Tag Archives: Risk in public service

WTPspiractorI have a question – what was the impact of the 2008 economic crisis on water and sewer infrastructure funding?  I have a hypothesis – the amount of monies transferred to non-water and sewer operations increased.  Is the hypothesis true?

The next question to answer is that if transfer monies increased, did they decrease once property values started to come back?  My hypothesis is no.

Finally what impact does this have on water and sewer infrastructure going forward?  I suspect that the answer is that we underfund infrastructure or justify the lack of funding through actuarial means (I actually had a utility director tell me that his pipes were designed to last 250 years.  Seriously.  Of course that is nonsense, but it is a means to keep your need for replacement funding down).

I have a student and we are working on these issues now.  We are going to gather data from several hundred utilities over the next six months, crunch 11 years of data and let’s find out.  If you or your clients are interested in adding your data to the mix, please send it to me.  I need 2005 -2015 expenditure info.  Also some operational data like ADF, MDF, miles of pipe, customers, treatment type and CCR. We will be publishing the results.   Should be interesting……

The US EPA estimates that there is a $500 billion need for infrastructure investment by 2025.  The American Water Works Association estimate $1 trillion.  Congress recently passes the Water infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) at $40 million/year, rising to $100 million in 5 years, which is a drop in the bucket.  Peanuts.  We have so many issues with infrastructure in the US and Congress tosses a few scheckles at the problem and thinks it is solved.  The reality is that the federal government wants to get out of the water infrastructure funding business and shift all water infrastructure to the local level.  This is a long-standing trend, going back to the conversion of the federal water and sewer grant programs to loan programs.

The reality is that local officials need to make their utility system self-sustaining and operating like a utility business whereby revenues are generated to cover needed maintenance and long-term system reliability.  The adage that “we can’t afford it” simply ignores the fact that most communities cannot afford NOT to maintain their utility system since the economic and social health of the community relies on safe potable water and wastewater systems operating 24/7.  Too often decision are made by elected officials who’s vision is limited by future elections as opposed to long-term viability and reliability of the utility system and community.  This is why boom communities fall precipitously, often never recovering – the boom is simply not sustainable.  Long-term planning is a minimum of 20 years, well beyond the next election and often beyond the reign of current managers.  Decisions today absolutely affect tomorrow’s operators.  Dependency on water rates may be a barrier, but this ignores the fact that power, telephone, cable television, gas, and internet access are generally more expensive hat either water or sewer in virtually all communities.  We need water. Not so sure about cable tv or he internet.  Great to have, but needed to survive?

The growth in costs can lead to mergers where a utility cannot afford to go it alone – as the economy of scale of larger operations continues to play out in communities.  Several small plants cannot operate at the same cost as one larger plant.  As a result larger projects will increase – from 87 to over 336 between 2005 and 2014.

But these costs are generally plant costs – treatment and storage, not piping.  Distribution pipelines remain the least recognized issue for water utilities (collection pipelines for sewer are similarly situated).  The initial Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water acts did not focus on piping systems – only treatment and supply.  The national Council on Public Works concluded their first assessment grade for infrastructure in the 1980s – but piping was not discussed.  ACSCE’s first report card in 1998 did not express concern about piping system.  Yet piping continues to age, and expose communities to risk.  In many communities greater than 50% of their assets are buried pipes.  Tools for assessing the condition of buried pipes especially water distribution pipes is limited to breaks and taps.  As a result the true risk to the community of pipe damage is underestimated and the potential for economic disruption increases.  The question is how do we lead our customers to investing in their/our future?  That is the question as the next 20 years play out.  Many risk issues will be exposed.  The fact that there are not more issues is completely related to the excellent work done by the utility employees.  More to come….

As those of you who follow this blog know, we periodically touch on climate issues.  Sea level rise is a particularly acute issue here at ground zero – southeast Florida.  But as I have said for some time, this is not an immediate crisis, but a slow steady creep that gives us time to adapt to the changes related to sea level rise.  I am optimistic that while we will spend a lot more money to engineer water management so we will need more engineers, there are solutions that will allow us to thrive here for a long time – probably a lot longer than we have been here, which is just over 100 years.

