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So everyone is doing their Top 10 questions for 2016 (although with David Letterman off the air, perhaps less so), I figured why not?  So it the vein of looking forward to 2016, let’s ponder these issues that could affect utilities and local governments:

  1. How wild, or weird will the Presidential election get? And part b, what will that do to America’s status in the world?  Thinking it won’t help us.  Probably won’t help local governments either.
  2. Will the economic recovery keep chugging along? Last time we had an election the economy tanked.  Thinking a major change in direction might create economic uncertainty.  Uncertainty (or panic) would trickle down.  Status quo, probably keeps things moving along.  .
  3. What will the “big” issue be in the election cycle and who will it trickle down to local governments and utilities? In 2008 it was the lack of health care for millions of Americans and the need for a solution. Right after the election we got the Great Recession so most people forgot about the health care crisis until the Affordable are Act was signed into law.  And then ISIS arose from a broken Iraq and Arab summer.  None helped local governments.
  4. What are we going to hear about the 20 richest Americans having more assets than the bottom 150 million residents? 20 vs 150,000,000.  And while we are at it, the top 0.1% have more assets than the bottom 90%, the biggest disparity since the 1920s.  While we will decide that that while hard work should be rewarded, the disparity is in part helped by tax laws, tax shelters, lobbying of politicians, etc. as Warren Buffett points out, indicate a discussion about tax laws will be heard.  Part b – if we do adjust the tax laws, how will we measure how much this helps the bottom 99.9%?
  5. What will be the new technology that changes the way we live? Computers will get faster and smaller.  Phones are getting larger.  Great, but what is the next “Facebook”?  By the way the insurance folks are wondering how the self driving car will affect the insurance industry.  So reportedly is Warren Buffett.  Watch Mr. Buffett’s moves.
  6. Along a similar vein, will the insurance industry start rethinking their current risk policies to look at longer term as opposed to annual risk? If so what does that mean for areas where sea levels are rising?  The North Carolina coast, where sea level rise acceleration is not permitted as a discussion item could get tricky.
  7. Will unemployment (now 5%) continue to fall with associated increases in wages? Will that help our constituents/customers?  Will people use more water as a result?
  8. Where is the next drought? Or flood?  And will the extremes keep on coming?  Already we have record flooding in the Mississippi River in December – not March/April?  Expect February to be a cold, snowy month. IT is upper 80s here.  Snowing in the Colorado Rockies.
  9. Will we continue to break down the silos between water “types” for a more holistic view of water resources? We have heard a bunch on potable reuse systems.  More to come there, especially with sensors and regulations.  But in the same vein, will we develop a better understanding of the link between ecosystems and good water supplies, and encourage lawmakers to protect the wild areas that will keep drinking water cleaner?
  10. Will we get water, sewer, storm water, etc. customers to better understand the true value of water, and therefore get their elected official on board with funding infrastructure neglect? And will that come as a result of better education, a better economy, breaking down those silos, drought (or floods), more extreme event, more breaks or something else?

Happy New Year everyone.  Best to all my friends and followers in 2016!

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Once upon a time, people worked until they died.  But the longer people lived, the more infirmities impacted older people, and the concept of stopping work came into play.  So these folks labored all their lives, put some money away in a safe place, like a bank, where someone else would watch over an manage their money until they needed it.  Then one day, they found out that the banks have gambled and lost on real estate, and their money was gone.  There was no government to bail anyone out.  So the people had to try to go back to work, became beggars and destitute or died.  The government thought this was unfair to those older folks who had worked so hard, but through absolutely no fault of their own, had lost everything.  So the government decided that it would “tax” people a portion of their income, and put it into a retirement system.  People could retire at 65, and of course they were only expected to live another r3 or 4 years.  There were 16 people laying in for every person taking out.  And the government told the banks that they could not gamble with people’s hard earned savings, passed legislation and created an insurance pool to backstop losses by criminal or unethical activity.  All was good and the people were happy.

