This Month in Photos: July – August 2019

This Month in Photos: July – August 2019

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Welcome to the latest edition of Regional Councils: This Month in Photos!  June – July 2019 (PDF)

Each month, NARC publishes Regional Councils: This Month in Photos to highlight events and activities taking place in regions around the nation. 

We feature regional council meetings, board retreats, meetings with state or federal elected officials, the opening of new facilities, special programs, awards, and anything else you view as important or fun to share with your colleagues.

If you would like your region included in Regional Councils: This Month in Photos, please send your photos and a brief description to Neil Bomberg at neil@narc.org.

Three Takeaways From Last Week’s Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Webinar

Tracking Greenhouse Gas
(GHG) emissions and mitigation efforts is no easy task. Accurate data
collection may require decades worth of data points and many seemingly
noncontributing factors may skew results.

The International Council for Local Environmental
Initiatives
(ICLEI) is working with local and regional organizations all
over the globe to achieve sustainable urban development. ICLEI works with
regional organizations by incorporating sustainability into regional planning
and policy. ICLEI has also developed several tools and projects to assist
policy makers. Through the GHG Contribution Analysis
Toolkit
, regions and local officials can compare
and contrast the relative effect different factors have on overall GHG
emissions in the region.

Last week the National Association of Regional Councils (NARC) hosted a webinar featuring a presentation from ICLEI on some of the tools and programs they offer to regional leaders to track progress in GHG mitigation. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) and the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) joined the webinar to discuss how their regions are tracking GHG mitigation efforts and how the GHG Contribution Analysis Toolkit has helped them in their work.

Three takeaways from the webinar:

  • Inventories are Important for Tracking GHG Emissions Reduction

You can’t effectively
reduce greenhouse gas emissions if you’re not measuring them. Measuring
emissions helps regional leaders identify what the largest emission sources are
in the region. Tracking GHG emissions over time can lead to effective reduction
actions and cost saving across multiple sectors.

  • Multiple Inventories Provide Significantly More Information Than Single Inventories

Single GHG inventories can provide a breakdown of emissions levels by sector -at a single point in time, but they do not capture changes in emissions levels by sector over time. This can be achieved through multiple inventories, which show change over time (often five-year periods), giving local officials a better picture of overall mitigation efforts.

  • Contribution Analysis Tools Can Help Fill the Gaps Left by More Limited Inventories

Basic inventories can provide good information regarding emission levels by sector, but they typically lack information about the specific driving factors of change. Factors like population growth, a cleaner electricity grid, and changing mean temperatures all affect emission level changes, but traditional inventories typically don’t capture all of this information. Contribution analysis tools provide analysis at this level, which results in more actionable information that can be passed on to lawmakers, community leaders, and residents

You
can find a recording of the webinar here.

A
copy of the webinar’s PowerPoint presentation can be found here.

Is Your Region Harnessing Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds?

August is National Water Quality Month, a perfect time to take a look at some of the ways that regions can use the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) to support local water infrastructure improvements.

What are the State Revolving Fund (SRF) Programs?

The CWSRF and DWSRF are programs which function through a federal-state partnership that uses federal funds matched with state funds to capitalize water infrastructure banks in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

Money from these state banks is distributed for loans, refinancing, purchasing, guaranteeing local debt, and purchasing bond insurance. Recipients who receive money at low interest rates return payments to the fund, allowing it to “revolve.”

SRF Funding Provides a Good Value for Communities 

SRF loans are typically provided at lower interest rates and with more flexibility than other financing options can provide.

According to the EPA’s DWSRF fact sheet:

  • In 2018, the average DWSRF loan had an interest rate of 1.8%.
  • Loan terms can be extended up to 30 years.
  • Repayment begins up to 18 months after project completion.

CWSRF funds can be used for:

  • Municipal wastewater facility construction,
  • Control of nonpoint sources of pollution,
  • Construction of decentralized wastewater treatment systems,
  • Green infrastructure projects,
  • Estuary protection, and
  • Other water quality projects.

DWSRF Funds can be used for:

  • Drinking Water Treatment,
  • Pipe Installation/Replacement,
  • Source Water Protection,
  • Well Construction/Rehabilitation,
  • Storage, and
  • Other water quality projects.

How Can Regions Councils Get More Involved With SRFs?

Regional councils, as “intermunicipal agencies,” are eligible to directly borrow from SRFs. Regional councils can also coordinate borrowing for their members and for groups of members and other entities with projects that extend beyond state borders.

Regional Councils as “Intermunicipal Agency” Borrowers

As “intermunicipal agencies,” regional councils can receive SRF funding for individual members or for the council itself.

