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“If the assumption of all economists, government officials and investors is that the population must increase exponentially, what does that suggest for our future?” was a question asked a few days back.  Did you ponder this at all?  I suggest we should and here is why.  An exponential growth rate assumes a certain percent increase every year.  That means the increase in population is greater the farther out you go.  That doesn’t really make sense except perhaps at one point in Las Vegas (but not anymore).  The economy cannot really expand at a rate greater than the expansion of the population because there is no one to buy the goods or increase the demand, which is why increasing the US population is going to be viewed favorably by all politicians regardless what they say today.  House values do not increase faster than population increase unless they are in a bubble, nor does the stock market really (inflation adjusted).  Your water sales will not increase faster than your system’s population increase for any extended period of time either, so an assumption of ever increasing water sales is likely to be an overestimation sooner as opposed to later.  And then what – you have to raise rates, and keep raising rates to keep up because your demands are too low?

And what if your growth stagnates, or goes backwards as many did in 2009/2010?  That was a severe problem for most entities, causing layoffs and higher prices, pay cuts and deferral of needed improvements, mostly because no one had reserves because people thought the good times would roll on forever.  Layoffs, price hikes, pay cuts and deferral of needed improvements do help society (of course if you had lots of reserves, you weathered the recession without a problem, but too many did not).  Keep in mind the repair, replacement, and maintenance needs, along with ongoing deterioration, do not diminish with time or lack of new customers.  We have relied on new people to add money to solve old as well as new problems for many years.  What is the contingency if growth stops?

So a growth scenario makes us feel better and more confident when we borrow funds.  But if growth does not stop, where is the water to come from?  What are the resources that will be used faster?  Where does the power come from to treat the water or cool the houses?  And the cooling water to cool those power plants?  Even renewable resources are limited – most metals and oil have likely passed their peaks as far as production and water does not always fall consistently.  We have overstressed aquifers and over allocated surface waters, especially in the west.  So while growth makes us feel good financially, we need answers to the growth scenario despite the fact that we may have more funding.  Many resources are not limitless, but an exponential growth pattern ignores this.  Locally growth maybe less of an issue, but society wise?  Maybe a societal problem, or maybe we get into extreme completion with each other.  Some how that doesn’t look like a solution either


The first month of the fall semester has slammed me, which accounts for a little less blog activity on my part.  But as fall rolls in many local governments are dealing with final budgets, new projects and dealing with taxes and fees.  Students are back to school and industries are looking to the end of the year and 2015.  How fast time flies.  Our students that graduated last spring all have jobs and half of our seniors that will graduate in December do as well.  With engineers or contractors.

The good news is that the economy continues to tick up, construction and construction jobs are back to 2005 levels (which if you recall was a lot), and the stock markets are making money for somebody because they are up as well.  Alan Greenspan can complain that housing maybe lagging, but that is more a lack of people having funds or being able to move.  Meanwhile construction of projects that were deferred might be addressed?  Time will tell but it raises an interesting question –  can we plan on growth forever?  We assume a continuous growth rate (like 1 or 2% per year), but is that reasonable since it means more people come to an area each year than they did the year before?  Works for bacteria, maybe not so much for people.  Ask Detroit.  Or Cleveland.  And does this type of growth create unintended consequences for us?  I think this is a  good question for a future blog and of course a question that economists and politicians do not want to answer.  It would be highly disruptive to our plans.   So since it is election season again, we all need to be prepared for the inundation of campaign sales pitches that try to convince us to vote for someone, or more likely to vote against someone.  That’s probably not the way it was intended to go, but it’s what politics has degenerated to in so many places.  Ideology and adherence to it under any circumstances often prevents us from looking objectively at issues and reaching real solutions, some of which may have winners and losers, but may be necessary to improve long-range forecasts.  Listen to the political patter and decide where the plan is.

