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Monthly Archives: November 2016


Many communities that have issue with older infrastructure may suffer from loss of economic opportunities (Flint, Detroit, Cleveland).  This compounds the problem with local capacity for maintenance and report of infrastructure. Many of these issues result from the lack of funding due to the unwillingness of local officials to raise water rates and address hidden infrastructure. Others may feel limited due to the loss of economic activity – Rust Belt cities and the northeast are older; inner cities may be more impacted.  Different areas of the country will have different needs and maybe different magnitudes of need.  Rural communities may not have funding to replace infrastructure.  The first community that abandoned their system was rural.  Newer communities with newer pipe will have far less needs today, but few are taking steps to avoid the infrastructure pitfalls that have hit older communities.  Ultimately these conditions make for a huge backlog of deferred infrastructure investments, mostly in pipe and service lines beneath roads. The only good news is that by correcting the piping, much of the roadway base issues could also be resolved concurrently.

A concurrent problem in the communities hardest hit with infrastructure issues is often that there is pool of skilled labor, but said labor may not be skilled in areas to address their own infrastructure problems.  Likewise youths may be challenged to find work local. The solution to both issues may be similar to that posed by the CETA programs in the late 1970s. In those programs local and state governments were given funds to hire staff to be trained for certain jobs, with the intention that these trained workers would become part of a permanent, expanded workforce.  A similar solution today as a part of an infrastructure bill could be to provide local and state governments for funding for personnel to be trained to perform such work.  The workers could receive training on safety, OSHA issues, and equipment from a local community college or university that would be paid for by the infrastructure bill.  These same people would then be hired by local governments to perform rehabilitation and replacement work, fully funded initially by the federal government s but with an anticipated transition period where by 10 years out, the workforce could be demonstrated to have been expended as a result of the program.

Note that hiring by local governments is a key.  Private sector hiring tends to be job specific and the jobs disappear when the activity moves or ceases.  Hence finding the private sector likely leads only to a temporary increase in labor development.  Local government hiring would more likely increase permanent employment.  The local agencies would need to be given an incentive to encourage this since far too many elected officials see government employment as a negative thing.  This is partly why we have the infrastructure quagmire today.  That attitude needs to change.

The private sector will want their share, and privatization is a confounding issue because people get laid off through privatization and indications are that the middle class gets hurt by privatization (lower wages for the same job).  But the public sector does not manufacture pipe, equipment like backhoes and rollers and other materials would be paid to private vendors in accordance with local and state bid rules.  That would move monies for capital to private vendors.  For large projects the work rules could be applied to contractors much like the ARRA funding requirements – shovel ready and US materials and newly trained staff making up a portion of the work force.  That would meet the tenets of local jobs, fixing local problems with federal dollars for a period of time, perhaps as a mix of grants and low interest loans.

At least 20 years of infrastructure needs exist.  Hence the longer term program could be sustained.  A funding mechanism is in place via state revolving fund programs for a portion of the effort, much like the water, sewer and stormwater funds were channeled through the SRF programs under the ARRA program.  WIFIA and other programs could be used as a dispersal agent, so new bureaucracies would not need to be created.   A prior pattern for implementation is in place and would just need to be “dusted” off an updated.  Bi-partisan support enacted these program in the past and it would seem this would be good for all.

The potential for concern would be raised by private utilities (power, cable, telephone and private water and sewer utilities) which would be effectively shut out of funding, but they are private entities and they have the ability to raise funds on the private equity market.  Capitalism will work well for these organizations, but it does not for most local public works infrastructure systems.  That is why they are public, not private.  Some local governments would resist the requirement to expand the workforce – but that is their choice – a requirement to participate is not implied just as it is not with SRF funds.  Local business communities would likely drive the effort to be involved.

So now we wait and see if anything happens……


The election and post-election discussions have included some concepts about funding for infrastructure.  While this may have been more focused had Clinton been elected, it remains a discussion topic in the Trump White House.  How it would be manifested is a question, with Trump’s faction discussion private cash influxes to make this happen.  The Senate seems to view infrastructure as DOA, which means nothing might occur.  However, in any instances, there needs to be a definition of the word infrastructure and what would qualify for funding.  There are three basic types of infrastructure – public, private and regulated private.  Most SRF programs limit recipients of funding to public entities.

