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Crisis Management: Preparation Leads to Opportunity

By Mike Busch, CEO of Urban Futures, Inc.

As I look at the growing interest in the State’s water resources, I cannot help but wonder if now is the time to get serious about infrastructure. While I understand the controversy surrounding the famed Rahm Emanuel quote about not letting a crisis go to waste, I think that the strategy behind that thought is useful to apply to our forward path in terms of water supply sustainability and the infrastructure needed to achieve it.

While state, local or regional governments have no control over the weather, they do have control over the infrastructure put in place to sustain water systems, regardless of the snowpack. With the Governor’s recent Executive Order calling for an average 25 percent reduction in potable (drinkable) water statewide, heads are turning, and the general public is paying attention like never before. When average citizens are motivated to take a bucket into their shower to capture water to use in the garden, you know you have a level of attention not seen before.

Amidst the ongoing drought, people are looking to leaders to find ways to diversify water sources; municipalities have a small window of opportunity where the public tolerance for spending on water infrastructure will be at an all-time high. Desalinization is gaining support. Recycled water (toilet to tap) no longer turns people off. Infrastructure upgrades for wastewater treatment systems, recycled water infrastructure (purple pipes), and stormwater systems are always a great idea. Because the discourse has typically focused not on preventive (and thus safer and more cost-effective) maintenance, but on the “if-it’s-not-broken-why-fix-it” argument, local government leaders often shy away from proactively proposing projects of this nature. They have become accustomed to being perceived as wasteful or “spend happy”.

We have reached a unique point in time – through harsh circumstance, public opinion recognizes the need for investment now, and current market rates are at all-time historic lows. Public opinion and market rates are both things that never last, and neither will the drought supporting that public opinion. California agencies need to start thinking about how to capitalize.

To illustrate an analogous confluence of events, let’s look to Metropolitan Water District, which during the drought of the early 1990’s, invested heavily in infrastructure. Thanks in large part to the political and social will present at the time to bring new infrastructure online, projects like Diamond Valley Lake and increased capacity at Lake Mead were completed, and MWD bored tunnels up and down the State to shore up the State’s water system. We now face a similar situation. The question remains: in the midst of this crisis, how will we best use the public opinion to serve the public’s best interest?

This is an opportune time for California agencies to enhance water infrastructure. By bonding against future revenue sources, local governments can have both the financial and political capital that is needed to complete large-scale infrastructure improvements and really make a difference for long-term potable water demands.

The team at Urban Futures, Inc. stands ready to find financing opportunities for municipal leaders to fund these vitally needed projects. For more information, contact Mike Busch at (714) 283-9334 or michaelb@urbanfuturesinc.com.

Urban Futures, Inc. has been providing services to local governmental agencies for over 43 years. Operating as five divisions – UFI Public Management Group, UFI Public Finance Group, UFI Economic Development Group, Analytics and Compliance Group and Isom Advisors – UFI offers clients a growing portfolio of services and industry expertise that might otherwise be out of reach. Over 300 public agencies have benefited from partnering with UFI. UFI is based in Orange, CA with offices in Walnut Creek and Bakersfield. Visit their website at www.urbanfuturesinc.com or call (714) 283-9334.

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