Mayors Convene in San Juan to Share Best Practices; Urban Water Summit Reveals New Cost-Saving Strategies
By Kimberly Peterson
Mayors and city officials gathered in San Juan, Puerto Rico October 6-8 for the third annual Urban Water Summit Water 2000: Is Your City Ready to Meet the Need? The object of the summit was to bring mayors together to share how they best provide water and wastewater services to their cities, deal with drought, protect and manage their watersheds and better promote the competitive water assets of their cities to encourage economic development.
Mayors Patrick J. McManus of Lynn, MA and James H. Sills, Jr. of Wilmington, DE serve as Co-chairs of the Urban Water Council and led the proceedings. Hosted by San Juan Mayor Sila M. Calderón, the Summit also featured remarks from the U.S. Conference of Mayors President Denver Mayor Wellington E. Webb. Other mayors attending the summit were: Jose Aponte of Carolina (PR); Ledo Cruz of Ceiba (PR); Jose Diaz of Aibonito (PR); Patricia Dowling of Lawrence (MA); Jose Gonzalez of Juvuya (PR); Dannel Malloy of Stamford (CT); Susan Menard of Woonsocket (RI); William Miranda-Marin of Caguas (PR); Quitman Mitchell of Bessemer (AL); Miguel Ortiz of Sabana Grande (PR); Lucian Pawlak of New Britain (CT); Carmelo Rivera of Isabela (PR); Oscar Rios of Watsonville (CA); Jose Sablan of Saipan (MP); Angel Sanchez of Santa Isabel (PR); Joseph Vas of Perth Amboy (NJ); and Bob Young of Augusta (GA).
Four mayors gave presentations on their public/private partnerships in water and wastewater management. These partnerships have evolved primarily as a way for the cities to save money by tapping into the expertise, efficiencies and capital investment that the private sector has to offer. Each city took a unique approach to solving its local needs and tailored its partnership with the private sector to meet those needs.
Augusta Transfers Risk to the Private Sector
Augusta Mayor Bob Young faced many challenges in operating his water and wastewater systems: aging infrastructure, environmental protection, sprawl, and financial challenges. He turned to the private sector to operate his wastewater system and in the process gained technical expertise, improved service, economic efficiencies, shared risk, protection for employees and lifted the burden of operating the system from the city. The city will receive $2.5 - $5 million in capital improvements over the life of the contract. The wastewater partnership has been so successful that Mayor Young is looking to capture the same benefits for his water system.
Perth Amboy, NJ Gains $111 Million Economic Benefit
Perth Amboy Mayor Joseph Vas was able to negotiate $68 million in upfront payments from his private partner and establish fixed water rates for the next 20 years. Perth Amboy's water and wastewater public/private partnership will provide a total economic benefit to the city of $111 million over 20 years including capital improvements of $31 million. Under the agreement with Middlesex Water Company, Perth Amboy's water and wastewater employees were leased to the private partner who guaranteed all jobs.
Woonsocket, RI Receives $1.5 Million for Public Services
Woonsocket Mayor Susan Menard shared that her city had entered into a contract with U.S. Filter Operating Services for the operation, maintenance and upgrading of the city's wastewater treatment plant. The partnership results in reduced costs for needed capital improvements, guarantees regulatory compliance and assures ongoing user rates which are well below the Rhode Island average. Under the contract, the city pays a fixed feed to U. S. Filter for its services. Tax exempt municipal financing will be used to pay for $20 million in capital improvement. In addition, the City will receive a $1.5 million host payment fee to compensate the City for having the wastewater plant within its borders Ð money that the mayor says she will use for police and fire protection, road improvements and other city services.
Bessemer, AL Saves $100 Million
Bessemer Mayor Quitman Mitchell explained that his public/private water partnership was driven by the desire to keep utility rates low. The city has a significant base of low and fixed income customers and wanted to treat its own water in lieu of buying water from Birmingham. In 1997, the City signed a contract with Ogden Water Systems to design/build/operate a new water treatment plant. This new water infrastructure positioned Bessemer to attract new industry and compete for new commercial growth. It also enabled the city to build up a capital reserve fund to finance future infrastructure improvements. Over the life cycle of the project, savings to the city are projected to reach $100 million.
In addition to sharing how they are saving money through public/private partnerships, mayors talked about how to protect and preserve source water.
Mayor James H. Sills, Jr. of Wilmington, Delaware talked about how his city is at increased risk of drought due to the pressures that sprawl is placing on his watershed. He encouraged regional cooperation to ensure that development in one part of the watershed does not adversely affect quality of water elsewhere in the watershed.
Garney Ingram-Reid, Atlanta's Deputy Chief Operating Officer, shared with the mayors how her city is cooperating with DeKalb and Fulton Counties to better protect their collective watershed. Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb Counties have now entered into a formalized partnership to promote sustainable development practices in the region.
David Mansfield, General Manager of the Department of Water Resources for Scottsdale, described strategies for water conservation to avoid drought. Water conservation is especially critical for areas in the West where there is great competition for water among recreational, environmental, municipal, industrial, and agricultural users. Scottsdale has created a water campus to reclaim effluent and reuse it for non-drinking sources i.e. water lawns, golf courses, recharge the aquifer.