The infrastructure in the public arena falls into three categories which have vastly different types of infrastructures:

Local – water, sewer, stormwater/drainage, local roads, limited bridges.  In larger communities, rail and airports might be included, but the latter is mostly federal subsidies.  Much of water and sewer infrastructure is over 50 years old and is showing signs of weakening.  Buried pipelines are the most at risk.  This would include the 6 million lead services lines in place.  Sewer lines are primarily vitrified clay, also 50+ years old and likely cracked.  Stormwater is corrugated metal and concrete.  Roadway bases in most communities are historical and do not meet today’s standards.  Hence ASCE rates these a D or D-.  Municipal buildings in older communities may also have lead services, asbestos, wood and galvanized pipelines, and other issues to address. The majority of infrastructure under this definition is under local control.

State – highways and bridges – much of America’s commerce depends on these roadways.  25% of bridges need work, 10% are deficient.  Funding for rail and airports is a need from a state perspective.  States may spend more money on transportation that all other infrastructure combined.

Federal – these are very large scale projects like dikes, dams, reservoirs and water transmission systems.  It also includes national parks ($11 billion deficiency), and federal buildings.  The dikes in New Orleans are an example.  However a lot of the funds for these projects are disseminated to locals (like New Orleans), so the actual use may be unclear.

The literature suggests that public investments in infrastructure create at least a 4:1 return.  Good infrastructure is necessary for a vibrant economy.  Deteriorating infrastructure leads to …. Flint, New Orleans after Katrina, and a host of obvious failures.  The impact of climate on communities, particularly sea level rise, can be partially addressed with infrastructure improvements.  Large scale construction can secure jobs both immediately and for the foreseeable future.  The question then is how to secure finding that will lead to jobs, lead to economic development and return on those investments, and will make notable improvements.  That is the challenge at all three levels.  The easiest to address from a sill perspective is state roads and local infrastructure.  From a state perspective the work is focused on highways and transportation.  Locally, the benefit is the local labor force that requires no travel or added overhead.  Just training.  So the question is whether an infrastructure bill can/should have a jobs component built in?


It is hard to believe that it is already Thanksgiving.  2016 is almost over and it has gone so fast.  And there are a bunch of things I have not done yet!!  I need more time!!.  We all do.

But today is a day to be thankful for what we have, especially friends and family.  the holidays are for celebrating.  Let’s have a  thankful time.  Enjoy the turkey!!

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We may never know the true depths of fake information on the internet.  For years people have warned that 40+ percent of the stuff posted on the internet was clearly false and more misleading.  Clearly it is likely more when you add social media.  The internet, for all its good points, is also the place where everyone who wants to create trouble can connect with others who create trouble.  There is no need to fact check or to provide sources on the internet – just get “likes” and “follows.”  You can say almost anything and post almost anything without many limits – the crazier the more people seem to pay attention.  So much reality TV on the web.

So trying to get the message to people about important items is a challenge for water utilities.  The internet can help, and hurt  Even legitimate news can go both ways.  Now think about people deliberately sabotaging you.  And it happens, as we saw throughout the recent election.  How do we combat this?  How to ordinary people sift through the fake stuff and find the facts as most of us want to convey? Way too many people think everything on the internet is real.  But it is not….

I thought this was an interesting take anyway on the depths of the problem.  I see that twitter and Facebook are going to try to address the most egregious stuff, but…..

Obama is worried about fake news on social media – and we should be too — The Guardian

 


It is Wednesday November 9.  The election day is over. FINALLY!  You get your internet, TV, phone, text messages, cable, radio and other devices back from the slog that have been the election season.  Record amounts of nastiness, hate, divisiveness, demagoguery.  Record amounts of money were spent on this election.  Billions of dollars spent.  Think about it.  Billions just for ad and  spin-doctors.  Couldn’t those billions be spent on something more productive?  Anything?  Please?  Like infrastructure?  Maybe all contributions to elections should be matched with contributions to fix the nation’s infrastructure?


