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Monthly Archives: June 2014


Are finance and budget personnel gate-keepers or operations support staff?  The answer make a great difference to your operation.  Gate keepers slow the process by creating barriers to overcome (think Dilbert).  Support staff means they readily acquire the necessary resources to insure smooth operation (not Dilbert).  Which do you have?

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In the last blog we discussed 10 planning steps for sea level rises.  When planning 50-100 years other factors can come into play as well.  As a result, to allow flexibility in the analysis due to the range of increases within the different time periods, an approach that uses incremental increases of 1, 2, and 3 feet of SLR is suggested.  Hence infrastructure is built to meet milestones, not arbitrary dates lessening the potential for stranded assets.. The increments can work as threshold values in planning considerations in terms of allowing planners the ability to know ahead of time where the next set of vulnerable areas will be to allow a for proactive response approach that can be matched to the observed future sea levels.

But prior to developing infrastructure plans, the local community needs to define an acceptable level of service (LOS) for the community. A level service would indicate how often it is acceptable for flooding to occur in a community on an annual basis.  1% is 4 days per years and for a place like Miami Beach, this is nearly 2 ft NAVD88, well above the mean high tide.  The failure to establish an acceptable LOS is often the cause of failure or loss of confidence in a plan at a later point in time.  The effects of SLR of the level of service should be used to update the mapping to demonstrate how the level of service changes, so that a long-term LOS can be defined and used for near-term planning.

With the LOS known, the vulnerability assessment is developed using a GIS based map of topography and the groundwater levels associated with wet and dry season water levels.  LiDAR is a useful tool that may be available at very high resolution in coastal areas.  Topographic maps must be “ground-truthed” by tying it to local benchmarks and transportation plans.  USGS groundwater and NOAA tidal data from local monitoring stations to correlate with the groundwater information. Based on the results of these efforts, the GIS-based mapping will provide areas of likely flooding.

GIS map should be updated with layers of information for water mains, sewer mains, canals, catch basins, weirs and stormwater facilities.  Updating with critical infrastructure will provide a view of vulnerability of critical infrastructure that will be funded by the public sector. Ultimately policy makers will need more information to prioritize the needed improvements.  For example, a major goal may be to reduce Economic Vulnerability.  This means identifying where economic activity occurs and potential jobs.  At-risk populations, valuable property (tax base) and emergency response may be drivers, which means data from other sources should be added.

The next step is to analyze vulnerability spatially, by overlaying development priorities with expected climate change on GIS maps to identify hotspots where adaptation activities should be focused. This effort includes identification of the critical data gaps which, when filled, will enable more precise identification of at risk infrastructure and predictions of impacts on physical infrastructure and on communities. The final deliverable will include descriptions of the recommended concepts including schematics, cost estimates, and implementation plan.

So why go through all this.  Let’s go back to the beginning.  It has to do with community confidence in its leaders.  Resident look at whether their property will be protected.  Businesses look at long-term viability when making decisions about relocating enterprises.  The insurance industry, which has traditionally been focused on a one year vision of risk, is beginning to discuss long-term risks and not insuring property rebuild is risk-prone areas.  That will affect how bankers look at lending practices, which likely will decrease property values.  Hence it is in the community’s interests to develop a planning framework to adapt to sea level rise and protect vulnerable infrastructure through a long-term plan.  Plan or….


The rainy season has sort-of started in south Florida and with it comes flooding and discussions of the falls end of season and concurrent high, high tides for the year, flooding and the impact of sea level rise on low-lying areas.  Much focus has been spent on the causes of sea level rise and the potential flooding caused by same.  However the flooding can be used as a surrogate to impacts to the social and economic base of the community.  By performing vulnerability assessments, coastal areas can begin planning for the impacts of climate change in order to safeguard their community’s social, cultural, environmental and economic resources. Policies need to focus on both mitigation and adaptation strategies, essentially, the causes and effects of climate change. Policy formulation should be based on sound science, realizing that policy decisions will be made and administered at the local level to better engage the community and formulate local decisions.

