The Water & Sewer Infrastructure Crisis: Potential Paths Forward

By Marianne Eppig and Samantha Dawson

Our nation and its legacy cities are facing an impending infrastructure crisis: water and sewer systems are failing and require reconstruction and modernization as soon as possible. Most of these water and sewer systems were built immediately following WWII, meaning that they are approaching the end of their useful life. In some places, the infrastructure is already beginning to fail, leading to water main breaks, housing floods, sewage overflows into the environment, and public health crises.

While the national bill to upgrade this infrastructure has been estimated at around $1 trillion, costs for addressing Ohio’s existing water and sewer system deficiencies are estimated to be around $20.84 billion, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

To meet federal clean water mandates, cities must find ways to finance these needed infrastructure overhauls in short order. So far, many cities around Ohio have been ratcheting up water and sewer rates. The city of Akron, for example, has increased rates by 71% in one year. Other cities around Ohio have raised rates between 30% to 50% or more within the last two years.

Greater Ohio Policy Center is currently looking into other financial tools that can be used to restore Ohio’s water and sewer infrastructure systems. We will be discussing these tools with a panel of experts at our upcoming 2015 Summit on June 9th during the following session:

Finding Solutions to Ohio’s Water Infrastructure Challenges

Ohio cities, large and small, must address the critical behind-the-scenes challenge of modernizing their water and sewer infrastructure to avoid potential serious public health crises and environmental degradation, and to create capacity to attract and support businesses and residents.  However, Ohio’s cities are struggling to find ways to finance the complicated infrastructure overhauls needed to address these challenges, comply with federal mandates, and even support on-going maintenance. On this panel, experts will discuss the scope of these infrastructure challenges along with innovative financing approaches and sustainable solutions necessary for Ohio’s cities to function smoothly and accommodate regrowth.

For more information about the Summit agenda and to register, click here.

Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Blog

That’s right.  The Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Summit and related initiatives now have their own blog, and it’s currently hosted by GreenCityBlueLake.

The Strength that Will Carry Momentum Forward

The following video by Graham Veysey summarizes the proceedings of the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Summit hosted by Mayor Jackson.

I have heard multiple Clevelanders state their frustration about the lack of visible results that have come out of the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Summit so far.  But what I say to them each time is that this is a 10 year project.  And we are responsible for the results.
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Progress since the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Summit

I just received an exciting email.  Here’s what it said:

Yesterday, Mayor Jackson announced the next steps in working towards building a sustainable economy in Cleveland.

  • The appointment of Andrew Watterson as Chief of Sustainability, the City’s first cabinet level position focusing on sustainability.
  • A strategic plan will be created based on the 28 summit recommendations. The Mayor’s Office of Sustainability will oversee this process, including the issuing of an RFP and the hiring of a consultant to analyze the 28 recommendations and create the plan.
  • The creation of the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Council – This council will use the strategic plan as a blueprint for advising Mayor Jackson on creating a “green city on a blue lake”.
  • The creation of the steering committee for the 2010 Sustainable Cleveland summit.  This 63-member committee will design the next summit and will be comprised of ’09 summit participants, as well as representatives from local companies and institutions.

Below are the 28 projects that came out of the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Summit–which the city’s strategic plan will be based on:
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Videos from the Summit

I recently re-found this video that was shown on the first day of the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Summit:

My mom (Ruth Eppig), my boss (Margie Flynn), and my freelance employer (Terry Schwarz of the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative) all appear in this video, which I thought was pretty cool.  This was filmed by Gram Vessey, who will also be making a video of the event itself.

Here is another video, filmed by Mark Rabkin on his Flip, of my boss – Margie Flynn of BrownFlynn – speaking at the Summit.

Aftermath of the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Summit

Marc Lefkowitz, of GreenCityBlueLake, has done a fantastic job of capturing some of the content from the three days of the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Summit.  So instead of re-summarizing the events of this momentous occassion, I defer to an expert:

  1. GreenCityBlueLake: Day 1
  2. GreenCityBlueLake: Day 2
  3. GreenCityBlueLake: Day 3

A friend of mine who I met and worked with at the Summit, David Pearl (writer and editor of the local documentary Polycultures) sent me a link to another article that takes a slightly different take on the Summit:

Observations on Sustainable Cleveland 2019 by Joe Koncelik

Joe brings up a good point – we need to be realistic when drafting our strategic plans for the next ten years.  However, this Summit was not meant to be “realistic” in the way that politicians often have to maintain boundaries, balance budgets, and keep constituents happy.  This summit was about Dreaming Big and bringing down industry boundaries to create a better city together.

Sustainable Cleveland 2019 was unprecedented in terms of bringing so many people from different silos together to move an entire city to become more sustainable environmentally, socially, and economically.  No other city has done this, as far as I know.  (If other cities have, please leave a comment and let me know – also, I’ll be looking further into this).

So, I think there needs to be a stage of dreaming up big initial goals (or Big Hairy Audacious Goals – BHAGS), which is what this Summit was all about.  The next stage of coming up with achievable action steps to lead up to some of those goals in the next ten years is up to us.

I would argue that some of the plans of the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration fell through not because they were “unrealistic” and dreamed too big, but because they did not follow through on achievable action steps.

If we want to actually realize these dreams that we have dreamed during the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Summit, then we have to be willing to take responsibility for the sweat-equity that must take place between now and the time that we achieve our goals.

No one will do it for us.

Remarks from the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Summit

I spent the last three days at the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Summit hosted by Mayor Jackson.  For us sustainability nerds, it was a high to spend half of the week with like-minded cohorts, working together to design the most sustainable future Cleveland that we can collectively imagine.

We heard from Mayor Jackson, Van Jones (author of Green Collar Economy), David Cooperrider, Dr. Peter Senge of MIT, Marc Lautenback of IBM, Ray Anderson of Interface, and Holden Shannon of Continental.  But perhaps most importantly, our group of leaders (from government, non-profits, for-profits, sister cities, NGOs, etc) followed the Appreciative Inquiry process to build from Cleveland’s strengths to develop prototypes and strategies for creating the sustainable Cleveland of tomorrow.

Some of the prototypes that we came up with can be implemented right now.  And the resounding message from the Summit was that people are willing and devoted to starting the projects that they created in their groups as soon as they can.  We realized that the momentum gained at this unique gathering could not be lost with the passage of time.  This is too important.  The health and prosperity of our people, our environment, our economy and our city is too important to deprioritize.