Public-private scheme helps US cities rebuild water infra

RE.invest Initiative takes off with $3m funding from the Rockefeller Foundation

The Re.invest Initiative is a public-private partnership that will help eight cities across the US rebuild stronger and more resilient storm water systems, the Rockefeller Foundation, which is providing $3 million in seed money, said in a statement.

The programme was conceptualised and designed by c.dots development, a Washington DC-based organisation whose mission is to identify opportunities for public-private partnerships surrounding urban core infrastructure. It was launched in January 2013 with the financial support of the Rockefeller Foundation.

The cities selected to participate in the programme are: San Francisco, Miami Beach, New Orleans, Hoboken (New Jersey), Honolulu, El Paso (Texas), Milwaukee, and Norfolk (Virginia). They will be receiving technical assistance from engineering firm Bechtel; law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld; and financial consulting firm Wall Street Without Walls. These corporate partners, who comprise the RE.invest team, will also help the cities identify new ways to bundle revenue streams so that they can work with private investors and the private sector to improve their local infrastructure.

“While RE.invest will not provide any direct grant or research funding to cities, we anticipate that each city will receive between $300,000 to $500,000 in technical assistance from the RE.invest Team,” explained c.dots development co-founder Shalini Vajjhala in an e-mailed response.

“Hurricane Sandy was a tragic reminder of how vulnerable our city infrastructure systems can be,” Dr. Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, said in a statement, referring to the storm that devastated the country’s northeast coast in October 2012, costing 159 lives and $65 billion in lost business, according to Time magazine.

“Our goal is to prevent the kind of destruction that is caused by these terrible storms, which are increasing in intensity,” Vajjhala said, noting that 11 billion gallons of untreated waste water were released due to surges during just that storm.

The partner cities will go from planning to construction within three years, according to the RE.invest website. “This initiative will serve as a template for cities across the country seeking to rebuild aging or failing storm water systems in the face of serious financial challenges.”

“A similar model has been used in the renewable energy and energy efficiency sectors but hasn’t been widely applied in the case of integrated stormwater infrastructure systems yet,” Vajjhala explained.

The RE.invest Initiative is part of the Rockefeller Foundation’s broader programme – 100 Resilient Cities – described as a “$100 million effort to build urban resilience around the world,” in celebration of its 100th anniversary.