|Title:||United States municipal stormwater, water, and sewer construction and rehabilitation spending in dollars for 2011 and forecast for 2012|
Start of full article - but without data
2011 (actual) 2012 (projected)
Stormwater Water Sewer Stormwater Water Sewer
.XXX X.X X.X .XXX X.X X.X
Stormwater Water Sewer Stormwater Water Sewer
.XXX X.X X.X .XXX X.X X.X
Note: Table made from bar graph.
After several years of the Great Recession. America's underground infrastructure - already stretched thin before the economic crash - is rapidly approaching crisis levels, say city respondents to the XXth Annual Underground Construction Municipal Sewer & Water Survey. However, a majority of the survey participants believe that their city's financial woes bottomed out in 2011 and anticipate the beginning of a slow turnaround late in 2012.
Municipal officials have budgeted an overall modest X.X percent spending increase for new underground infrastructure piping construction in 2012 to $X.X billion. A more aggressive X.X percent increase is anticipated for rehabilitation at $X.X billion.
Broken down more specifically, both new construction spending for water ($X.X billion) and rehabilitation (SX.X billion) will essential be flat in 2012 before rebounding early in 2013. Storm water spending is expected to increase about six percent with storm water rehab remaining flat. New sewer spending should increase X.X percent to $X.X billion with rehabilitation spending climbing to $X.X billion (an increase of X.X percent).
Conducted in October and November of 2011. the survey polled U.S. municipalities about their 2012 infrastructure funding plans along with perspectives on technologies, trends, issues and working relationships with consulting engineers and contractors. The survey results are subdivided by regions and city populations to develop a nationwide benchmark for projections.
Responding cities came in all sizes, from tiny Cherry Creek, NV (population XX) to the largest city in the U.S. (New York City, population X million).
Several years of tight or reduced budgets have forced sewer and water agencies into making painful decisions." I feel like our sewer system is bordering on neglect," bemoaned an Illinois city respondent.
Dare to hope
Still, there remains a strong feeling of encouragement and reason to believe that America's cities have weathered the devastating economic storm, respondents said.
"I didn't think it (budget cuts) could get much worse - then 2011 happened." lamented an official from this Minnesota city. "But all our information indicates that we will probably see improvement in late 2012 and going forward into 2013. and we're budgeting accordingly to address our many, many sewer and water problems."
Overall, actual spending in 2011 decreased from 2010. However, many respondents emphasized that the last six months of the year saw city coffers actually receiving a slight bump in their revenue streams. -Wile felt good enough about the positive money trends that we actually bumped our 2012 budget slightly' pointed out this Nebraska official. "It ain't much, but its progress!" Said this respondent from Tennessee. "It ain't much, but its progress!
Said this respondent from Tennessee. "We're under a consent decree, so we've really been struggling to get through this recession and still meet our EPA obligations. But our budget is actually larger this year. Hopefully, we're not being overly optimistic."
"No doubt it's going to be a very long road back - we were behind in 2008 and now we're really behind," said this Arizona city representative. "But we feel like the worst is behind us."
The ongoing recession has put a financial strain on cities all across the nation. Municipal bankruptcies are rare but there were several in 2011.The net result is that sewer and water systems, already typically at the political bottom of a city's financial pecking order, are being forced to deal with decaying infrastructure needs with less staff and a diminishing funding base. "We're constantly being asked to do more with less." complained a respondent from the Mid-Atlantic area. "But the problem is that we've already been doing that for years without relief."
Another city official from the Southwest said his staff was outraged when "we're struggling to have enough money and manpower to fix water leaks during the drought last summer and the big topic at a city council meeting was where they could find money to fix up a city park - the money came out of our budget!"
Absurd situations like that aside, municipal managers across the country are struggling with continued funding issues while striving to meet their fiduciary responsibilities to their citizens. "We know that money is very tight for all city departments." said this respondent from New York state. "We all have to do our part. But when we have the EPA breathing down our neck for not making the repairs we promised, something has got to give."
Several respondents expressed concern that their cities will be able to maintain services if they don't get some financial relief soon. "Attempting to do our work with a constantly shrinking budget and fewer man hours is by far the biggest issue we're facing." said a city official from Ohio. "And overtime is none existent as well."
Indeed, funding was cited by an overwhelming majority of survey respondents as the defining issue of 2011 and going into 2012. The good news for contractors and consulting engineers is that rehabilitation work is piling up and delayed replacement or new construction projects mounting - all waiting for funding. "When we are finally able to start letting projects." pointed out this municipal official from the West Coast, "it could be epic."
