MUNICIPALITIES EXPLORE WATER SYSTEM REGIONALIZATION
(Davenport, WA July 1, 2019) Lincoln County municipal leaders, public works staff, and contract water system operators came together recently to talk about the challenges of maintaining their water and wastewater systems. Besides the infrastructure in many of our communities being close to 100 years old, they face the state’s continuous addition of new unfunded regulation; operator turnover and costly certification requirements; and tough decisions regarding water distribution, water storage, and sewage treatment. Small municipal water systems face the same expensive challenges as larger systems, but have far less revenue from customers with which to work. A typical water system infrastructure project cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The opportunity to come together to discuss water system challenges came in the form of a grant from the WA State Public Works Board. An expert in water system regionalization from the Rural Community Assistance Corporation was hired to lead a series of workshops to explain what regionalization means and to help leaders determine if regionalization is something they should consider. The goal of regionalization is to help utilities become financially, technically and managerially sustainable. It can be as simple as formalizing an agreement for emergency support in a water system crisis or as complex as centralizing operations and billing.
The workshops were hosted by the Lincoln County Economic Development Council. The EDC sees the value in regionalization because they see the financial and political pressure that these systems cause. The EDC also recognizes that a city with inadequate or poor quality water cannot support economic development. The Lincoln County Conservation District also attended as the district has been assisting municipalities with mandatory well monitoring, helping communities understand their water levels and helping them meet a state requirement. The regionalization workshops ended in June, but the discussion will continue at EDC-hosted Mayor’s meetings.