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July 30, 2018

Threats and Solutions for Indiana Water and Wastewater Operations: Takeaways From the 2018 One Water Summit

Municipal water, wastewater and stormwater operations continue to face challenges including deterioration, cost increases for items like chemicals, energy and skilled labor, federally mandated Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) obligations for sewer systems, and other federal environmental and safety mandates. Faegre Baker Daniels (FaegreBD) engaged organizations across Indiana and within other states across our footprint to find solutions for water sustainability.

In June, FaegreBD’s Indianapolis office hosted the Indiana Delegation Roundtable in anticipation of the annual One Water Summit. Approximately 30 attendees representing organizations from throughout the state that are focused on issues related to water — including water quality, sustainability, infrastructure and regulation — traded concerns and ideas. Participants came from diverse organizations representing the interests of municipalities, regulatory agencies, farmers, private water system operators and legislators.

The discussion raised the need for financial resources to address water and wastewater infrastructure issues, which far exceeds the current availability of such resources. The group discussed the State of Indiana’s role in addressing widespread infrastructure needs across the state, the continued proliferation of small water and wastewater utilities, the impediments to greater regionalization, the role of private operators in addressing infrastructure funding needs, the political nature of water policy and legislation, and the success of Indiana farmers in voluntarily implementing soil and water conservation strategies.

P3s continue to be an alternative delivery model that many municipalities have used to create economic incentives, improve services and shift certain risks to the private sector.

The group agreed on the importance of protecting the water supply while also recognizing ways in which water may be used as an economic development tool. CSOs were also addressed and will continue to be discussed along with topics like the increase in rates with consent decrees, evaluating affordability options for low-income families, and identifying economies of scale.

The FaegreBD team used these insights from Indiana water stakeholders as to their priorities and concerns to prepare for FaegreBD’s role as a sponsor and participant in the One Water Summit in the Twin Cities on July 10, 2018. A diverse group of attendees shared one goal: to ensure everyone in the nation has access to clean, abundant and affordable water. The format of the sessions encouraged open dialogue and sharing of experiences among participants. Throughout the Summit, one theme that appeared in multiple sessions was reuse and recovery of water, including in decentralized systems. A Blue Ribbon Commission on Non-Potable Water has produced sample regulations for municipalities’ use on the topic. Other sessions presented case studies on recharging water sources, collaborative efforts of parks and utilities in scaling green infrastructure, and the role of art and culture in water policy and practice. Participants discussed alternative financing mechanisms like Public-Private Partnership (P3s) and Public-Public Partnerships (PUPs). PUPs have more recently emerged as an alternative to P3s and only include public entities, which means entities that are nonprofits and not from the private sector. PUPs typically have a nonprofit motive aimed at improving services, are an alternative to privatization, and create knowledge-sharing that builds a larger breadth of technical expertise. P3s continue to be an alternative delivery model that many municipalities have used to create economic incentives, improve services and shift certain risks to the private sector.

The Indiana Delegation Roundtable participants will reconvene following the One Water Summit and continue to meet and dialogue. The Roundtable is designed to encourage broader discussion, raise public awareness and facilitate solutions to widespread, underreported, water and wastewater issues that impact so many Indiana communities. FaegreBD is encouraging stakeholders to assemble an Indiana Delegation to prepare for and attend the 2019 One Water Summit in Austin, Texas, September 18-19, for the benefit of the state, its residents and our collective water resources. If you are interested in joining the Indiana Delegation, please feel free to contact one of the authors.

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