

As for Adam and Jennifer, everything is back to normal.

“It’s draining just fine now,” Adam said.

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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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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