Our bigger, current challenge is the temporal but catastrophic impact of tropical storm activity that can create immediate consequences that last for years, much as Hurricane Andrew did in 1992 and Hurricane Wilma almost ten years ago.  Of course there have been others, like Donna in 1960 which were worse.  I mention this because the peak of hurricane season in Sept 10 – only two weeks away.  We have been lucky for years now, and of course we are all hoping it remains that way.

But I found another interesting article this weekend hat talked about the states with the most weather losses since 2006 (and in a subsequent blog I will look back further for comparison). is New Jersey.  OK, no huge surprise given the recent experience of Sandy.  But who is number 2?  Or for that matter 2-10?  Would you believe that Florida is not on the list at all.  Neither is California despite the fires.  Or North Carolina another hurricane prone state.

No, according to the Tribune, the states  (in order:after  New Jersey) are: Texas, Tennessee, Missouri, Alabama, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana, Colorado and Arizona.  The most common causes: thunderstorms, heavy rain, flash flood and tornados.  And the impacts range from $24 billion in New Jersey to $3.5 billion in Arizona.  An interesting factoid as we approach the peak of hurricane season.  May Florida stay off the list.

Once upon a time, many years ago there was a young city manager in a backwood town in the south. He had been told he was a bright young man, and had done well in city manager school. He was full of ideas on how to serve the public to make things better for the community and the people in the community, realizing you can’t get rich being a city manager. Getting rich was not his issue – he wanted to help people and thought he could bring his education and ideas to bear on the many problems city’s face. He was also very entrepreneurial – he tried to organize the city to operate like the business that it was by trying to make operations more efficient, providing training to employees that basically never had any, developing mechanisms to track work performed, and updating infrastructure (piping, curbs, sewers, treatment plants). He spent 60-80 hours a week, including countless nights each week at his job, no doubt underpaid. For the most part, the employees bought into his ideas because, well, he never asked them to do something he wouldn’t do, and often would go into the field to work with them on important projects to show them what was needed or what he expected. The staff became well trained and efficient. So far, so good.

Over time he noticed a few interesting trends, but because he was young, he did not have a point of reference to understand them all. One he noticed was that the elected officials always asked for multiple alternatives. But when he presented more than one, he found that the worst option, the one most difficult to implement, or the one that would create added problems, always seemed to be the one chosen. Bad options were like a magnet for these elected officials. So he became more reluctant to present more than one option because doing so made his job much more difficult and, well the point of presenting options that have issues seems counterproductive to good government. Of course that created some friction.

Ok now that you are done laughing hysterically at this young man, keep in mind the story is true and happened less than 30 years ago, so this is not ancient history. It took a few years after frustration and stress took their toll and this young man moved on in his career. City management was just too stressful. It took a few more years to understand that answer to the options riddle – the bad options were chosen because some was lobbying the elected officials for that bad option. Why? Because those lobbying always knew someone who could benefit from the need to “fix” the problem created by that option. So the idealist meets the reality – kind of deflating. He moved on from there.

So how does that affect utilities? Think about your budgets, and especially your capital budgets. Figure out what you NEED to do your job, and then figure out if you have a budget strategy to get it. Do you pad your budget to insure the budget office doesn’t arbitrarily cut your request, because “that’s what they do?” Do your elected officials delay capital projects because it is an election year and they do not want to raise rates? Does the city manager remove the new hires because he needs more money to be diverted to the general fund? Sound familiar? Welcome to the game this young man found so many years ago. 30 years and things definitely have not improved. When you run a business, you know what you need to do the job. You should be able to ask for what you need, and get it without a lot of conflict. Your budget and finance directors should be SUPPORT positions, not gatekeepers. Their job is to find money to pay for operations. You should set the need, and they find the funds, but it doesn’t work that way does it?