But where the funding will come from and when those funds become available are the questions on everyone's mind. Most experts concur that both the Clean Water Fund and State Revolving Loan Fund will be cut again. There has been talk of an infrastructure stimulus but there probably won't be any firm action until alter the presidential election.
Most agree that an improved economy is essential. Some municipal personnel don't see any relief on the horizon for at least the next six months. However, a majority of the survey respondents said they are beginning to see some signs of improvement - albeit small. "Our budget people are telling us that we should see our finances improving the back half of the year and we may finally start to see some relief." said this Northeast respondent. "We're budgeting to let most of the work start in mid-summer - but keeping our fingers crossed that will happen." Admitted this Florida city representative.
Survey participants anticipated that if money was available, their budgets would need to increase by more than XX percent just to catch up from the previous three years of shortfalls.
Increasing user fees is another revenue track that many cities are finally addressing. The survey revealed that more cities either passed or are considering passing sewer/water rate increases than at any time in the past XX years. The average time between rate increases also fell to a new low at about three years indicating more cities are biting the proverbial bullet and boosting fees.
Many respondents expressed optimism that once the presidential election is over. the country will be able to move forward regardless of who is elected.This public works director from a large Midwest city stressed. "Our state and local officials are expecting our cash flow to ease somewhat by late in the year, and are hoping that Congress can do something to encourage growth and get us some relief."
Much-needed rehabilitation of existing systems was also cited by a large number of respondents. A common thread among city officials was concern that aging infrastructure was not going to hold up much longer without major rehabilitation initiatives. "I know I can speak for most of us on the East Coast - and probably the rest of the country as well-when I say that we're reaching an imminent failure situation. Something s got to give-and soon," predicted this survey respondent.
Another by-product of the recession and ongoing budget cuts is the loss of key personnel. Several survey respondents pointed out that their cities have encouraged early retirement and. in some cases, forced retirement, in order to meet reduced staffing quotas. "We have way too many retirees." complained this Minnesota city representative. A survey respondent from Maryland agreed. "We're short staffed without experienced personnel and. as we are able to finally start tackling projects, it's really going to hurt us by not having proper personnel resources."
Also a major problem perceived by city personnel is ever-increasing regulations and unfunded mandates. both at the state and federal levels.
While the growing significance of water has clearly been documented in this survey over the past few years, the severe drought ongoing across much of West and Southwest drew many comments. From Oregon ("water reserves") to Colorado ("water, water, water"), the concern over water resources is glaringly apparent. Their paramount issue, emphasized a large Texas city official, is going to be "water main breaks if the current drought continues."
Increasingly, cities around the country, large and small, are discovering the significance of having trenchless options. This small Florida city respondent said that "the town (residents) is highly influential with extremely limited right-of-ways. Trenchless is our only option for rehab."
"Speed of projects, less permit issues and river crossingsX' are trenchless benefits says this Maryland city official. A California respondent added that trenchlcss is "great for non-closures and fewer interruptions."
A Pennsylvania city official pointed out that, for them, trenchless "can perform more work on smaller budgets." Another respondent from Wyoming emphasized that "bursting and CIPP has reduced road repair and traffic control issues." While this Wisconsin city official said that trenchless "saved several million dollars on sewer rehab."
A Texas city representative related that "our find-it/fill-it SSO reduction program using CIPP and pipe bursting methods demonstrated that we can renew more small mains quicker and cheaper, by far. than our conventional open-cut construction methods."
But not all was roses for the trenchless industry. A California municipal respondent said that "trenchless works well with sewers if everything is known and there are no obstacles underground. The main advantage with trenchless is avoidance of long lengths of open-trench excavations."
Observed this Alaska city official, "Due to the lack of competition, the costs are somewhat the same as open-cut."
"Trenchless is used for rehabilitating X-inch and X-inch VCP, which makes up XX percent of our system, based on length," explained this California respondent. "But the biggest deterrent to using it more is ACP water pipes in close proximity. The water distribution agency will not allow pipe bursting if it's too close to their ACP pipe."
One of the most significant sections of the survey queries municipal personnel regarding their comfort levels with various trenchless methods they are familiar with. Many manufacturers have felt compelled to limit their marketing due to the recession. Unfortunately, that has also been a factor in the declining confidence ratings of several trenchless technologies.
Overall. XX.X percent of cities say trenchless construction and rehabilitation methods have had a "high" impact on their operations: XX.X percent say a "moderate" impact; and XX.X percent a minimal impact.