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In the early 1990s, the City of Philadelphia became the first municipality to appoint a temporary public advocate to represent the interests of “small users,” residential customers and small businesses, during water rate-setting proceedings. It also established the role of a hearing officer whose function was to listen to testimony and provide a recommendation on water price during rate-setting cases.
The Philadelphia Water Department has the task of maintaining an aging water system while providing affordable service in a city where 26 percent of city residents live at, or below, the poverty line. Philadelphia Water had addressed water affordability through an assistance program. Residents below 250 percent of the federal poverty level could apply for the Water Revenue Assistance Program (WRAP), which provides $200 per year for water bills and $300 for past due balances. Despite this program, between April 2012 and January 2018, unpaid bills and water debt affected over 40 percent of Philadelphia households. Twenty percent of all household accounts or 86,000 customers, experienced at least one shutoff, and 40,000 households were eligible for shut offs as of May 2017. For the Philadelphia Water Department, unpaid bills and water debt represent over $242 million in uncollected revenue.
In the early 1990s, the Lansing Board of Water and Light (LBWL) pumped approximately 23 million gallons per day (gpd) for its customers, not quite half of its 50 million gpd capacity. The loss of large industries, a small population decline (7,000 people over 10 years), and more efficient plumbing technology had lowered the community’s water use. Worried about rising rates, LBWL used funding from the Tri-county Regional Planning Commission to convene a task force to explore options for generating new customers by providing water on a regional scale.
In 2012, water softening chemical prices increased, something that hit service providers in the center of Michigan’s lower peninsula particularly hard. These mid-Michigan utilities, clustered around the capital city of Lansing, draw water from the Saginaw Aquifer. Saginaw Aquifer water is particularly hard, and requires a number of chemical inputs to soften it for use and consumption. These rising chemical costs put extra pressure on water utilities as they attempted to distribute safe and high quality water, while keeping rate increases modest.
In the 1990s, Cincinnati, OH and Boone County, KY experienced differing development trends. Boone County—and its largest city, Florence – was growing 10-12 percent annually. The expansion of a regional international airport, the Greater Cincinnati Airport, and the complementary businesses it attracted aided in its growth.
In recent years, the scientific community has become increasingly aware of the need to address a gap between scientific research and policy and management decisions. Collaborative research, which integrates scientists and decision makers into the research process and fosters two-way communication and learning, presents an alternative to traditional research that can help bridge this gap.
In November of 2017, the National Estuarine Research Reserve System Science Collaborative team organized a workshop for their research and integrated assessment grant recipients. Participants included 37 people that lead or co-lead 20 projects funded by the Science Collaborative in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Workshop discussions were facilitated by Dr. Julia Wondolleck, an associate professor of environmental policy and planning at the University of Michigan and a member of the Science Collaborative team.
From 2015 to 2017, Georgetown County, South Carolina, experienced threats to life, ecosystems, infrastructure, housing, schools, and businesses due to a thousand-year rainfall event, Hurricane Matthew, and repeated flooding episodes. The increased frequency and severity of these rainfall events mirrors climate scientists’ projections for the region as climate change intensifies. Like many small counties in the United States, Georgetown County is challenged by financial limitations and burgeoning infrastructure needs, creating a difficult decision-making environment for considering climate adaptation and mitigation planning.
The return of large harmful algal blooms to Lake Erie, as well as low oxygen levels (hypoxia) in lake bottom waters, have led to an intensified effort to understand, predict, and reduce nutrient loading to the lake. Coastal wetland restoration has been identified as a management tool for achieving an international goal of 40 percent reduction in phosphorus loading to Lake Erie. For example, wetland restoration is central to nutrient reduction plans for Sandusky Bay, Ohio. However, the capacity of different coastal wetlands to retain nutrients and improve water quality is not well understood.
Nature-based shoreline stabilization and restoration techniques have the potential to maintain and enhance important ecological services and coastal resilience, while at the same time being cost-competitive with traditional approaches. Since 2009, the Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve has engaged in scientific research, implementation, and promotion of sustainable shorelines in the Hudson River Estuary via the Hudson River Sustainable Shorelines Project.
Tidal marshes provide key ecosystem services—and they are increasingly threatened by sea level rise. Narragansett Bay and Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserves recently led the first national assessment of tidal marsh resilience to sea level rise by developing and applying multi-metric indices to 16 reserve sites. Now the group is moving beyond marsh resilience monitoring and assessment efforts to actively test strategies to enhance resilience.