204952 Funding water and wastewater infrastructure in rural Oregon: Leadership strategies to close the needs/resources gap

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Rosa Sepulveda Klein, MPP , Environmental Health Division, Multnomah County Health Department, Portland, OR

Oregon's backlog of water/wastewater infrastructure projects threatens economic development, public health and community solvency. From 2000 to 2004, deferred maintenance and capital investments in water and wastewater projects doubled to $3 billion. If demands continue growing at current rates, infrastructure needs will reach $7 billion by 2012. Oregon lacks capital for needed improvements; local citizens consistently decline to increase fees to address the problem. How can the Governor's Office lead rural communities toward sustainable water and wastewater systems?


Interviews with public employees, city managers, and overseers of water and wastewater projects. Analysis of data from the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department's 2007 survey on planned infrastructure projects and available local funds, and DHS Clean Drinking Water Program's data on public water systems' adherence to state and federal regulatory standards.


The needs/funding gap is acute in small towns because of:

Perceived lack of urgency;

Strong local opposition to rate increases, non-incremental rate increases;

Below cost-of-service user fees;

Lack of capital improvement reserve funds

little consideration of lower-cost wastewater system alternatives.


"Business as usual" is not viable. Although some solutions are technical, much of the work is adaptive, and requires exceptional leadership from state leaders, providing clear vision, and specific objectives to local governments including:

A comprehensive community deliberation strategy;

A water/wastewater infrastructure benchmark to track progress;

Support for regional water system initiatives and promotion of alternative wastewater treatment technologies;

Matching funds for large maintenance projects and upgrades;

Technical assistance in administrating local inflation-indexed annual rate increases.

Learning Objectives:
Through attendance and participation in the session, participants will be able to: Describe the growing gap between financial needs and resources available to rural Oregon counties for water and wastewater infrastructure Identify 3 aspects of Adaptive Leadership Compare regional water system models, promising alternative wastewater treatment technologies, and local practices that could bring user fees closer to the true cost of services Explain 2 models for community dialogue that have been developed in Oregon.

Keywords: Leadership, Community Development

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I researched rural water and wastewater funding in Oregon as part of a policy analysis for the Oregon Governor's Office of Rural Policy, as part of completion of my Masters in Public Policy degree at Harvard Kennedy School.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.