Orange County infrastructure gets C+


But the region is still faring better than the nation, which earned a D.

By Kristen Schott
Published: April 07, 2010 09:29 AM
Orange County’s public infrastructure system has received a C+ but the region is still faring better than the nation, which earned a D, according to a new report conducted by a group of engineers and business leaders.The Orange County Leadership Symposium will unveil the 2010 Orange County Infrastructure Report Card tonight at the Costa Mesa Hilton. The study was produced by a partnership of UC Irvine’s Civil & Environmental Engineering Affiliates, the Orange County Business Council, and the Orange County Branch of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

This is the third time that local officials and leaders have collaborated on such a project – in 2005, the last time the report was conducted, Orange County also netted a C+.

The region outperforms the nation for a number of reasons. The report cites freezing winter weather in other parts of the country that causes the systems to age more quickly; a younger infrastructure in O.C.; and a willingness to set aside funding for the development of projects.

Yet the county has three key problem areas: water supply and quality; flood control; and electrical supply.

Water supply and quality: More than half of the water O.C. relies on comes from the Colorado River and the San Francisco Bay Delta. The report notes that despite reservoirs, a major disaster could lead to an interruption in the supply. Plus, an increase in beach attendance, the population, and tourism has begun to make an impact on the region’s surface water quality.

The report gave O.C. a B- for its water supply and a D for its surface-water quality, which includes beaches and water parks, saying the region needs to work with the state and federal governments to receive support on new projects.

Flood control: These systems need to be continually upgraded in order to provide the highest level of safety for the public, but the report notes that it is a “challenge” to do so, especially during the economic downturn.

“Current flood-control funding deficiencies in Orange County for regional flood control facilities alone are in excess of $2.5 billion,” notes the report, which says that it is projected to take more than 90 years to upgrade the local system to be free from such problems.

The flood control system garnered a C-.

Electrical supply: The survey notes that recent rate increases approved by the California Utility Commission may not be enough to fund the needed work to replace and modernize the systems currently in place in the county and the larger region.

“As the infrastructure continues to age, the potential exists for less reliable service.”

The energy condition received a C+.

Here’s a breakdown of the rest of the ratings:

Aviation: B
Demand in O.C. will reach about 37 million in the next 15 years – but the current passenger limit is just under 11 million, according to the study, which suggests developing high-speed rail transportation to area airports. The report does make note of John Wayne’s “excellent” condition.

Ground transportation: B-
Measure M sales tax offers needed assistance, but not enough funding needed to perform many of the improvements needed for O.C.’s ground systems. The report again highlights the possibility of a high-speed rail to meet future transportation needs.

Parks/Recreation/Environment: C+
The economic downturn stopped more than 100 projects totaling $70 million for local recreation areas in 2008 and 2009, and O.C. lacks the $680 million needed for new projects in the next five years.

School facilities: C+
Despite improvements over the past five years, school districts have seen enrollment drop or remain the same, which lessens the need for renovating the grounds. “Deferred maintenance and upgrading of older school buildings continues to be a daunting problem to solve,” notes the report.

Solid waste: B+
The overall picture for solid waste was pretty positive, due to the region’s recycling and waste diversion projects. O.C.’s three landfills have more than 40 years of life among them.

Wastewater: B
The systems in place are “generally well run,” and funding and planning to replace older parts of the infrastructure are “generally adequate.”

Looking ahead, the report notes that local businesses and individuals can support the region’s infrastructure a number of ways, including conservation and reuse, and supporting key bond and fee proposals.

“Without funding to maintain our infrastructure, the water, roads, electricity and other necessities of daily life may not be there at the moment you need it, or at the quality level you’ve come to expect,” notes the report. “Without it, the high quality of life that we enjoy here in Orange County will diminish.”

Courtesy of OCMetro


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