WSU EFC releases Community Sustainability Tool

Renovations, repairs, and replacement of water and wastewater utility infrastructure can be very expensive. Many small towns and communities face with the challenges of deciding whether or not they can afford investments in their water utility. The WSU Environmental Finance Center recognizes this and developed the Community Sustainability Tool to help with these decisions.  The Tool is free and easy to use.  The Tool is currently available for communities in the states of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska.  It is also being developed for communities in Oklahoma and Louisiana.   

The Tool uses a combination of user data and program-generated forecasts to broadly predict the future average water and wastewater bills in communities and compares the average bill with the forecasted Median Household Income (MHI).  In addition to predicting the MHI, the Tool also forecasts a community’s future populationeducation attainment and percent of jobs in the manufacturing sector.  These forecasts are based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. To use the Tool, users input the following variables:

  • ­Average household monthly drinking water bill
  • Annual growth rate percentage of drinking water bills (if known) 
  • Average household monthly wastewater bill
  • Annual growth rate percentage of wastewater bills (if known) 
  • Planned expenditure on drinking water infrastructure. Specifically, the amount that will be financed.
  • Number of years drinking water infrastructure will be financed
  • Planned expenditure on wastewater infrastructure
  • Number of years wastewater infrastructure will be financed
  • Annual interest rate of the loan (If unknown, a default interest rate will be provided by the Tool.)

Using these inputs, the Tool then assesses the likelihood that the community's utility rate payers will not be able to sustain financing the loan. The results are then displayed with 1) an easy-to-read, color-coded stoplight risk analysis, 2) a graphical representation of the analysis, and 3) a detailed numerical description. The Tool's stoplight risk analysis will indicate a probability marker as “High,” “Moderate,” or “Low” sustainability risk of a community’s inability to sustain utility financing in the future.

“The Community Sustainability Tool is a planning resource for community leaders, mayors, public works directors and even citizens. When it is time to upgrade or improve water or wastewater infrastructure, this tool can help communities understand their ability to pay for these large investments over time.” said Tonya Bronleewe, Director of the Environmental Finance Center.  “One of the biggest benefits of this tool is that the calculations are targeted to each community, since no two communities are the same.”

Users can access the Tool online, which offers a downloadable report and shareable link.  Use can also download the Microsoft Excel version of the tool, which allows users to operate the tool offline and save different scenarios.

Watch a demonstration of the Tool

This project was funded by the Environmental Protection Agency Region 7 under assistance agreement #AI97756601.