The EPA’s “Financing Options for Nontraditional Eligibilities in the Clean Water State Revolving Fund Programs” highlights several loans provided directly to regional councils:

  • $1.0 million to the Missouri Association Councils of Government (MACOG) for capitalization of the Missouri On-Site Wastewater Improvement Grant-Loan Program. MACOG directed this funding in a pass-through arrangement to homeowners for the repair or replacement of on-site wastewater treatment systems. 
  • $3.5 million to the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) divided among four assistance agreements for projects which included trash capture devices for catchment basins.
  • $2 million to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) for green infrastructure projects focused on addressing non-point source pollutant loads.

Regional Councils as Coordinators for Smaller SRF Borrowers

Project management and reporting requirements can be a challenge for smaller entities that are interested in borrowing SRF funds. Regional Councils can help these smaller borrowers by supporting some of this work. 

Idaho is an example of a state that encourages this type of coordination. According to the Idaho State Department of Environmental Quality, “to help many of the smaller DWSRF borrowers comply with this requirement, Idaho has encouraged them to coordinate with Councils of Government. This arrangement seems to be paying dividends in terms of oversight and compliance.”

Interstate projects present another opportunity for regional councils to operate as SRF coordinators. In these cases, regional councils can apply for loans on behalf of multiple municipalities in different states who are working together on a project whose geographic scope extends past state lines.

SRF Program Details Vary by State

Each state administers their revolving fund individually and project and borrower eligibility varies significantly. For details regarding your state’s SRFs, contact your state SRF contacts. 

What’s Next for the Senate EPW Committee’s Highway Title?

The push for transportation reauthorization has begun, with approximately 15 months before the current authorizing legislation – the FAST Act – expires. This early start to the process can be ascribed to two systemic challenges Congress faces in getting a final bill across the finish line. First, the transportation reauthorization is a complex piece of legislation, under the jurisdiction of four committees in the Senate and two in the House. It is also a large program with a fading source of revenue, which requires Congress to find a funding patch every time it enacts a new, long-term authorization. This time around, the gap between anticipated Highway Trust Fund revenues and desired spending levels is expected to be $100 billion or more, which needs to be transferred from general Treasury funds and somehow offset with new revenues or spending cuts.

The second systemic challenge Congress faces is a simple one of timing: voting for the 2020 Presidential election will take place just over a month after the current authorization expires. The politicking, of course, will begin much sooner. Neither side will want to hand the other a substantial victory too close to an election, and both sides could be wary of spending hundreds of billions of dollars (to say nothing of raising the federal fuels tax), unsure of how it will swing voters.

That brings us to the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee’s proposed highway title (transit, rail, and other items will be added later by other committees), which is a five-year, $287 billion bill. As is often the case with transportation bills, there is much for both sides to point to as advancing their policy agendas. This is part of the reason it passed out of committee on a unanimous 21-0 vote. On one side is project permit streamlining, increases to the National Highway Performance Program, and rural-focused provisions regarding safety and bridge repair. On the other side is a new climate title, safety and funding provisions for bicycle and pedestrian projects, and a new program to combat congestion in the nation’s largest urban areas.

The EPW bill maintains the existing structure of the federal transportation program. This is, overall, a positive. There are only minor changes made to the law as it applies to planning and the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) program. One change we had advocated for was an increase in the portion of the Surface Transportation Block Grant Program (STBGP) that is provided directly to local areas through their metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs). Though this share will remain at 55%, we were pleased at changes to the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), including an increased share for local projects (57.5%, up from 50% presently) and broader eligibility to include MPOs in urbanized areas under 200,000 population. In addition, two new programs created in the EPW bill for resilience and safety require suballocation of funds and create incentives that would allow a portion of those funds to be used as STBGP funds if certain criteria are met.

A notable aspect of the EPW bill is the sheer number of new programs that it would create, covering a broad range of topics including wildlife crossings, bridge investments, safety, charging and alternatives fuel infrastructure, carbon reduction, congestion relief, resilience, and more. This is an interesting shift in approach, with the current FAST Act bill sticking mainly to the approach initiated in the MAP-21 authorization which consolidated the program from more than 100 programs to just a handful.

If you want to learn more about what the bill contains, NARC has prepared a number of resources that will be helpful, including a section-by-section analysis and a broader overview of some of the most relevant portions. In addition, NARC will be hosting a webinar on Tuesday, August 13 at 3:00 PM ET and you can register here.