As time went on some things changed.  For one, people lived more than 3 or 4 years.  The population retirees increased, and the ratio dropped to 1:10 and then to 1:6 ration of retirees:workers, but the “tax” did not go up, but investments were made that increased the pool.  It was called good management.  The government also encouraged people to save money by deferring taxes, which they did, and the banks used it to make money.  All good as long as the investors gambled well.  They gambled so well, they were able to talk the government into undoing the anti-gambling rules from the past, so their pool to invest was twice as much.  And the markets grew and the portfolios grew and the people were happy.

And then it came to pass that the banks again gambled on real estates, and created complicated investment tools to hide the risk, but the risk was exposed and half the money was gone overnight.  And the retired were wondering about jobs again.  But there were no jobs.  And the employed now had fewer jobs.  So less people paid into the system.  And the people were sad.  And mad because they thought they were being protected from the gambling of the past.  They did not understand.

And the government could supply no answers because they had changed the rules and they knew the people would be unhappy, so the government felt there was no choice, so they borrowed money, and bailed out the banks.  And some people were happy.  And some people were concerned about all that debt.  And some people wondered why it was that history could repeat itself and put society at risk.  And some people asked why people who did bad things were not punished.

And none of these questions has been answered.  Good thing that these fairy tales don’t depict anything real right?


In my last blog I outlined the 10 states with the greatest losses since 2006.  Florida was not among them, yet given our legislature’s on-going discussion and hand-wringing with the state run Citizen’s insurance, you would  think we have a major ongoing crisis with insurance here.  Maybe we do, but I will provide some facts.  Citizens,averaged between 1 and 1.5 million policies over the last 8 years.  according the the South Florida SunSentinel, the average person pays $2500 per year for windstorm coverage.  Somehow I think I want that bill because my insurance is about $6000 through my private insurer and when I had Citizens it was $5700/yr.  But I digress.

Let’s assume there is 1.2 million policies over that time paying the #2500/yr. That totals.$3 billion a year in premiums.  That means Citizens should have reserves of $24 billion because they have not paid-out since 2006.  They have $11 billion according to the SunSentinel sources.  So wher eis the rest of the money?  We can assume there are operating expenses.  They pay their executives very well for a government organization.  I am sure they pay the agents as well.  I asked a couple friends in the industry and they indicate that for private companies, about half your premium goes the the agent who writes the policy.  That’s only Citizens.

Let’s assume there are conservatively another 8 million policies in Florida and since many of those are inland, let’s day they average $1500/yr.  If you have it for less, check out your policy!.  That means there is another $12 billion collected each year for a total of $15 billion per year.

Now let’s look at storms.  According to Malmstadt, et al 2010, the ten largest storms 1900–2007, corrected for 2005 dollars are as follows:.

Rank   Storm                         Year        Loss($bn)

1 Great Miami                        1926       129.0

2 Andrew                               1992        52.3

3 Storm                                  1944       35.6

4 Lake Okeechobee               1928       31.8

5 Donna                                1960       28.9

6 Wilma                                  2005       20.6

7 Charlie                                2004        16.3

8 Ivan                                     2004        15.5

9 Storm # 2                            1949        13.5

10 Storm # 4                          1947       11.6

So for all bu the top 9 storms in a 107 year history,the annual receipts exceed the losses for a storm.   The total over the period is $450 billion (adjusted to 2005 dollars)  That means an average of $4 billion per year.  So what is the issue?  Sure a big storm could wipe out the trust fund, but that is what Lloyd;’son London, re-insurers and the ability to borrow funds is all about.