For example, ignoring the evidence that the climate is changing, places constituents in perilous positions…..in the future.  Not now and few climate impacts need drastic immediate action.  But longer term, storm sewer will be inadequate, there will be less water stored in glaciers, less rainfall in places (like the southwestern US), more frequent flooding in coastal areas, etc.  The problem may be 50 years from now, but wholesale infrastructure programs take that long.  It took the US 50 years to build the interstate system.  Nearly 40 years to dig canals in south Florida, 20 year to acquire property for a reservoir in North Carolina, etc.  Things take time and meanwhile if we need to alter current practice, such as elevating roadways and building to avoid flooding, the time to start is now, not in 50 years when solving that problem is overwhelming.  Find those water sources now, so development and competitors can be controlled.  Finding water that may take 20 years to secure and construct is an unmanageable issue the year before you need it.  You need a plan.  Where do you hear that planning?

What about that failing infrastructure?  We tend to ignore it until it fails.  But if it fails, that can be catastrophic.  Engineers and operations personnel know deterioration occurs, and know that it will take time to plan, design and refurbish of replace infrastructure.  But projects continue to get deferred for lack of funds.  Aggressively planning repair and replacement may actually save money in the long-run, but our planning tends only to be short-term.  So how do we change that?  Perhaps the state agencies that require local planning to be submitted and approved will push for better evaluation of infrastructure.  GASB 34 clearly did not go far enough.  Too many communities do not track their work and even fewer document the conditions when they make repairs.  Too little data is collected on what fails, when and why.  WE can collect huge amounts of data with work orders that track work.  Perhaps a regulatory frontier.  Or maybe, just maybe, some enlightened managers will decide tracking information is actually fairly easy.  The question is the platform.  Stay tuned… we are working on that…


A recent Manhatten Institute for Policy Research report titled “America’s Growth Corridor: The Key to National Revisal” noted that the future economy in the US will tend to growth in certain corridors, which echos a prior report that identified “super-regions” where population, manufacturing, education and economic growth were likely to be concentrated. Both reports suggest that the super-regions will prosper, with the rest of the country lagging behind. The seven high growth areas in the Mnahatten Institute report are the Pacific Coast, the Northeast, the Front Range, Great Lakes, the southeast/piedmont, Florida/Gulf Coast, and Texas/southern plains. This new report focuses more on the politics of the region, noting that each region is politically fairly consistent internally, indicating there is more than one way to do business. The current business climate, driven primarily by energy favors the Plains, with the southeast starting to import jobs from Japan and Korean as a result of low wage rates. The report goes on to draw a series of political conclusions about business climates and the politics of why growth is occurring in certain areas. But let’s look at a different view of the report. Each of these regions has had “ it’s day in the sun” so to speak, and some a couple of days, like California. Business cycles are cyclical so shifts in growth corridors is not unexpected. However there are some potential limiting issues that are not addressed in the report that are of significant interest or concern.

First, where is the water? Texas and the Plains have significant water limitations, as does much of the southeast. Trying to build an economy when you lack a major resource becomes difficult. That is why the Northeast, Great Lakes and later the Pacific grew earlier than the south, mountain and Gulf states. The Northeast and Great Lakes had water for industrial use and transport of goods, a real key historically for industry. Those regions also had (and still have) better embedded transportation facilities (rail, roads, airports).

The next question is where is the power coming from? The answer that will be given is that the Plains states and Texas have created 40 % of the jobs in the energy sector in the past 4 years so that is where the energy comes from, but having energy and being able to convert it efficiently to power that is useful to people or industry is a different issue. You need water to cool natural gas plants, unless you want to sacrifice a lot of efficiency. Back to water again. Moving the gas to other parts of the country to convert coal or oil plants to natural gas would work, but getting the electricity back does not come without 6% losses and a real need to make major improvements to the electrical grid. Not a small job.

So while the Manhatten Institute reprort suggest that all seven corridors will grow, but that the southern corridors are growing faster, the sustainability of this growth is at question. I recall a similar prediction when I graduated from college in the early 1980s, when the jobs for engineers were limited to the energy fields in Texas and Louisiana and the prediction was that al the industrial growth would be in the south. And then Silicon Valley happened, and then the housing boom in California, Nevada and Florida happened, and a few things in between. Oh and that energy economy collapsed in the late 1980s …. You get the picture. This is not to say that some marketing the power, water and transportation benefits of the historical industrial areas of the north are not needed – they are, but the fact is that there is significant available water, power, transportation and people capacity that is unused. If I am an industry, I may want to look at the power/water issue a little more closely.

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