The budget battle is a huge expense for every community, and one that largely provides no real benefit but detracts from productivity. None of the game playing helps the utility or the ratepayers, just like the bad options don’t help the community at large either. Yet it is funny that over time, city managers have moved away from people with technical backgrounds in public works and public administration toward people with business experience. The argument is that we need to run the city more like a business, so this should be a good fit. But it is not in part because there is a lack of understanding of the underlying public works services. Public works is a service, not a business. As a result, we see far too much political expediency as opposed to benefits to the payors.

From a business perspective, creating a series of enterprise funds like water, sewer, storm water, roads, and parks is a step in the right direction, but only if those separate enterprises (think companies) can stand on their own. For example, it is completely inappropriate to use your utility to fund the general fund. Borrow from it, yes; some purchased services, yes; huge subsidies, no. When large amounts of funding are diverted, it means that both the general fund and the utility suffer (and for the moment let’s ignore the legal issue if the utility rate base is not the same as the city tax base). Business rarely diverts large revenue streams from other enterprises to keep them afloat for long, so why in government, do business people pursue this path? In the business world, if the general fund was such a loser, we’d cut it loose, or spin it off and make it stand on its own. Ok we can’t really cut the general fund loose (police and fire are in there and we love them), but making is stand on its own is what finance, budget and city managers should be pushing elected officials to do. That would make set up a system of full-cost operations, which will allow residents to understand the true cost of their services, which is completely appropriate. Subsidizing services at the expense of public health is not a good long-term policy is it? . And while you are at if general fund, where are those surpluses we ran to allow us to reduce borrowing for capital projects?

As water and sewer utilities, the public health and safety of our customers is our priority – it is both a legal and moral responsibility. The economic stability and growth of our community depends on reliable services or high quality. The priority is not the same with private business. Private businesses have a fiduciary responsibility to their stockholders, so cutting services will always be preferred to cutting profits. Therein lies the difference and yet the approach is different. Many corporations retain reserves for stability and investment and to protect profits. Many governments retain inadequate reserves which compromises their ability to be stable and protect the public health and safety. Unlike corporations, for government and utilities, expenses are more difficult to change without impacting services that someone is using or expects to use or endangering public health. Our recent economic backdrop indicates that we cannot assume income will increase so we need to reconsider options in dealing with income (revenue) fluctuations. If there are no reserves, when times are lean or economic disruptions occur (and they do regularly), finding funds to make up the difference is a problem. The credit market for governments is not nearly as “easy” to access as it is for people in part because the exposure is much greater. If they can borrow, the rates may be high, meaning greater costs to repay. Reserves are one option, but reserves are a one-time expense and cannot be repeated indefinitely. So if your reserves are not very large, the subsequent years require either raising taxes/rates or cutting costs. An example of the problem is illustrated in Figure 1. In this example the revenues took a big hit in 2009 as a result of the downturn in the economy. Note it has yet to fully return to prior levels as in many utilities. This system had accumulated $5.2 million in reserves form 2000-2008, but has a $5.5 million deficit there after. Reserves only go so far. Eventually the revenues will need to be raised, but the rate shock is far less if you have prudently planned with reserves. You don’t get elected raising rates, but you have a moral responsibility to do so to insure system stability and protection of the public health. So home much is enough for healthy reserves? That is a far more difficult question. In the past 1.5 months of operating reserves was a minimum, and 3 or more months was more common. However, the 2008-2011 economic times should change the model significantly. Many local governments and utilities saw significant revenue drops. Property tax decreases of 50% were not uncommon. It might take 5 to 10 years for those property values to rebound so a ten year need might be required. Sales taxes dropped 30 percent, but those typically bounce back more quickly - 3-5 years. Water and sewer utilities saw decreases of 10-30%, or perhaps more in some tourist destinations. Those revenues may take 3-5 years to rebound as well. Moving money from the utility to the general fund, hampers the situation further. Analysis of the situation, while utility (government) specific, indicates that appropriate reserves to help weather the economic downturns could be years as opposed to months. The conclusion is that governments and utilities should follow the model of trying to stabilize their expenses. Collect reserves. Use them in lean times. Develop a tool to determine the appropriate amounts. Educate local decision-makers and the public. Develop a financial plan that accounts for uncertainty and extreme events that might impact their long-term stability. Take advantage of opportunities and most of all be ready for next time. In other words, plan for that rainy day.