I suggest that the fuzz is really about is this.  Most people do not understand the concept of an insurance pool.  That includes many public officials.  The idea of insurance is to pool resources is to collect huge sums of money so that if something bad occurs, there is the ability to compensate people for their losses.  Insurance is a good thing but individually we hope it is never us that needs to be compensated because that means something bad happened.  But we expect our premiums to pay into that pool, build large pools of money, and have money when you need it. The more people that pay in, the more the  risk is split and lower the likelihood that any individual suffers a loss.  Hence the lower risk should lower premiums.  And people who live in high risk area should pay more than those who don’t.  Flood plains, dry forests, coastal areas, high wind areas, tornado alley, etc are all high risk.  Florida is one, but clearly there are many others,

So Citizens has a pile of money. Most private insurance companies should also, although their money is invested and they expect most of that will not be paid out.  I suspect the concern is a fear that the pile of cash will create a public furor, but that shows a lack of communication and education.  Cash is good.  Lots of it is better.  It’s like running surpluses in government or in your personal savings account. The idea is to have money when you need it.  Running at a point where you never have surpluses guarantees you will have deficits that require cuts in services,and possibly losses of jobs when the economy tanks again.   For insurance, those losses occur when big event hit.  Fortunately those are infrequent, but they have and will happen.  We need the cash pools on hand to protect our citizens just in case.    In the meantime we need some leadership and education of the public.


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.


I went to Colorado in July, and it was bone dry like I noted in a prior blog.  The trend was expected to continue, but then something happened.  It rained.  A lot. It’s been raining for almost a month.  Last week it was wet out there, really wet, devastatingly wet on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park (Boulder, Estes Park, Longmont, Lyons). The rain has not really let up so mountain streams are over-running their banks, flooding streets, washing away bridges, damaging property and businesses.  Helicopter evaluation of the damage indicates that miles of roadways are badly damaged. Route 34/36, the primary eastern entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park may have 17 miles (of 20) damage pavement and foundation needing immediate repair.  Estes Park is cut off from the world and there was mud in the streets.  Rocky Mountain National Park is closed to allow access from Grand Lake for emergency vehicles, residents and supplies.  And eastern emergency route from Nederland is also available.  Tourism has halted in the peak of Fall tourist season.

How fortunes have changed, and continue to change.  Three years ago it was the west side of Colorado with 300 inches of snow that flooded downstream communities.  Three months ago was drought. Are these changes part of a larger issue, or a continuation of the status quo?  Hard to know, but certainly both events were far above any prior events experienced in the area.  The local infrastructure was not constructed to meet these conditions, so either the climate is changing, our models are wrong, or both.  We see the same issue playing out regularly around the world when the 100 year or 500 year storm event occurs and wreaks havoc on a community which does not have infrastructure planned for events like this.

 Expect NE Colorado to be a federal disaster area.  Expect billions to be spent on reconstruction of roadways.   But the larger question is whether the new, replacement infrastructure will survive a similar, or larger climate event in the future.  Will our infrastructure planning be short sighted or will it be adjusted accordingly?  The potential for us to protect infrastructure, and property is completely related to our ability to adjust to infrastructure needs and to minimize exposure to weather events.  Keep in mind our economy and way of life is directly related to our infrastructure condition.  But people want to live near rivers and streams, but rarely consider the real risk and consequences. 

How do we address these risks?  FEMA evaluates the probability of flooding to set flood insurance, but FEMA does not prevent construction in flood zones.  Where construction can occur is a state or local issue.  Of course, few local entities want to limit development in any way, so we keep putting people at risk.  Local officials, like those in Florida, keep pushing FEMA officials to reduce flood risks, despite evidence of increasing rainfall intensity that would increase flooding.  Florida is not alone.  No doubt Colorado officials have the same views.  We need to impress upon local officials the risks and encourage them to reduce risks to citizens.  It’s our tax money and insurance premiums they are raising.  But they are rarely held accountable.  Nor are non-elected officials.  Somehow, this needs to change.  We need leaders to stand up and draw the  line in the sand.


Why are health care costs increasing so fast?  Did you ever wonder about that?  We keep hearing about how health care costs, Medicare, Medicare, Obamacare are going to bankrupt us, but why is that?  Why are the cots going up so fast?  It is an important challenge for local officials and utilities who generally pay the health insurance costs for their workers.  There is more to the story that we are not being told.

