Editor’s Note: The following article is one in a series of six profiles of winners of NCPPP’s 2015 National Public-Private Partnership Awards that recognize organizations and individuals who have gone above and beyond to advance the concept and implementation of P3s across the country. The winners were honored during P3 Connect 2015 in Boston.
On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit the United States, causing 110 deaths and almost $65 billion in damage, making it the second most costly hurricane in U.S. history. At least six sewage plants in the New York region shut down during the storm and many more were crippled by storm surges. Among the facilities that sustained extensive damage were three wastewater treatment plants in Nassau County, Long Island, which treat incoming sewage to remove solid waste and toxic substances and kill bacteria, preventing these discharges from being released into the ocean and local bays. Nassau County’s wastewater treatment plants, like many others in the region, were built at sea level, making this infrastructure vulnerable to storm surges. The plants also were built to serve a much smaller population than the number of county residents in 2012.
In September 2014, United Water, a major provider of water and wastewater services in the nation, signed a 20-year contract with Nassau County to operate, manage and maintain the county’s wastewater treatment plants, including Bay Park, which was badly damaged during the storm, Cedar Creek and Glen Cove, and the county’s pumping stations and sewers. The system handles the sewage in an area with 1.2 million residents. After a transition period, United Water began operating the wastewater plant system in January 2015.
The contract Nassau County negotiated with United Water is the largest water-related public-private partnership to date in the United States with a value of more than $1.2 billion. In addition to hiring United Water to manage and operate the plants, the county agreed to invest more than $830 million in the sewer system over several years, using a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to repair hurricane damage and increase the county’s resilience to future storms.
United Water is providing technology and management expertise, improving the system’s operating efficiency and performance on environmental standards, cleaning discharges to meet state environmental standards and eliminating odors from the treatment plants. United Water also is keeping these communities informed about its activities by holding regular meetings, publishing facility reports and data and providing video feeds to monitor some of the plant’s daily operations. A website and Facebook page also provide updates and collect feedback.
The project has been an environmental success, garnering support from key community and environmental advocacy groups, and is proving to be financially successful as well. United Water reported on the day it began managing the wastewater system that it already was on track to exceed its guaranteed $10 million in first-year savings to the county by almost $2 million and would save taxpayers a guaranteed minimum of $230 million during the life of the agreement, with the potential to save more than $650 million, according to the county’s independent financial advisor. The company will achieve these savings by meeting performance milestones and efficiencies in sludge and energy management.
In recognition of the project’s success, NCPPP presented the Project Innovation Award to the partners: the County of Nassau, New York and United Water.
“This contract is a milestone for Nassau County and a commitment to improving the quality of life for every resident,” County Executive Ed Mangano said. “Working with United Water, we can look forward to a day when health is restored to our bays, and when our way of life in Nassau County, which has all but disappeared, makes a dramatic comeback.”