Making long-term decisions will be important.  Businesses look at long-term viability when making decisions about relocating enterprises.  The insurance industry, which has traditionally been focused on a one year vision of risk, is beginning to discuss long-term risks and not insuring property rebuild is risk-prone areas.  That will affect how bankers look at lending practices, which likely will decrease property values.  Hence it is in the community’s interests to develop a planning framework to adapt to sea level rise and protect vulnerable infrastructure through a long-term plan.

While uncertainties in the scale, timing and location of climate change impacts can make decision-making difficult, response strategies can be effective if planning is initiated early on. Because vulnerability can never be estimated with great accuracy due to uncertainty in the rate of warming, deglaciation and other factors, the conventional anticipation approach should be replaced or supplemented with one that recognizes the importance of building resiliency.  The objectives of the research were to develop a method for planning for sea level rise, and providing a means to prioritize improvements at the appropriate time.  In addition the goals were to provide guidance in developing a means to prioritize infrastructure to maximize benefit to the community by prioritizing economic and social impacts.

Adaptation planning must merge scientific understanding with political and intuitional capacity on an appropriate scale and horizon.  According to Mukheibir and Ziervogel (2007), there are 10 steps to consider when creating an adaptation strategy on the municipal level.  To summarize, these are as follows:

  1. Assess current climate trends and future projections for the region (defining the science).
  2. Undertake a preliminary vulnerability assessment of the community and communicate results through vulnerability maps (using GIS and other tools).
  3. Analyze vulnerability spatially, by overlaying development priorities with expected climate change on GIS maps to identify hotspots where adaptation activities should be focused.
  4. Survey current strategic plans and development priorities to reduce redundancy and understand institutional capacity.
  5. Develop an adaptation strategy that focuses on highly vulnerable areas. Make sure the strategy offers a range of adaptation actions that are appropriate to the local context.
  6. Prioritize adaptation actions using tools such as multi-criteria analysis (MCA), cost-benefit analysis (CBA) and/or social accounting matrices (SAM).
  7. Develop a document which covers the scope, design and budget of such actions (what they call a Municipal Adaptation Plan (MAP)).
  8. Engage stakeholders and decision-makers to build political support. Implement the interventions prioritized in the MAP.
  9. Monitor and evaluate the interventions on an ongoing basis.
  10. Regularly review and modify the plans at predefined intervals.

 

The strengths of this framework are the initial focus on location-specific science, the use of both economic and social evaluation criteria, and the notion that the plan is not a fixed document, but rather a process that evolves in harmony with a changing environment.  The final two steps occur at regular intervals by the community with associated adjustments made.  The next question is how to develop the data and priorities.


Last week I went to Boston for the American Water Works Association Annual Conference and Exposition.  It is a gathering of thousands of water industry professionals – from operators to university professors to engineers to manufacturers.  It is a good group of people and most know a number of people each year.  The industry is smaller than one things despite there being over 50,000 community water systems in the United States.  All are there to network, which allows them to discuss their issue, learn new ways to approach things, create new contacts and see new equipment and techniques.  Over 11,000 registered.  Good job to AWWA staff and the folks in New England that local hosts.

At the conference, one of many tasks, beyond meetings and education, was to do a class for public officials on what water and sewer utilities are, how they operate, how to deal with revenues and expenses and regulations.  The idea is to help local officials understand the complex utility issues which are often second fiddle to more “surficial” activities like parks, and economic development.   The officials get a certificate from AWWA for 12 hours of class time, but the fact that these folks come, spend the time, get involved and can then experience the rest of the program is to be commended.  I have been doing these public officials classes since my book came out in 2009.  The first two days are always based on the book, but the third day can vary depending on issues in the news and preferences form the public officials group within AWWA.  This year the focus was operations and revenues. The responses were positive, and the interaction was very good.  And I had a blast as well.

It had been 40 years since AWWA was in Boston for ACE.  I have been twice previously – once when I was 7 and we went to the aquarium and once to catch a baseball game at Fenway, while on a 5 game, 4 city, 3 day baseball trip.  Boston led off.  This time, I was able to spend a day looking at the City.  Thanks to my friend Chi Ho Sham who acted as chauffer and tour guide – I expect to repay the gesture whenever he can spend a couple days in S. Florida.  Boston as many of you know is the cradle of the American revolution, and visits to the old North Church, Paul Revere’s house, the USS Constitution, several cemeteries and Faneuil Hall.  Fascinating.  Another trip to come as there is much more to experience than a day.