One problem that get identified quickly is that only 80% of the population is included in the health care system.  Many who are not are “healthy” young people who don’t demand the services.  The concept of the health care bill was to solve this problem by spreading the costs of health care across the entire population using private and public providers.  First, I think there are way more unhealthy  people included in the 20% than we realize because the political dialogue keeps focusing on the few that want to live off the grid – I feel great so I don’t need insurance.  That guy is part of the problem.  That guy gets into a car accident, gets taken to a public hospital, gets treated, gets a bill for $26,000 to fix his broken leg, refuses to pay anything, and the taxpayers get stuck with the bill.  My solution to that guy is if you don’t want to pay for health insurance, bring cash.  Otherwise, “no soup for you!” to paraphrase a famous Seinfeld episode.  Of course my doctor, nurse and therapy friends think that’s a little cold hearted. 

The next argument is the cost of doctors, therapists and nurses.  Okay, I know a bunch of them, and that’s not where the money goes.  These people have lost money in the past 10 years.  Many are going form full-time to part-time employments as Medicare, Medicaid and health insurance bureaucrats decide services are no longer needed.  They will tell you the major change in their lives is paperwork….hold that thought for a moment.

The cost of drugs comes up.  Medicare and Medicare are the largest purchasers of pharmaceuticals in the world.  So in other works, they set the lowest price by supposedly bidding the “contracts” for services. Only there is often only one provider, so exactly how does that work?   Sounds like we don’t get a good deal there, which is why the arguments for importing Canadian drugs or drugs from Mexico keeps popping up.  They get a better deal than we do and most of these are supposedly AMERICAN companies.  No home town discount (I guess I know where free agent baseball players get the idea).   And my medical friends confirm this as an issue.  Check out the comments from Mr. Falloon at Life Extension (www.lef.org) for discussion. 

So let’s go back to the paperwork discussion.  Once upon a time doctors simply sent a little paperwork to the health insurance company or the federal government and said you needed some service.  And the insurance company processed the bill for the services.  The cost was paid by insurance premiums collected by the insurance company.  Everyone was happy.  But then someone at an insurance company said, “wait we could make more money if we asked more questions and paid less for these services.  It would help our bottom line.”  So you hear the complaint that the folks at the insurance companies are deciding whether you need that procedure or not.  And contractors decide if someone needs Medicare or Medicaid services, not the government, not your doctor, your nurse or your therapist.  Not any person that knows you, but some unseen, private sector bureaucrat who’s goal is to minimize the amount of your premium spent on services so they can enhance their bottom line.  And apparently they are very effective because the health insurance industry is very lucrative.  So maybe we have stumbled onto something here.  Maybe the cost of medical coverage is more related to drugs and bureaucracy (and it is not government bureaucracy!!) than the actual cost of services.  Maybe the old system, even if there was some fraud in it, wasn’t nearly as bad as it was made out to be.  It reminds me of one of the 4 laws of City management I developed years ago:  Never give elected officials a bad alternative – it becomes a magnet.  It always worked (hence a law).  I didn’t learn why until years later when I realized, that the worst option was the one all the lobbyists lobbied for even at the local level.  It was the option where they could make the most money “fixing


If you live on an island, and your groundwater table is tidal, what should your datum be for storm water planning purposes?  Average tide?  High tide?  Seasonal high tide?  If you are the local official with this problem, what do you do, realizing that the difference from mean tide and seasonal high tide (when most flooding occurs) is 1.5 feet?  Realizing that property and infrastructure is at much higher risk for periodic inundation, does the failure to address the problem indicate a lack of willingness, understanding, hope or leadership?  We see all four responses among local officials, but the “head in the sand” mode is the most curious.  It’s tough challenges that often define leaders.  With sea level rise, there is time to plan, construct infrastructure in stages, arrange funding, and lengthen the life of infrastructure and property.  Meanwhile, those insurers, banks and the public we talked about in a prior blog wait and watch.

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