It was not so long ago that we were talking about local and state governments suffering major shortfalls in their revenues as a result of the downturn in the economy.  Cuts were being made to police, fire, education and parks.  Politicians were fussing over the need to cut taxes and cut government expenditures in the process.  Employees lost jobs and benefits were cut.   In a prior blog we discussed the fact that economic upticks and downturns were cyclical, and unlike people, there is a tendency for local and state government policy makers to “hang with the curve” so to speak and have government expenses track the economy as opposed to try to stabilize spending by taking advantage of the ups to create reserves in order to take advantage of the downs.  They ignore the old adage that their grandparents told them – save for a rainy day.  And we don’t recognize those rainy days approaching!  It is not a lot different unfortunately than many citizens who spend when they have money, and are short when they don’t.  We are not a country of savers and it hurts us often.

There is however a major benefit for government to have reserves.  When government has reserves, it can take advantage of lower competition to construct or invest in infrastructure in lean times. There are many examples of governments getting construction done at discounted rates based on timing their projects to economic downturns.  A side benefit is that those governments are spending money at the time when they need to keep people employed.  FDR did this during the Great Depression.  Obama attempted to copy him in 2009 with the AARA monies.  In both cases they may not have invested enough, but both were faced with deficits on the federal level and a Congress that was reluctant to spend. 

The economy has rebounded and state and local governments are starting to run surpluses. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel recently reported that the big “challenge” for the Florida Legislature and many other state and local governments, is they are running surpluses.  Recall the last time the federal government ran a surplus, we got tax cuts that immediately put the feds back in the red because they had not built up any reserves, and won’t even with a balanced budget anytime soon.  Well Florida has $1.3 billion extra on hand and guess what we hear in this election year  – tax cuts, more money for special projects, extended sales tax exemption dates, etc.  Those running for office are thrilled with the surplus because it helps their platform but we hear nothing about restocking the trust funds that were raided during the 2009, 2010 and to some extent the 2011 budgets! 

Expect this to be the norm, and the rhetoric should be troubling to fiscally responsible people.   If we have surpluses, times must be better.  In good times we should be encouraging decision-makers to sock money away in reserves, savings and other solid investments, and at the same time restocking those accounts drained to pay the bills during the down time of the Great Recession.   In Florida, our highway trust fund, environmental trust funds and education funds were drained.  They have not been restocked.  In fact the cuts to most of those programs has not been restored either. The next economic downturn will come – will we be prepared to weather storm by spending our savings as opposed to cutting services which magnifies the impact of residents?

As times get better, utilities owned by local governments should pay particular attention to General Fund revenues.  Many of those General Funds increased contributions from the water and sewer funds to make up the difference in losses of property and sales tax dollars.  That prevented utilities from making investments, or forced them to borrow money to cover investments that might otherwise have been paid for in cash.  Time for the General Fund to pay the utility back!  Time to restock the reserves and time to spend money to catch-up with the deferred maintenance and capital.  Of course the costs are not what they were 3 or 4 years ago, and neither are the interest rates, so we all pay more for the same projects because we could not spend the reserves in the down period.

