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What to do with water

by Rick Thomas
| June 20, 2010 9:00 PM

COEUR d'ALENE - Water, water, everywhere. No problem in North Idaho, at least for a while. But what to do with it once it has been consumed is another issue all its own.

On Thursday, a two-hour discussion on how to plan for future water use issues will be held at the Parkside Event Center. "Infrastructure 2010: Investment Imperative and How Water Affects Our Local Economy and Livability" will look at some of the ramifications of water issues.

"We don't have the scarcity issue, it is more about getting rid of it," said Tony Berns, executive director of the Lake City Development Corp. and coordinator of the program.

Thursday's discussion with the Urban Land Institute Idaho will include a keynote address by ULI Senior Fellow Tom Murphy.

"The challenge in every community in the country is changing resources," Murphy said. "There are difficult choices in making infrastructure investments."

Murphy will discuss the general issue of water shortages worldwide and how other regions are dealing with it.

"Australia is facing a terrible situation with water," he said. "They have reduced consumption 40 percent. There are lessons to be learned."

The lessons he learned as mayor of Pittsburgh, Pa. - which faced air, land and water pollution from its years as a steel producer - can be beneficial for North Idaho, he said. Among the projects dealt with in Pittsburgh was working with the EPA on some Superfund sites.

"It was known as hell with the lid off," he said. "Now some of the best bass fishing is in the center of the city."

Though North Idaho has plenty of fresh water, conservation will be an issue if growth continues, Berns said. But even more challenging will be meeting regulations still being discussed on pollutant levels from sewer discharges.

"The biggest challenge we will have to meet is downriver requirements," he said.

LCDC is sponsoring a series of ULI programs to help bring their experience to the community, he said.

"They have a vast body of knowledge," he said.

In November, ULI visited Coeur d'Alene to discuss trends in real estate. Their analysis was accurate, especially relating to commercial property, Berns said.

"It was on the mark," he said. "They said there would be a lot of repriced loans, and warned landlords to watch out to not lose tenants."

He says ULI is considered a "university without walls," and will give participants a chance to brainstorm without spending the entire day listening to what can be boring presentations.

Particularly true now with an uncertain economy is how to pay for infrastructure necessary for growth and even maintaining the status quo, Murphy said.

"At this moment in time, we need to make some hard decisions," he said. "We are living on the decisions made by our parents and grandparents. Part of the challenge is how do we pay for this stuff now. We will talk about the choices cities are making, such as taxes, and public-private partnerships."

Sid Fredrickson, wastewater utility superintendent for Coeur d'Alene, says the Lake City has a "road map" for the future with the expansion of its current facility.

"We know what we're going to do for the next 50 years," he said. "When we're done, we have to figure how to spend another $60 million."

The forum will be beneficial to anyone involved in planning and development, Berns said.

Panelists scheduled to participate include Christian Petrich of SPF Water in Boise; Paul Klatt of JUB Engineers in Coeur d'Alene; Clay Larkin, mayor of Post Falls; Todd Mielke, Spokane County commissioner; and Brian Ballard, moderator from Hawley Troxell attorneys in Boise.

Registration fees for the private sector are $55 and for the public/nonprofit sector $50, with $10 discounts for ULI members. Young leaders (under 35 years) are $30 and students are $20. Fees increase by $5 after Monday.

To register go to www.uli.org or call (800) 321-5011 with event code #8149-1015.

Other information and reports from the Urban Land Institute are available at www.uli.org

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