Effective Operation

Utilities must search for ways to get more from their limited resources.

In today's municipal world, where utility departments are continually asked to do more with less, efficiency is critical. Funds are limited, resources are precious, and manpower is often stretched thin. If your system or your operations are inefficient, tasks that should be simple will become more time- and labor-intensive. Emergency situations will become more complicated and will be a greater strain. You'll struggle to stay on top of maintenance, and that will only make the situation worse.

The folks at Daphne Utilities in Daphne, Ala., know a thing or two about efficiency. The utility, profiled in this issue of MSW, has undergone a significant transformation in recent years. At one time the town had a terrible environmental record, but with new management and a new approach, it has made a dramatic turnaround.

"The phrase 'good enough for government work' angers me every time I hear it because it represents waste and inefficiency," says general manager Rob McElroy. "We have to work hard to overcome that. There was a time when being 'good enough' might have been good enough, but that time has gone. In a downturned economy, our customers don't have the money to fund regular rate increases for what they perceive as poor service from uncaring employees and the inefficient use of the money already given to us. We want to bring more efficiency into our system, to run like a business."

While it's not uncommon to hear public officials and political candidates talk about running government like a business, it's less common to actually see the proper manifestation of the mantra. McElroy and his crew haven't turned their utility into a cold, faceless entity where the bottom line is everything; they've turned their utility into a responsible arm of government where fiscal sensibility is critical and great customer service is the bottom line.

Rather than cutting and cutting until all the flesh has been peeled from the utility's cast iron and concrete skeleton, they have found new efficiencies and innovative new ways to meet their goals without placing an inordinate burden on the local taxpayers.

It's a difficult task, but one that all municipal utilities must take on.

Aurora, Ill., also featured in this issue, has gone about improving efficiency in a different way. The city has invested heavily to separate combined sewers and develop green infrastructure to naturally treat stormwater. As a result, the city isn't paying to treat stormwater, and the local waterways are cleaner.

The city had previously planned on installing several hundred feet of storm sewers to serve the area around a local park. Instead, three bioretention basins were installed along the parkway. The project proved to be a huge success due to its operational and cost efficiencies. While installing storm sewers would have cost $140,000, the bioretention basins cost just $70,000. More rain gardens are planned, and the cost will be less than half what it would cost to make similar improvements with gray infrastructure. That's wise use of the taxpayers' dollars, and a blueprint for efficiency.

Perhaps your utilities have already taken on similar projects, but maybe these stories can serve as your own blueprint for more efficient operations and happier customers. That's our hope.

Enjoy this month's issue.


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.