Utilities should always have significant reserves.  Nothing we do is inexpensive, so having reserves makes it possible to fix things that inevitably go wrong.  Reserves are a part of a well operated, fiscally sound utility. Taking money from the utility during down times hurts both the utility and the local government.  Total reserves diminish of the entity, making it less possible to deal with emergencies, cover the loss of revenues, or take advantage of lower costs for construction projects.  Meanwhile, creating reserves and a pay-as-you-go system for ongoing replacement of pipes and pumps is good business.  It insures that ongoing money is spent to prevent deterioration of the utility system.  The reserves allow for accelerated expenditures when times are tough, prices are down and people need work.  When utilities spend money, it translates to local jobs.  But the only way to do this is make convincing argument of the benefits of reserves and spending.  

I have said before in this blog that my Dad’s family were born and raised in Detroit – not the suburbs, in the City, about a mile north of Tiger Stadium.  My great-grandfather was a butcher.  His sons all became butchers, so my Dad grew up around the butcher shop as a kid.  It was the Depression, but because of the shop, my Dad had food on his table.  My Great-grandmother managed the money, and acquired a number of properties in the area of 13th and Magnolia that the sons, and extended families would eventually move to.  It was a solution to the difficulties outside the shop.  Family was the means to survive the hard times of the Depression. 

Of course Detroit was a booming city – over 100 auto companies were in Detroit at the turn of the last century, and the City was becoming the center of a new mode of transportation – the automobile.  Henry Ford developed the assembly line to allow everyone to own a car, furthering the status of the City.  As the twenties developed, Detroit and Chicago competed to become the “jewel” of the Midwest.  Elaborate stone buildings, expanding infrastructure for roads, trains, water, sewer and storm water were all centerpieces of pride in the City.  Employment and incomes were high, worker benefits were good, the workforce was highly skilled and education was good. Profits were good and the auto industry was Detroit-centric. Detroit was a vibrant City in the first 50 years of the last century. 

Scroll ahead 60 years and how the city has fallen.  The City has lost a million people.  It has $18 billion in debt, and is collecting $0.3 billion less in revenues since 2008.  The tax base has been decimated.  Houses can be purchased for minimal prices.  Churches have been abandoned.  Crime is high.  Employment is down, unemployment remains above the state and national average.  Poverty is up, incomes are down.  Huge areas must be served but serve no one or only a very few.   The City filed the highest profile bankruptcy for a municipality ever.

The television show Low Down Sun last summer provided a graphic look at the City – blocks of the City devoid or mostly so of housing or other buildings, schools no longer in use, roads in disrepair, classic stone buildings with the windows broken out.  You can see what the City was, and the haunting view of the City today are a stark reality.  To add insult to injury, the Sun-Sentinel wrote a recent article about how people are making money doing tours of abandoned buildings in Detroit, or how farming is occurring in the City limits. 

So if Detroit failed, why not Cleveland, Akron, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Cincinnati or virtually any other large, older Midwestern industrial city?  Sadly many of these cities have lost the industries that made them famous and provided jobs and a stable tax base and incomes.  Many of these cities are also stressed, much as we found Birmingham was.  There are many arguments for what precipitated these losses:  unions, shifts in population, outsourcing offshore, competition within the US, changes in consumer preferences, technology…… the list goes on.  But the reality is it doesn’t matter why, the City must deal with the reality that is.  We all look at Detroit and its recent bankruptcy filings.  Maybe looking at Detroit allows us to feel better about our situations, but we need to learn the lesson from Detroit, Birmingham, Cleveland and others who filed for bankruptcy.  We need to look back to determine where the decisions were that created the issues.  Was it expanding to fast, poor economic assumptions, failure to manage finances better, political failures, failure to raise revenues/taxes/water fees, or failure to maintain or replace infrastructure?  Rarely is it corruption, so it is people trying to do well but failing in their jobs.  The question is why? 

I would start with training.  We need to train our public managers better, but MPA and MBA schools are not teaching about these failures.  In part it may be because we tend to teach positive lessons, versus negative ones, but they would be useful case study of the potential challenges.  In a prior blog I noted that the biggest challenge for government managers is managing in lean times.  Often lean times can be overcome by saving money as fund balances and investing (well), but long-term downturns like Detroit, Cleveland and other cities have experienced cannot be corrected this way.  There are major policy implications that must be overcome. 

