Utility Makes Major Operational Improvements

Suburban Milwaukee village strives for efficient operations through system upgrades and better management.

Utility Makes Major Operational Improvements

Village of Shorewood utility operators (from left) Kyle Pinzer, Erickson, Sterr, Bill Nowak and Kunze. Not pictured: Dave Brunker.

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Shorewood Water Works may be old, but that doesn’t discourage the staff from doing everything they can to make the system current and cost effective.

Sitting around the conference table in the antique, cream-and-red brick Public Works building north of downtown Milwaukee, Leeann Butschlick, Public Works director; Joel Kolste, assistant director; and Dave Kunze, water utility foreman, tick off the many improvements they’ve made to the system:

  • Audits of distribution system to identify infrastructure replacement needs
  • Annual acoustical leak detection
  • New procedures for systemwide flushing
  • Cooperation with the local Fire Department on surge protection and water consumption
  • Audit of meter inventory and testing to consolidate records into one central location
  • Upgrade of master metering equipment
  • New SCADA system to help staff monitor key operational parameters
  • Automation of work orders for system repairs
  • Updated lead and copper testing and lead service replacement policy.

To illustrate the result of these measures, Kunze lays out a spreadsheet showing a significant reduction in nonrevenue water, from 20% of production just a few years ago to less than 13% today.

“We used a recent large turnover in key staff as a springboard to audit and review our operations,” Butschlick says. “We retained City Water, a local consulting and operations firm, to help us develop new staff as well as improve our operational efficiency.”

Not only is the utility operating more effectively and saving ratepayers money, it recently won a utility achievement award from the Wisconsin Section of the American Water Works Association for management and operational improvements.

Shorewood draws its drinking water from the neighboring city of Milwaukee and delivers it through 32 miles of pipe to 3,500 accounts, serving 13,000 residents and businesses. The village borders both Lake Michigan and the Milwaukee River system. At just 1.5 square miles, the village is one of the most densely populated municipalities in the state of Wisconsin.

Six employees form the staff, and all are cross-trained to operate the village’s gravity sewer system, which delivers wastewater by gravity to Milwaukee for treatment.

“We’re unusual in that we have no storage capacity,” Kunze explains. “Our water comes from Milwaukee at 92 psi. In two valve pits, we step it down to 60-62 psi before it enters our distribution system.”

Those pipes date to the 1920s and earlier, and they consist mostly of ductile and cast iron.

New and improved

Shorewood turned a problem into an opportunity when half its staff left in 2013, including the utility foreman. They reached out to a local consulting and operations firm called City Water for help and guidance.

“We’d worked with Shorewood before,” says Tom Nennig, City Water principal, “along with a number of other municipalities in the north Milwaukee area.”

One of the first recommendations was to make Kunze the utility foreman and then support him with a range of good business practices that helped the utility address the water loss issue and other concerns.

“We wanted to make sure Dave could succeed,” Butschlick says. “City Water really helped us.”

The firm served as mentor and coach, as well as a technical resource.

Meeting with City Water two to three times a week, Shorewood established a quarterly water audit to track purchased water against billings, including fire protection. Other measures included an audit of meter inventory that has led to an improved meter reading system and upgrade of the meters monitoring the incoming flow from Milwaukee. A new SCADA system (Starnet Technologies, An Electric Pump Inc Co.) has helped Shorewood get a better handle on breaks and leaks, and the village began using leak detection supplied by American Leak Detection.

“We upgraded and improved all our business practices, including basic recordkeeping,” Butschlick says. City Water was also familiar with all the new rules and regulations, based on their work with other communities in our area.

Another pleasant development: stabilization of staff. Butschlick says turnover has stopped and the team is in good shape with Kunze at the helm. Three of the employees have more than 20 years of experience.

Today, Shorewood is operating according to a rolling 10-year infrastructure planning and budgeting process. “We plan major infrastructure projects in the even-numbered years, including water main replacement in road reconstruction programs,” Kolste says. “In the odd years, we’ll concentrate on hot spots.”

Kunze says his crew cuts and recouples breaks or leaks in the ductile and cast iron pipes. And while the utility’s Esri GIS system isn’t new, the commitment to integrate it into daily operations has been very helpful, developing a usable interface with fieldworkers who all have iPads. “Some of our old maps were from 1900,” Butschlick says.

