Infrastructure Week: Defining a new economic vision for America’s infrastructure

May 12-16 is Infrastructure Week across the United States.  Discussions among the public, private and political sector will ensue over how to collaborate among sectors that haven’t traditionally worked together; how to innovate in the face of scarce public dollars; and most of all, how to pay for the trillions of dollars of infrastructure upgrades that are needed to maintain this country’s competitive economic edge. “How to pay for it” is an age-old question.  And the good news is that healthy levels of investment may be available to cities that choose to partner with the private sector to leverage private capital. After United Water’s first SOLUTION partnership in Bayonne, NJ was launched last year, leaders and pundits alike recognized that cities actually can, unlock the value of city assets and access the kind of money that Bayonne did through a public-private partnership.  This particular model had never been tried in the U.S. before, although it has been widely used with success across the globe. In exchange for a 40-year concession with the Bayonne Municipal Utilities Authority, United Water and KKR agreed to pay off $125 million of the utility’s debt, invest nearly $110 million to modernize the system, retrain and bolster the utility’s staff, and eventually save the utility an estimated $35 million over the lifetime of the contract, based on the city’s analysis. KKR issued a recent report that demystifies the lingering questions on “how” to pay and addresses “who” would be a successful candidate for this option.  According to the authors from KKR and the Brookings Institution, there are 5 key criteria for success: “Strong candidates for successful PPPs...
United Water’s SOLUTION goes to business school

United Water’s SOLUTION goes to business school

We know that American cities and towns need to invest hundreds of billions of dollars – between $400 billion and $1 trillion to be exact – in their public water and sewer systems. And we know that investors are keen on investing in efficiently operated systems that will provide a steady return. That fact is what brought us to University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School, one of the most prestigious business schools in the country, to discuss how we can collectively make more public-private partnerships work for water. Panelists at the Wharton Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership conference suggested that it is a moral imperative upon which the sustainability of cities hinges, to find ways for the public and private sector to work together in planning and financing to begin tackling the ever-widening investment and thereby sustainability gap. With water projects, as with any public initiative, public support is a key ingredient for success. Financial capital, in many cases, is more readily available than political capital. Implied in the name, the success of “public-private partnerships” depends on striking an appropriate balance between the interests of uncommon allies by providing for a return on investments while safeguarding the public interest. And the many municipal leaders who are considering a public-private partnership should expect to engage the public and various interest groups in the plan at many levels. A new model – recently used in Bayonne, NJ by United Water – emerged as a viable option for meeting the needs of both public and private partners. The architects of the SOLUTION model simply built it upon the financial and political lessons of...
United Water Marks Drinking Water Week, Touts Infrastructure Solutions

United Water Marks Drinking Water Week, Touts Infrastructure Solutions

May 4 -10 is Drinking Water Week; a week to raise awareness about the vital role water plays in our daily lives. And public awareness is greatly needed around this topic. Reports continually show that we, as Americans, take safe tap water for granted. No one expects to be without water – not even for a few hours or to face the inconvenience that a ruptured main or repair work can cause. Yet, few are eager to pay for upgrades to water infrastructure; in tax dollars or on a utility bill. For decades, governments at all levels have passed the buck on water infrastructure upgrades. Because of these deferred investment the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) currently grades the nation’s water infrastructure a “D+”, meaning there is a “strong risk of failure.” The ASCE puts a $1 trillion price tag on bringing water mains up to standard over the next 25 years. Yet the story of our nation’s infrastructure is not all doom and gloom. United Water is embarking on an ambitious program to invest nearly $1 billion in our own infrastructure over the next 5 years. And we have recently launched a program for cities, SOLUTION, which will make similarly high levels of investment available to cities who chose to partner with United Water and leverage private capital to meet their needs. After all, the cost to communities of neglected water infrastructure is not just a financial one. Poorly maintained systems will turn back the clock on decades of progress in public health standards – and raise health...
Investing in New Jersey’s Infrastructure for Reliability