The moral to the story is that conferences allow us to accomplish many things.  We meet new people, hear new things, and if we spend a little time, we can experience how others live or have lived.  The history is valuable to us personally.

It's been three years since my father passed on.. Just missed Father's Day in 2011. For many of us, our fathers have exerted far more impact on us that we may admit and in most cases that has been a positive impact. I know mine was in a major way. Especially as you get a little older you start to realize that impact. My relationship with my Dad was always good and once I got out of school we had a lot to talk about - both engineers - but it extended far beyond that. Their recollections of the past are priceless and informative - we can never relate to some of those experiences. My Dad lived through the depression, lived through 1943 in a B17 bomber while getting flacked by German fighter planes and ground forces (two Purple Hearts) while many of his buddies did not, lived the cold war, and more before me. WIthout being passed on, those experiences will at some point be lost to time, one of the reasons storytelling is often a lost art. So today appreciate the Dad's in your life, and remember those who are no longer. Remember what they tried ot bring to and pass down through you. Happy Father's Day.


In a prior blog we talked about the difference between urban and rural counties and the impact of the differences between incomes and how that would affect utilities.  Keep in mind that the 40 largest urban counties in the US contain nearly half the US population as do the 50 largest utilities.  So in a recent article in Governing, the focus was on the few counties where income was higher than average.  In fact, in looking at counties, within the top 20 in per capita income are 10 counties in North and South Dakota.  Interesting until you review why.  All are in areas where fracking is ongoing and corporate farming is prevelant.  It is no surprise that the fracking boom has created wealth in rural areas that have limited populations, limited regulations and state and local officials who are desperate to reduce unemployment and stimulate laggard economies.  We noted before that rural counties are often desperate for jobs, so they often ignore what could possibly go wrong when jobs and development are the only priorities for a community.  Governing used the example of Wells County, ND where the per capita income has doubled since 1997 and is 75% above the national average.  Yet the local governments are looking at which roads they will allow to go back to gravel.  How is this possible? 

The issue is not relegated to just Wells, ND.  Despite the fact that many rural communities in areas with intensive farming or fracking have grown 10-15% since 2007, local officials are finding it difficult to raise taxes to pay for infrastructure.  Roads are the most obvious and pressing issue because of the impact from fracking traffic.  As new wells are constructed, the frackers build new dirt roads and use the existing roadways.  Some believe the need to fix many of the roads is temporary so why bother, but it neglects the need to infrastructure improvements in general.  The same argument could be used for water and sewer infrastructure as well, but these wealthy rural communities do not want to increase governmental spending to improve any infrastructure, so the opportunity to address the community needs is being lost.  

What is more interesting is that the states where these rural counties exist, including the Dakotas, along with Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico, and most of the southeastern states are among the states that rely most heavily on federal funding.  So when incomes increase, the dependency remains.  These are the same states that tax residents the least, spend the least on education, have the poorest health care (and the fewest people signed up for the Affordable Care Act and few have state exchanges) and have the most people in poverty.  The dichotomy between reality and the political perception is interesting in these states, which leads one to wonder if the residents of these states like their situation and keep electing representatives that reflect this desire, or they have fallen victim to political interests that cause them to vote consistently against their better interests, or for the interests of a limited few that deny them access to the education, infrastructure, medical care and other benefits their urban and wealthier neighbors enjoy. 

That is a tough question but the bigger question is how to infrastructure agencies like utilities attempt to overcome either of these perceptions?  Neglecting infrastructure, education, medical and the like does not promote local economies, does not create jobs and more likely causes the migration of the best and brightest young people out of the community in search of better prospects, which further imperils their rural situation.  Keep in mind that most cities are relatively permanent, but fracking, like mining, oil and timber before them, have been booms and busts.  The situation if far more dire after the boomtown than it was before.  After all, what could possibly go wrong when 50,000 miners, or frackers, descend upon a community of 1,500 people?  They will consume all the resources, then leave.  Locally those well paying jobs are imported due to the lack of skills and education, and then they leave with the bust.  This has played out many times in the past.  It is not sustainable.  We need to learn from the past – when the boom hits, make the investments you need in infrastructure, education, medicine, etc. so that the future is better after the bust. 

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