Rapidly growing urban development. Sharp increases in the demand for fresh water. It’s a double whammy that most municipalities would just as soon avoid.

But not Mesa, Ariz. The Mesa Water Resources Department (MWRD) has not only accepted these challenges, but is succeeding — to the point that the utility received a coveted Gold Award for Exceptional Utility Performance from the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) at its annual meeting last fall. With responsibilities for both drinking water and wastewater, Mesa was honored for its record of recycling, cost control, infrastructure integrity and performance metrics.

MWRD Director Dan Cleavenger attributes the success to a change in culture.

“We’re proactive in how we go about the issue of aging infrastructure,” he says. “Through the use of performance metrics [see sidebar], everybody becomes more involved in the decision-making, and everyone is more accountable.”

A comprehensive monthly report that incorporates MWRD’s metrics and promotes openness and inclusion reinforces inter-staff communication. Issued electronically, the report follows a template and includes charts and graphs that track the utility’s performance. “We post it at the end of every month, and everybody can see what everyone else is doing,” Cleavenger says.

He says the approach results in a more transparent operation. “We’re especially open and honest with what our spending is and what our needs are,” he says. “In return, our city council has been very supportive.”