Investing in New Jersey’s Infrastructure for Reliability

Historic underinvestment in out-of-sight, out-of-mind water infrastructure has contributed to a dramatic state of disrepair across the nation. Much of our nation’s infrastructure was laid in the late 1800’s. According to the U.S. EPA, $354 billion is needed nationwide to revitalize our essential water infrastructure. New Jersey is no exception. A report by Facing Our Future, a bipartisan group projects that $7.9 billion needs to be invested in New Jersey’s water infrastructure over the next five years. Between 20 and 22 percent of the state’s treated drinking water is lost long before it’s delivered to households and businesses. And with ever-changing weather patterns, New Jersey’s infrastructure is becoming more vulnerable to natural disasters. In New Jersey, United Water is preparing to tackle the infrastructure challenge by investing nearly $220 million over the next three years. Similar levels of investment are available to city systems that choose to leverage private capital in partnership with United Water. A majority of United Water’s investment in New Jersey will be dedicated to the oldest and most difficult to reach pipes that are most vulnerable and most likely to cause water main breaks, degradation in water quality and service disruptions. Our goal, simply put, is to systematically renew the underground backbone of the state and thereby make essential water service even more reliable. State-of-the-art metering technology is being installed at the homes and businesses of many United Water customers in New Jersey. These investments enable the implementation of a smarter water network which can help water users better understand, control and manage their water use. Smarter meters will provide an additional tool to the...
Earth Day: Time for (Environmental) Spring Cleaning

Earth Day: Time for (Environmental) Spring Cleaning

Out of sight, out of mind. It’s a misguided approach which has harmed our environment since at least the Industrial Revolution. It’s allowed manufacturers to bury chemical waste by the barrel load, for cities to use rivers as sewers, for the country to neglect underground water infrastructure, and for individuals to use everything beyond their car window as one enormous trash bag. Over the next five years, United Water will invest nearly $1 billion in water infrastructure and professionally manage many sustainable waste and environmental projects.  But building a sustainable environment and managing community water resources cannot be accomplished with one single initiative or solution. On this Earth Day, we honor those environmental leaders who galvanize communities around problems like water pollution and who lead community volunteer initiatives, which are vital to keeping waters clean. Harm to our environment and watershed is often overlooked in the winter when fewer folks venture outdoors. Out of sight, out of mind. But then the snow melts, and we are reminded of our collective folly. Paint cans, old tires, shopping carts and who-knows-what sprout from melting snowdrifts on reservoir shores and riverbanks. Fortunately, when spring has sprung, so, too, have environmental leaders and volunteers, looking to clean up the mess left by a long winter. On this Earth Day, United Water and its employees will participate and support spring cleanups of reservoirs, rivers and other waterways across the country. We will canvass communities where we live and work from the White River in Indianapolis, to the Pascack Valley, Barnegat Bay and Cranbury Brook in New Jersey, to Newport, Rhode Island, to the Hudson...

Underground infrastructure still vulnerable as “arctic blast” thaws

Most of the country has started to thaw after arctic temperatures plagued nearly 200 million people for days. By one estimate, the so-called “polar vortex” cost the country nearly $5 billion in reduced economic activity, cancelled flights, and repairs to broken pipes and infrastructure from the Midwest to the Southeast. Unfortunately, our underground infrastructure remains vulnerable. United Water has warned officials, residents and businesses that broken pipes and leaks can potentially become more commonplace as impending warmer temperatures move into the affected area this weekend;  a quick re-thaw of frozen pipes may cause additional water main damage. Because water expands as it freezes, it can prevent water from flowing properly, resulting in cracks to the water line. Even the slightest change in temperature can cause sizeable ruptures.  Our dedicated United Water crews are on call 24-7 in the event of an emergency – and they remain on heightened alert. Customers can work to prevent such fractures and in their homes and businesses by taking precautionary measures. We suggest running cold water from the tap periodically, as a bit of water flowing through from time to time will help safeguard lines. Opening kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to gradually allow warmer air to circulate around plumbing is also helpful. Household plumbing, water meters and pipes located on outside walls, basements or crawl spaces can also be affected, leading to costly repairs. To prevent pipes subject to cold or freezing from cracking or breaking, wrap them in commercial insulation or heat tape available at local hardware stores. If  you have a vacation planned during the remaining cold months, it is important to set...