Embrace Your Challenge

It’s different for every utility, but you all share in the responsibility of protecting your communities.

The water and wastewater industry is a constant challenge, whether it’s securing water supplies, rehabilitating aging collections systems or securing the funding for your most critical projects.

I talked to quite a few utility operators at the American Water Works Association ACE18 in Las Vegas in June. One of the things I always ask people about is the condition of their systems and the biggest challenges they face. It gives me a good, quick snapshot of what they’re dealing with, and the more people I talk with, the more my understanding of the water and wastewater industry as a whole grows.

The people I had the opportunity to meet included:

  • Dan Driffill of the Monroe County Water Authority. The authority, which serves five counties in upstate New York, has a 100-year replacement program and is spending $20 million per year on replacing and upgrading its distribution system.
  • Jon Conover, meter shop supervisor for the city of Sacramento, California. He told me about a networking group he established that now spans well over 100 utilities. The group discusses metering issues, and every month Conover emails a question to all the members and then compiles all the responses and sends them out to the same recipients. It’s a cool initiative, and he’s done it all on his own.
  • Greg Clark, wastewater rehabilitation manager for Cleveland Utilities. To combat significant sanitary sewer overflow and inflow and infiltration problems, Cleveland divided its collections system into sections and started doing evaluation studies. The studies have been used to guide several million dollars worth of rehabilitation work annually, primarily CIPP and manhole work.

I also talked to Gene Camp of the Bartow County (Georgia) Water Department, Kenneth Holcomb of the city of Compton (California) Water Department, and other operators, educators, and contractors. It was a good experience and a great opportunity to continue learning more about the work you’re doing.

It also brings to mind the two municipal utilities profiled in this issue of Municipal Sewer & Water, which provide great examples of the varied but constant challenges you face.

The city of Lawrence is Massachusetts’ poorest community. A long-running lack of investment in infrastructure left the city’s wastewater collections system in bad condition. Brian Pena, water and sewer commissioner, stepped into his position in 2014, two days before the city was issued a Department of Justice consent decree. Since then, the city has sent cameras through 300,000 linear feet of pipe, conducted 3,500 certified manhole inspections, and extensively smoke-tested the system. The city has committed to clean water and strengthened infrastructure that will enhance economic development and the community’s quality of life.

On the other side of the country, the Coachella Valley Water District’s challenge has been to safeguard its water supply for its 450,000 residents, along with 120-plus golf courses and 65,000 acres of farmland. Summer temperatures in the valley average over 100 degrees F, and the area receives only 3 to 4 inches of rain a year. An extensive water recycling program has helped with irrigation needs, and aggressive promotion of water conservation has helped reduce domestic water demand by about 20 percent since 2013. But that’s only a small part of the story.

Both of these utilities offer some important lessons for your own utilities and show the value of a proactive approach to maintenance and operations. I hope you find their stories helpful.

Enjoy this month’s issue.


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