From a utility perspective it is important to note that the economic difficulties are not limited to cities and counties but utilities are subject to long-term declines as well.  The problem is particularly acute in industrial communities where a large industry (think mills in the mid-Atlantic states) move away and leave water and wastewater facilities at far less capacity than they were designed for. Small systems may be especially at risk.

As an industry we need to learn from these failures.  We should study the difficult times to determine how the problems can be avoided.  The need to figure out how to manage funds better, deal with customer losses, and define strategies to overcome losses.  If anyone has some thoughts, please respond to the blog, but doesn’t this sound like a research project in the making?

Pipe wears out.  Concrete deteriorates, Steel rusts.  Aluminum pits. Mines play out.  Wells run dry.  But we strive for sustainability.  How do these disparate facts coexist simultaneously?  And if they don’t, how does this impact our long term prospects for our utility systems and communities.  And how do the decisions impact our understanding of sustainability.

An AWWA publication from 2010 was a compendium of thoughts on the meaning of sustainability form the perspective of water utilities.  One of the findings of the publication was that the understanding of sustainability had more to do with the perspective of the person being asked about sustainability than an overall comprehension of the inter-relationships of the concept of sustainability among different sectors.  For water supply entities, the economic sustainability of the community is not really their primary concern.  Instead they focus more on impacts to customers.  But water is a driver for economic development in a community. 

The message is that water utilities may need to look at the broader picture of sustainability in their community and extend the definitions to a wider range because no one else is and the community is looking for leadership.  The first paragraph focuses on infrastructure issues, which are commonly ignored in dealing with the concept of sustainability, but they are the ones traditionally focused on water supply issues.  The utility needs to look at infrastructure and financial outlook as a part of an overall sustainability strategy. 

There are certain assumptions that we make on many of our systems, and perhaps we need to revisit some of these assumptions in light of potential future realities.  For example, what happens to communities that do not grow?  Our current assumptions generally assume that there will be an ongoing increase in population or water use that will drive increases in revenues without specific increases on customers.  However what if you are Detroit where the populations has dropped in half in the past 50 years.  How do we deal with aging infrastructure and demands for increased water quality and reliability while maintaining fees at affordable levels for customers?  This is a particular problem when there are economic disruptions that create a large group of disenfranchised people who become more economically disadvantaged than they might otherwise already be.  The competition for sustaining water rates, infrastructure condition and water supplies can be a difficult conundrum.

A recent article in the South Florida SunSentinel newspaper raised an interesting question.  What they did was line up all the cities in the county and identify the total fees paid to the City by residents.  They took the tax rates, plus water, sewer, storm water, fire, garbage and any other fees.  The article raised an interesting question.  For example, Hollywood, West Park and Lauderdale Lakes had the highest cost per household – in excess of $3500/year.  The other end of the spectrum was Hillsboro Beach, Sea Ranch Lakes and Southwest Ranches, each under $2000/household.  Of note is that Southwest Ranches provides no water or sewer service (all wells and septic tanks on large lots), so a direct comparison is not really appropriate.  Property taxes were low, but fire fees were really high.  Sea Ranch Lakes is a tiny community with no sewer, so again, not really a good comparison.  Hillsboro Beach is among the wealthiest communities, but also tiny. 

 Most communities had total fees between $2100 and 3200/resident.  Why the difference? First, the value of property varies widely.  West Park and Lauderdale lakes have among the lowest values per household, so their taxes must be higher to provide the same level of service.  Hollywood, and Dania Beach (#4 on the list) had higher water, sewer and storm water costs.  While both have recent, ongoing infrastructure programs, both have large transfers from the water and sewer fund to the general fund, and in both cases the water and sewer customer base does not match the property tax base.  In Dania Beach’s case, the service area is half the City, so those residents are supporting the property tax funded services at a higher rate than their neighbors.  Hollywood struggled with major budget issues to used water and sewer funds to balance the budget.

