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Kathy Horne Testifies before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works

Kathy Horne Testifies
Kathy Horne
Testifies before the Senate

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a public hearing on February 28, 2012, in our nation's capitol city to hear testimony regarding "Local Government Perspectives on Water Infrastructure". Kathy Horne, Executive Director of the Alabama Rural Water Association was invited to participate by Senator Jeff Sessions, who is the Ranking Member of the Committee. Kathy was asked to speak on behalf of the Alabama Rural Water Association and it's 550 water and wastewater utility members as well as the National Rural Water Association representing over 28,000 small water systems nationwide. Other participants included the Mayor of Baltimore, Honorable Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Jerry Johnson, General Manager of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.

Throughout the Nation the majority of community water systems are small. 94% of the 51,651 community water systems serve a population of 10,000 or less. Small water systems are required to meet federal and state regulatory requirements just as larger municipalities are. While most small water systems are operated and managed responsibly for their day to day operational and compliance needs, very little net revenue is realized beyond the routine operational and maintenance costs to address water infrastructure improvements. This makes it very challenging for rural communities and small water systems toupgrade, extend or otherwise improve the utility's infrastructure without governmental financial resources to support the cost.

Kathy Horne is listening as they discuss "Local Government Perspectives on Water Infrastructure"
Kathy Horne is listening as they discuss "Local Government Perspectives on Water Infrastructure"

Pictured Left to Right: William Snyder, General Manager, Monroeville Water Works; Kathy Horne, Executive Director, ARWA; Senator Jeff Sessions and Randolph Hall, General Manager, South Bullock County Water Authority
Pictured Left to Right: William Snyder, General Manager, Monroeville Water Works; Kathy Horne, Executive Director, ARWA; Senator Jeff Sessions and Randolph Hall, General Manager, South Bullock County Water Authority

Kathy testified before the Committee to some of the infrastructure challenges facing water utilities. One such challenge is in many cases, routine daily line breaks and increasing water loss problems. This problem is commonly attributed to old deteriorating water pipes and faulty meters. The inability to upgrade water line infrastructure results in, not only the loss of treated water, but also increased electrical costs and other expenses associated with the energy needed to properly treat and pump the water. Energy bills are the highest expense of a water utility and correlate to a tremendous energy demand nationwide. In addition, aged or faulty meters can create revenue loss by inaccurately registering the water usage. Upgrading water meters with new manual or automatic read meters is essential to maximize the utility's operating revenue, but can be very costly and typically requires funding assistance. Kathy emphasized the need for increased funding in primary government funding programs such as the State Revolving Loan Fund, the USDA Loan and Grant Program, as well as Community Development Block Grants to help address these issues as well as others. These programs and the financial resources they provide are critical and should remain funded to the fullest extent so that

sustainable water utility operations may continue and also to address the water infrastructure improvements needed so badly. With the 2012 reauthorization of the State Revolving Loan Fund, members of Congress are particularly considering the significance of these worthy financial resources. Kathy continued her testimony encouraging the Senate Committee Members to consider provisions within the government funding programs to allow more discretion at the local level regarding the funding process, while also expanding provisions to prioritize funding to address projects that pose the most serious risk to human health, projects to ensure regulatory compliance and in addition, to allow funding set asides designated for small systems.

Kathy also discussed the challenges facing the water and wastewater utility decisionmakers who oversee the use and spending of government lending infrastructure investments. In many States Board Member training is offered to decisionmakers of public water and wastewater utilities but on a voluntary basis. Board Member Training is mandatory in only a few States. Training sessions offering information specific in nature to water and wastewater issues have resulted in decisions that saved thousands of dollars for the community through improved management practices while also maintaining regulatory compliance. But equally important, training will enable decisionmakers to better understand the funding process, the need for long-term infrastructure replacement and repair plans and the significance and cost savings to the utility of properly maintaining the government's investment of infrastructure projects. Funding allocations or provisions within governmental lending programs to support Board Member Training would help to strengthen the overall utility management structure as decisionmakers are expected to make sound business decisions regarding the ever changing needs of water and wastewater utility operations and infrastructure challenges.

The Panelists: Honorable Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Jerry Johnson and Kathy Horne

On behalf of the ARWA and the NRWA, it was an honor to represent small towns and rural community water and wastewater utilities regarding their critical infrastructure needs. As Kathy summarized in her comments "Government Investments in the future of water infrastructure not only improve the quality of life for American citizens, but also provide for future economic recovery, growth and stability – they support a natural resource that no one can live without."

Article appeared in Waterline, Spring 2012

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