News Briefs: Wisconsin Bill Would Allow Utilities to Finance Customers’ Lead Line Replacements

In this week’s news briefs, proposed legislation in Wisconsin aims to ease the burden on customers paying for their portion of lead service line replacements, and a recent study says New Jersey utilities are losing one-third of their treated drinking water through leaky pipes.
News Briefs: Wisconsin Bill Would Allow Utilities to Finance Customers’ Lead Line Replacements

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As communities across the country work to replace the lead in their water distribution systems, a consistent issue has been funding. In Wisconsin, legislation has been proposed to deal with a major aspect of that — helping utility customers pay for their portion of the service line, which can be as much as $5,000.

According to a report by the Associated Press, the bill would give municipalities the authority to allow their utilities to finance customers’ lead service line replacements.

“Water utilities could utilize their reserve funds or excess capital funds,” says state Sen. Rob Cowles, the author of the bill. “This initiative, while not fixing it in total, will move us in that direction and over a period of years there could be substantial progress.”

Under the proposal, utilities could offer customer financing in various forms, such as low-interest or no-interest loans, cost-sharing, or an income threshold for qualifications. However, utilities wouldn’t be able to fund any financing programs through a rate increase without the approval of the Public Service Commission. Other money sources could be used without approval.

But some say the legislation doesn’t go far enough. Sen. LaTonya Johnson of Milwaukee, which accounts for about half the lead service lines in the state, called the bill “a small Band-Aid for a gaping wound,” and said state funds should be helping municipalities more.

“When does it become a big enough issue that our government says, ‘This is something that needs to be done and we’re going to do it at all costs?’” she says.

“Some people are saying, ‘Well, we could go further,’ but we might not get it passed. I think I can get this passed,” Cowles says.

Source: Associated Press

Massachusetts Looking at $17B in Water Infrastructure Repairs
A recent report in Massachusetts applied a $17 billion price tag to the repairs needed for the state’s water and wastewater systems over the next two decades.

The report, from State Auditor Suzanne Bump, also says the financial burden is too large for municipalities to handle on their own and makes recommendations to help bridge the gap. The report was based on a survey of 146 Massachusetts cities and towns. Needed repairs were broken down as: $8.9 billion for wastewater systems; $7.2 billion for water systems; and $1.6 billion for stormwater upgrades.

“This study shows that local governments are struggling to meet their critical water infrastructure needs. It’s a challenge that’s likely to increase as the impacts of climate change and economic growth place additional strains on existing infrastructure,” Bump said in a statement.

Of the municipalities surveyed, only 6 percent said they had accounted for climate change in their future plans. One of the recommendations of the report is more regionalization of water systems. Municipalities that are part of regional collaborations made up 36 percent of the survey respondents. The report also calls for the state to contribute at least $50 million annually to local water infrastructure projects for the next 10 years. That’s in addition to the $50 million annual bump provided by a 2014 state law.

Source: Sentinel & Enterprise

New Jersey Tries to Get on Top of Massive Water Loss Issues
A recent study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) says New Jersey water utilities are losing 130 million gallons a day of treated drinking water due to aging, leaky pipes.

“We’re talking about quite substantial real water losses — in the range of 25 to 35 percent of all treated water,” Ed Osann, a senior policy analyst for the NRDC’s water program, told The Record. “There are a lot of opportunities around the state to reduce water losses in a cost-effective way.”

The loss figures have led to proposed legislation that would require all public and private water utilities to perform water-loss audits in order to validate the claims being made, and hopefully prompt more action. The legislation would require utilities with 3,300 or more customers to conduct annual water-loss audits according to the standardized methodology of the American Water Works Association. Currently, New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection requires utilities to report water-loss estimates, but not annually or in as detailed a manner as the AWWA.

But even with more accurate water-loss reporting, fixing the source of the problem — leaky infrastructure — will require more work.

“As pipes age they have the potential for leaks, and we have a lot of old infrastructure in New Jersey,” says Andrew Hendry, president of the New Jersey Utilities Association. “These companies have been doing some innovative things to help with that. But it’s still going to take more time and investment.”

Source: The Record



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