As one Senator said during the committee discussion, the committee passage of this bill is the “end of the beginning” of the process. We’ll still need to see what the Senate Commerce and Banking committees develop for their portions of the bill, and that combined package will need to make it through the full Senate. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is also likely to develop its own proposal, though it is unclear when it might release something. And the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees have perhaps the toughest job of all, which is coming up with a way to pay for the whole package.

Water Has No Bounds: Regional Councils Take the Lead on Flood Planning

According to the National Resources Defense Council, flooding throughout the country will continue to be intensified by sea level rise and extreme weather. In fact, the nation’s floodplains are expected to grow an average of 45% by the year 2100. 500-year and 100-year floods are now occurring more often than expected, leaving communities everywhere at risk for major economic and public safety concerns. As local officials grapple with these new trends, many are looking regionally to tackle this widespread problem.

Whether flooding takes place on the gulf coast, the urban streets of Pittsburgh, or a small town along the Missouri River, communities across the U.S. must develop ways to handle the aftermath of flooding. Flooding does not start and stop at jurisdictional boundaries. This is evident from previous years’ hurricanes, flash floods up and down the east coast, and the recent flooding devastation that urban and rural communities in the Midwest are still recovering from. The Omaha-Council Bluffs Metropolitan Area Planning Agency (MAPA) is helping local officials in Nebraska and Iowa coordinate resources in the aftermath of the Missouri River flooding. The region is focused on recovering and reestablishing what has been damaged and lost in the region’s worst flooding event in history. MAPA is hopeful to one day establish a committee dedicated to providing information to local officials, reduce redundancies across governing bodies, and coordinate planning efforts in both states. The increased frequency of these climate-related flooding events is causing many regional leaders to seek new and inventive solutions to mitigate this problem.

Many of NARC’s members are acting as regional partners to combat major flooding through a complex consortium of stormwater user fees and taxes, green infrastructure, zoning regulations, long-term stormwater designs, and flood risk mapping tools.

Risk Mapping Tools

Hazard and risk mapping are extremely valuable in times of crisis and disaster management. The Houston-Galveston Area Council (HGAC) provides its region with a zip zone map so residents know what evacuation zone they’re in. This includes state-supported evacuation routes with identified resources such as fuel and Texas Department of Public Safety troopers. These mapping and zoning resources, coupled with the HGAC regional plan, improve the quality of life for Texans. In HGAC’s Our Great Region 2040 plan, they highlighted the necessity for structural solutions – including dikes, flood gates, and drainage improvements – to protect key assets, but their cost means this approach must be carefully targeted. HGAC’s Regional Flood Management Committee also addresses these issues to effectively manage the floodplain and provide coordination among all parties involved to ensure the entire watershed is protected. Tools like these help ensure cooperation and coordination takes place within a region in the event of a major flood.

Green Infrastructure

Green infrastructure uses vegetation, soils, and other elements and practices to restore some of the natural processes required to manage water and create healthier urban environments. Both urban and rural communities are using green infrastructure to reduce and treat stormwater at its source while delivering environmental, social, and economic benefits to their areas. The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) is developing a regional green strategy by providing the region with a Great Lakes Green Streets Guidebook,which provides a sampling of projects throughout the region utilizing green infrastructure techniques. Another tool SEMCOG uses in their regional strategy is the Wisconsin Green Infrastructure Guide – an audit of local codes and ordinances that often create a barrier to green infrastructure projects. SEMCOG is also working on an asset management project that will coordinate projects across jurisdictional boundaries and planning sectors in a cohesive and cost-saving manner.

Stormwater Taxes and Fees

Stormwater fees are another tool regions are using to better prepare for flooding. In Pennsylvania, for example, several municipalities are in the process of implementing local stormwater ordinances. Stormwater fees and authorities are especially important for municipalities that operate municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s), because they allow local and regional areas to charge system users and generate funds to help pay for upgrades and future improvement projects. The Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission (SPC) produces a  Forces of Change Exploratory Scenario Reportsdocument listing stormwater fees as a primary proactive strategy to protect communities from flooding and harmful pollution. This is produced by the Water Resource Center (WRC), first formulated in 2013 to address water-related concerns in the region. In addition to stormwater fees, 518 of the 548 municipalities in the SPC region are a part of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and three municipalities (Upper St. Clair, Etna, and Shafer) in Allegheny County have opted into Community Rating Systems (CRS) to manage activities that exceed minimum NFIP requirements.

Over the past decade more flooding in the United States is occurring in the Mississippi River Valley, Midwest, and Northeast, while domestic coastal flooding has doubled in a matter of decades. Advanced preparation can save communities time and money and protect citizens. Regional strategies are critical to establish emergency and disaster preparation to minimize flood impacts.