I have been saying this for a number of years – China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea and Immigrants didn’t take our jobs.  Robots did.  And now Paul Wiseman agrees:

https://www.pressreader.com/usa/richmond-times-dispatch-weekend/20161106/282969629631569

We make more cars in the US today than in the 1970s, with 1/3 of the labor force, mostly with robots.   We make more steel in the US today that in the heyday of the steel towns of Pittsburgh and Bethlehem because of robots and small scale recycle pug mills.  What’s more, industrial experts think the US, not China, will be the most manufacturing competitive country in the world because the costs to manufacture are cheaper due to automation (a fancy word for robots).

Ok, wait, isn’t unemployment now under 5% and we have had 70+months of continuous job increases?  How is that possible?  Companies want to cut costs.  Labor is easy when that labor can be replaced by robots. The trend will continue.  Automatic driving trains are real.  Automated trucks are coming – billions are being put into truck automation to reduce the 1.4 million truckers to as close to zero as possible, saving 1/3 the cost of transportation.  But automation does not mean less jobs – there are needs for higher tech jobs to maintain the robots.  And the ability to cut costs in one area means more income to spend on others, increasing jobs in other areas. So in reality there are more, higher skill jobs out there.

More to come, but  maybe we are now starting to understand what is meant by the “new” economy and how that might transfer to the water industry..

 


 

I spent 3.5 days hiking 45 miles hiking over 8000 ft in the Rockies two weeks ago.  Evening were spent working on my infrastructure book. It snowed on my 2.5 days of the time.  Winds 60 mph at Mills Pond, but it was all good.  Hiking in the cool weather is the right way to do it.  Thank goodness for lined jeans.  300+ elk.  50+ deer.  No coyotes but I heard them.  Most of the leaves were gone, but caught a few.  One spot near Cub Lake had a gold carpet of fallen leaves.  Take a look…

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Golden carpet

img_9489Cub Lake

img_9536Lake Helene

img_9460Bear Lake

img_9542Emerald Lake

img_9541Dream Lake

img_9478Odessa Lake

img_9483Fern Lake

img_9570Sprague lake

IMG_9557.JPGThe Loch

img_9562Mills Pond (note the chop in the water – 60 mph winds w snow)

img_9546Lake Hayiaha

IMG_9629.JPGBridal Veil Falls

img_9635Balanced Rock

img_9600Big Bull elk

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Colors

In have been a very warm fall so far despite the snow.  The west side still has no snow in the valley.  Here is hoping they get lots this winter.  See you next year RMNP!

 


The Flint saga continues.  The latest is that they continue to use Detroit water, but will convert to the new Lake Huron supply in 2018. The argument now is who’s water plant will be used. The County is building a plant.   John Young notes that the Mayor of Flint wants to use their own plant.  I think we know how that worked out last time. All the non-elected officials overseeing the City say buy from Genessee County.  Should be interesting to see how that plays out.

Meanwhile Midwest regional EPA officials appear are being criticized for failing to deal with the problem in a timely fashion.  EPA delayed their emergency declaration for 7 months, but EPA says the state action prevented EPA from acting.  This is exactly what the states asked for when they persuaded Reagan to delegate authority from EPA to the states.  Then the finger pointing starts when state officials do not react quickly because the state legislature cut their budget and no one is asking about that like they did in Walkerton in 2001.  It could have been predicted especially when too many states have legislatures that want to starve the bureaucracy.  But they forget why the bureaucracy was there to begin with – because something bad happened and government reacted to it by passing laws and creating oversight.  Delete the oversight and bad things happen.  It is human nature.

That will play out, but there still is the problem of the people who made the decisions in the first place.  As the elected officials in the class I taught this summer noted, it was a political decision to save money that created this problem to start with, not an operation issue.  The operational issue came up after the elected officials decided to start up a 50 year old plant that had not been run more than 18 months in 50 years, and after improvements were quickly made to the plant, but never tested.  Not sure how the engineers (sorry) let that happen, but why is it that no elected officials have been scrutinized for their bad decisions?  It makes us all look bad and sends a poor message to the residents of the country, not just Flint.

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