On World Water Day March 22, EJ Water was invited to be a part of the Small Communities Water Dialogue at the U.S. Chamber in Washington, D.C. Among the attendees invited to the discussion were the EPA, USDA, RCAP, National Government Association, FEMA, Goldman Sachs, Rural Development, and nationwide banks such as CoBank that assist in the lending process to grow water infrastructure.
The goal of the meeting was to have insight and input from different leaders, so that the U.S. Chamber would be able to identify the best strategy to invest in grants and funding toward water in communities. Throughout the day, the U.S. Chamber covered multiple topics that affect the water situation in the nation and EJ Water was invited specifically to share the small community perspective on water challenges.
EJ Water’s representative, Eric Emmerich, led a discussion on the Policy and Technical Barriers for Small Town Communities. EJ Water shared that among small communities, some of the largest water challenges include a lack of a succession plan, lack of raising water rates as grants decrease nationwide, and a lack of preventative maintenance.
In the 1960s-1980s, communities had access to up to 80% grants toward their water needs, which made having low water rates accessible. Unfortunately, grants have now dropped to an all-time low of 15% and will continue to decrease. This means that residents and communities need to make up for the difference in order to maintain the high cost of having clean water, which is a large challenge due to the declining rural population. However, some small communities have decided to not raise the bills, which may lead to less maintenance, lower water quality, or simply a lack of funds when emergencies arise or upgrades are needed. Ultimately, this can put small communities throughout the nation in a difficult situation.
Since it’s so costly for small towns to run their own utilities, when they look at alternatives, such as letting a third party manage them, they are faced with the huge cost that outsourcing brings.
There are around 2,500 gas utilities in the US, 3,300 electric utilities, and more than 50,000 water utilities in the US. This shows the importance of partnering and regionalizing to make such an expensive resource more affordable to more residents. If the government would be able to help those small communities that want to regionalize through grants, these small communities would be able to have access to quality water, technology, and more without the large price tag.
What would be the benefits of regionalization?
Due to economies of scale, as more small towns regionalize and partner with a water utility such as EJ Water, communities are able to maintain affordable rates, have advanced technology, have access to quality water, and split costs of managing water among all the communities involved. This can potentially eliminate one of the largest costs for a small community and allow them to invest in other areas of their town.
Since EJ Water’s mission is to “Improve the Quality of Life, the Cooperative Way,” the model of helping small communities is not consolidation – but rather voluntary regionalization through the Cooperative model, which includes local leadership. Grants toward regionalization will allow small communities to address their challenges of aging infrastructure and water quality, while allowing those that want to regionalize the opportunity to do so rather than forcing communities to consolidate through legislation.
EJ Water has already began.
Furthermore, EJ Water was able to obtain 40% funding to start United Regional Water Cooperative, which is a water Cooperative that includes Niantic, Latham, Illiopolis, Harristown and EJ Water. This allows all the founding towns to share cost, all while having top-of-the-line infrastructure for their communities.
The U.S. Chamber was fascinated by the Cooperative model and realized that there is a large opportunity to help small communities by partnering, rather than forcing them to consolidate water systems. Since the U.S. Chamber has local chambers throughout the nation, working together will allow them to help their local chambers in small communities.
EJ Water continues to attend the US Chamber meetings. This opportunity has allowed EJ Water to now be working with the National Government’s Association and share what it would look like for small communities to partner together and regionalize, as well as a strategy for how to incentify this.