Sharing Common Goals

Utilities all strive for greater efficiency and performance, so take the lessons of your peers to heart.

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This month’s issue of MSW is a great example of the wide range of stories we cover. Some utilities are large, some are small, but they all have common goals and all offer unique perspectives on how to improve systems and provide better services to customers in an era when greater demands are pitted against ever-shrinking budgets.

The Macon Water Authority in Macon, Ga., provides a great case study in improving operations. Up until 2006, the maintenance employees for the authority, which handles water purification and distribution as well as wastewater collection and treatment, were stationed at individual plants and answered to individual plant supervisors.

Repairs were generally limited to immediate needs, and individual plant supervisors set priorities without regard to what was most important for the whole system. And because repair parts were stored elsewhere at an MWA warehouse, fixing problems often required extra time for workers to go get what they needed, then return to the plant to make the repair.

Beginning in 2006, the authority took a long, hard look at its operations. The MWA brought all of its mechanics into a centralized maintenance department under a single maintenance manager. The change has brought much greater efficiency and has finally shifted the focus from crisis management to preventive maintenance, where it should have been all along.

In Hawaii, the Kauai County Department of Water has been working to improve its own efficiencies. The department currently operates 11 unconnected water systems covering 68 square miles, primarily along the island’s coast. The department is following a comprehensive plan that calls for uniting the separate water systems and ensuring an abundant supply of quality water for the future on firm financial footing. The island’s geography, climate and remote location all present challenges, but the department is tackling those challenges and building a better system for residents.

The department is replacing pipes and aligning them with public roadways — older lines frequently followed the shortest route — to provide easier access and better maintenance. The work is primarily dig and replace, and they’re doing it all — $125 million since the plan was implemented — on a tight budget without the luxury of raising rates any higher.

Back on the mainland, Minden, La., is overcoming its own challenges. Despite its small size — population 13,000 — and a capital budget funded almost entirely through grants, the wastewater utility has been steadily improving its sewer infrastructure over the last decade.

At one point, Minden had a very serious I&I problem, but through smoke testing and the development of a GIS mapping system on par with cities far larger, the utility was able to effectively target the problem. Average daily flow was reduced by well over 20 percent, and maximum flow after significant rain events fell from around 7 mgd all the way down to 3 mgd. It wasn’t a big budget that solved the utility’s problem; it was careful planning, a progressive approach and creative use of funding, none of which is dependent on size or budget.

Regardless of the size of your utility, there are lessons to be learned in these stories. Sometimes the most difficult problems require a shift in thinking and a new approach. All three of these stories illustrate what can be done when people work together with the bigger picture in mind. I hope they can serve as some inspiration to you.

Enjoy this month’s issue.


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