The problem that this article did not address, but should have was that where water, sewer and storm water costs were high, what was driving this? Was in infrastructure investments that others simply have yet to make?  That’s ok and the fact that these utilities invested now may be more timing.  If the result is due to transfers to the general fund, that is an entirely different, and somewhat disconcerting problem.  First since the service areas are not the same. There is a fairness issue.  Some residents pay more for the same services.  It means the water and sewer system is not really an enterprise, with rates based on service costs.  Instead it is being used as a tax source.

In the past week I have had the opportunity to experience the extremes with water – heavy rains/tropical weather in SE Florida, and dry weather in Denver at America Water Works Association’s Annual Conferences and Exposition. Two months ago with was snowing in Denver and there had been limited rain in SE Florida. Six months ago we were both dry and there was significant concern about drought in both places. How quickly fortunes change and the associated attitudes as well. It is part of a perception problem – looking at the near term – instant gratification, as opposed the long-term consequences. In truth neither set of conditions is historically different or should have created major panic or much shift in attitudes, but it is the potential to predict conditions that require the water manager’s scrutiny. We have all become risk managers.

Managing risk is not in the job description of most water and sewer personnel (risk managers aside, and they are focused on liability risks from incidents caused by or incurred by the utility like accidents, not water supply risks). We spend a lot of effort on the engineering, operation and business side, but less on planning or risk/vulnerability assessments. EPA has required vulnerability assessments in the past, but having seen some of those exercises, most are fairly superficial and many put on a shelf and forgotten. I have had clients ask me if I still had copies because they did not. Clearly we need a renewed commitment to vulnerability assessment.

Vulnerability starts with water supplies. Groundwater is particularly tricky. A new USGS study reports significant decreases in water levels in many aquifers across the US, especially confined aquifers in the west. That situation is not improving, and the situation will not correct itself. Loss of your water supply is a huge vulnerability for a community. Finding a new supply is not nearly as simple as it sounds or as many are led to believe. Confined aquifers do not recharge quickly and therefore have finite amounts of water in them. Remove too much water and all too often land subsidence occurs, which means the aquifer collapses and will never hold the same amount of water. USGS has mapped this and it matches up well with the drawn down aquifers. More data needs to be collected, but Congress is looking to cut USGS funds for such purposes, just when conditions suggest the data is needed most.

Many watershed basins and many aquifers are over allocated and overdrawn, and not just in the west. New England and the Carolinas have examples. Overallocation means competition for water will increase with time and it will be utilities that everyone will look at to solve the problem. Afterall the utilities have money as opposed to agriculture and other users, right? To protect themselves, water utility managers will need to look beyond their “slice of the pie” to start discussions on the holistic benefits to water users throughout the watershed, which will extend to understanding economic and social impacts of water use decisions. It is not just about us, and paradigm shift that is coming and one that we as an industry need to be the leading edge for. Our use impacts others and vice versa. Every basin wants to grow and prosper, but decisions today may reduce our future potential. Klamath River is a great example of misallocated water priorities. The biggest potential economy in the basin is Salmon ($5B/yr), followed by tourism ($750 M and growing), which relies on fishing and hiking. But agriculture ($0.2 B/yr) get the water first. Then power, which warms the water (salmon like cold water). Then a few people (a few 100,000 at the most in the basin). The result, the salmon industry gets reduced to $50 M/yr. Now how could we create more jobs, which would result in more income and a bigger economy? The easy answer is encourage the salmon industry, but that doesn’t sit well with the other, smaller users that will become more vulnerable to losses.

I suggest that to harden our water future in any given basin, we need to start looking a little more holistically at the future. This type of analysis is clearly not in the job description of the utility or its managers, utility managers may have the best access to technical expertise and information. As a result to protect their interests and manage risk, we may need to shift that paradigm and become holistic water managers.

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