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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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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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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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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AMERICA’S WATER INFRASTRUCTURE CRISIS: THE SIX PILLAR SOLUTION

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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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.