Meter upgrades

The lack of storage and the importation of water directly from the Milwaukee system present unique challenges to the Shorewood team.

Kunze explains that the two vaults — or pits — holding the master meters and pressure regulators that monitor and control the flow are underground structures built sometime in the 1930s. One pit contains the equipment supplying the Shorewood water; the other is devoted primarily to fire flow.

Shorewood intends to update the vaults, and it represents what Butschlick says is a delicate project.

“We made emergency repairs to the PRVs (pressure regulating valves) in 2013,” Kunze says. “But they will be replaced with the vault.” He adds that issues with the PRVs became obvious in 2013 when pressure surges were “popping mains.”

Pending Public Service Commission approval, the plan is to construct a prefabricated vault unit that will be installed next to the existing pit. The existing master meters, owned by Milwaukee Water Works, will be disconnected and then reconnected to the new piping in the new vault. The utility’s contractor would conduct this work at night during low-flow periods. Butschlick says neighboring communities — partners in the North Shore Water Commission — have been contacted about supplying emergency water if necessary.

The community’s overall 3,500-meter system (Sensus SR IIs) is due for replacement as well. Butschlick says a request for proposal has been issued for a new open architecture metering system and radio-read infrastructure. The system will replace the current manual reading system.


Because Lake Michigan lies along the eastern border of Shorewood, the community must comply with Great Lakes rules and regulations regarding stormwater. The separate storm sewer system discharges to the Milwaukee River, which is on the Impaired Waters List. Flow from the 18-mile combined sewer and the separated wastewater system go to the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District.

All combined sewer service areas within the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District are required to disconnect household downspouts by 2025. Shorewood is somewhat unique in that just under half of its combined sewer area is actually served by a storm sewer system that collects flow from street inlets. In these areas, the village has installed an 8-inch PVC pipe “terrace drain” system just behind the curbs, connecting to catch basins.

Property owners in these areas will have the option to connect their private storm drain systems to the terrace drains. “We’re putting these in our storm sewer areas. We can’t put them everywhere, but where we can, we are,” Butschlick says.

Facing the future

In addition to infrastructure repair, Shorewood faces challenges familiar to all water utilities in the older sections of the country: talent drain and lead service lines.

Recruitment of new staff is challenging. “We’re a small utility, and we have a lot of information in our heads,” Butschlick says.

But what happens when the heads leave? Butschlick says getting information into their GIS system is a critical step.

Refilling the positions is another matter. Butschlick, a graduate of the state university’s natural resources program, notes how much the times have changed and the fact that water is just not in the forefront of young people’s minds these days.

“You don’t hear them saying, ‘Oh I want to be a water operator,’” she says.

They’ve had better luck with the lead replacement project, begun in 2016. It’s modeled after one developed by the Greater Cincinnati Water Works and includes AWWA best practices. The only lead in the public distribution system is in the municipal portion of the service lines.

“Milwaukee adds orthophosphate to its finished water to prevent leaching,” Butschlick explains.

As the village replaces its public distribution system mains and replaces laterals with copper from the main to the curb stop, it offers property owners along the way the option to replace their private service lines at the same time. Five-year no-interest loans act as an incentive, and the results have been pretty good. Kolste reports that 16 of 28 eligible property owners signed up for the replacement program this year — about 57%.

Moving forward, the Shorewood staff expects that number to get even better.

Water should be fun

Kae Donlevy, who helped Shorewood develop its Shorewood Waters Project, has found the key to getting the water conservation message out to the general public.

“Make it easy, and make it fun,” she says, describing a wide range of programs she’s put together for the utility and other communities in the area.

Donlevy has worked in natural resources most of her professional life. “My passion is water,” she says.

Since 2011, jump-started by a Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant of $240,000 for stormwater investigation work, her stormwater education programs for Shorewood have included “summer splashes,” Milwaukee River canoe trips, fish and feather festivals, kayak and boat trips, water booths, beach cleanups, school rain gardens, a history of water presentation, hikes along the river, and more.

The village has also partnered with many service clubs, environmental organizations, civic groups and municipal departments to get the word out about clean water.

Donlevy’s latest project — a Fresh Water Toolkit — is based on many of the materials she has helped Shorewood develop.

“We’re developing a toolkit that all teachers and others across the area can use to help educate the public about the importance of clean water and their role in its conservation and protection,” she says. “There’s no sense if all communities develop their own. This will be one everyone can use.”


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