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Mayors Water Council Shares Green Infrastructure Best Practices, Discusses Infrastructure Investment Needs

By Rich Anderson
October 15, 2012

Pleasanton (CA) Mayor Jennifer Hosterman and Indianapolis (IN) Mayor Greg Ballard welcomed mayors to the 2012 Mayors Water Summit in Washington (DC) on October 4 and 5. The annual Water Summit provides a forum for mayors to review public water services investment and financing, trends in state and federal regulation of municipal water and wastewater systems, and to share best practices to gain efficiencies and considerations of innovative technologies or management approaches. Three Summit topics are reported on here: sustainable cities and green infrastructure opportunities; a progress report on the performance contract that New York Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has with Veolia Water North America providing expertise to deliver cost savings efficiencies at its wastewater facilities; and, West Sacramento (CA) Mayor Christopher Cabaldon’s briefing that identifies provides specific federal policy impediments and disincentives to local efforts to reduce flood risk and invest in levee repair and improvement.

specific federal policy impediments and disincentives to local efforts to reduce flood risk and invest in levee repair and improvement.

Sustainable Cities and Green Infrastructure

Lancaster (PA) Mayor Rick Gray said he “got with the program.” Knowing that state and federal regulators are going to take action against the city, we decided to work with them to produce an effective but less costly plan to comply with sewer overflows and stormwater concerns. The mayor described the Lancaster course of action as follows: we focused on stormwater volume management by first analyzing our geographic situation, then, we designed a plan to reduce runoff by one billion gallons a year.

Gray described Lancaster as a moderately-populated northeastern community. Its 60,000 residents are mostly situated on four of the seven square miles of jurisdiction. It has an historic building stock, making a standout contiguous historic district. Some 45 percent of the city is served with combined sewers, with the remaining 55 percent served by MS4s. The mayor announced with pride that Lancaster has the first comprehensive city-wide green infrastructure plan as an alternative to gray storage tanks.

The 25-year plan to reach runoff reduction by just over a billion gallons a year will come from implementing a phased application of land use and storm water management techniques including: street sanitation; improving permeability in parks; placement of porous pavement; vegetated roofs; rain garden, tree planting; green schools initiatives; and a first flush ordinance. Streets, porous pavement and rain gardens account for the largest runoff reduction methods.

A demonstration project at 6th Ward Park provides early evidence that the city’s green infrastructure plan can deliver cost-avoidance results. The project to transform the park to enhance permeability resulted in runoff reduction of 694,600 gallons/year at $0.17/gal, compared to $0.23/gal that a traditional gray storage project would cost.

Gray “integrated green infrastructure provides immediate, visible neighborhood and public space improvements while addressing long-term stormwater management issues.”

Harnessing Private Sector Management Expertise for Public Cost-Savings

U.S. Department of Environmental Protection Chief Operational Officer Kathryn Garcia talked about NYC the OpX or, Operational Excellence program, a partnership with Veolia Water North America. Garcia stated that NYC is excited about the results of a new business model intended to deliver high value to current and future New Yorkers with superior performance and affordable price. Public water (drinking water and wastewater and/or sewer) is part of a much larger public administration strategy the city has to assert fiscal stewardship in budgets, rates and asset investments. OpX is the water effort to ensure the efficient and cost effective operation of the water system and to innovate and implement best practices.

City managers conducted a careful analysis of how to operationalize OpX in the wastewater sector, and the city chose a partnership model. The DEP, in this arrangement, gets access through the private sector to global best practices under a performance based consulting contract; and, the DEP retains ownership and full control of operations and decides which initiatives to undertake.

A compensation structure of shared savings resulting from the improvements identified by Veolia to the city’s systems, (this also ensures alignment of the interests of DEP and the consultant). Garcia explained the partnership has two phases: 1) identify opportunities and implement some early return efforts, and 2) the city considers four years of implementation initiatives identified by the consultant.

A six-month progress report indicates that already $5 million in annual savings is achieved by initiatives to reduce chemical usage, better control the aeration process, and renegotiating chemical vendor costs. Veolia President and CEO Laurent Auguste said that in addition to the immediate $5 million in savings his team anticipates another $12–$14.5 million in cost savings in 2013, and over the life of the project an opportunity to reduce costs by approximately $108–$130 million. Auguste talked about his experience as a water manager in France where there are some 36,000 communities, and the performance contract approach to remodel public water programs is scalable to yield cost'savings for any city engaged in providing water and wastewater services. Garcia pointed out that the public benefits of the OpX initiatives will mount up over time.

Flood Risk Reduction

West Sacramento Mayor Christopher L. Cabaldon briefed the mayors on several converging factors that will directly affect any city that provides flood control as an essential public service. Cabaldon identified four factors that will, separately and sometimes jointly, influence how local government provides flood safety. In summary, The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has directed attention and resources to flood control in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The federal administrative process that traditionally served the critical purpose of confirming, via the Chief’s Report, the approval to move forward with federal financing assistance. But the Chief’s Report is a request to Congress for funding certain projects, and, as earmark requests they are not presently honored by Congress. And, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been directed to update flood zone mapping to support rate structure changes to the National Flood Insurance Program. The mayor also cited a pending Executive Order that would update the existing Executive Order on flood plain management, but this improvement would further limit federal financial assistance for essential local government services in or around the 100-year flood zone.

Cabaldon referred to recently-adopted Conference of Mayors policy that authorizes the Conference of Mayors to exercise leadership to help cities implement flood risk reduction investments. In particular, he suggested that cities that want to make investments in levee repair right now want the investment to be credited toward the local share where federal financial assistance is provided. Without this guarantee of credit, cities are reluctant to make the investment if the success of the overall project rests on getting federal financial assistance. He said that Congress can restore some certainty to cities by restoring crediting eligibility under Section 104 of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), or by extending eligibility under Section 221 of WRDA to cover:

    1) Flood risk management projects which were underway at the time of the 2011 withdrawal by the Assistant Secretary of the Army; and

    2) Projects at milestones earlier than in the draft feasibility report and to authorize the Corps of Engineers to grant other exceptions when in the public interest

Cabaldon stated that we need to resolve this Catch 22 where local flood risk reduction projects identified by local government are approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Chief’s Report to the Congress, but the Congress refuses to honor funding requests as earmarks. If the Chief’s Report is no longer a critical part of the federal financial assistance request, he asked what will replace it as a way to set investment priorities?

The 2012 Mayors Water Summit adjourned at noon on October 5, and mayors entered into a meeting with EPA officials.