Honoring America's Top Water Systems

The Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies has recognized 21 public drinking water systems for management excellence.
Honoring America's Top Water Systems
John Mitchell is project manager for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), which was one of 12 agencies to earn the Sustainable Water Utility Management Award.

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The Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies honored 21 public drinking water systems with its top utility management awards on Oct. 12 in ceremonies at its 2015 Executive Management Conference in Savannah, Georgia. Twelve systems received the Sustainable Water Utility Management Award, eight received the Platinum Award for Utility Excellence and one was presented the Gold Award for Exceptional Utility Performance. 

The Sustainable Water Utility Management Award recognizes water utilities that have made a commitment to management that achieves a balance of innovative and successful efforts in areas of economic, social and environmental endeavors. The Platinum and Gold Awards recognize outstanding achievement in implementing the nationally recognized Attributes of Effective Utility Management.

The 2015 AMWA Sustainable Water Utility Management Award winners are:

  • Austin Water (Texas)
  • City of Bellevue Utilities (Washington)
  • Water Works Board of the City of Birmingham (Alabama)
  • Central Arkansas Water
  • Charlotte Water (North Carolina)
  • Chesterfield County Utilities Department (Virginia)
  • Contra Costa Water District (California)
  • Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department (Florida)
  • Prince William County Service Authority (Virginia)
  • Riverside Public Utilities (California)
  • Santa Rosa Water (California)
  • Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (Maryland)

Winners of the 2015 AMWA Platinum Award for Utility Excellence are:

  • Anchorage Water & Wastewater Utility (Alaska)
  • Aurora Water (Colorado)
  • Boston Water and Sewer Commission (Massachusetts)
  • Denver Water (Colorado)
  • East Bay Municipal Utility District (California)
  • Las Vegas Valley Water District (Nevada)
  • Scottsdale Water (Arizona)
  • South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority

AMWA's 2015 Gold Award for Exceptional Utility Performance was presented to:

  • Fort Collins Utilities (Colorado)

Sustainability award winners
In the face of historic drought, Austin Water strengthened its conservation programs and drought management plan, and by fiscal year 2014 per capita water use was the lowest in decades. The utility has structured rates and fees to incentivize conservation and address affordability. It has moved to cover more fixed costs; created drought surcharges and a revenue stability reserve fund and surcharge; and instituted operational efficiencies to cut costs. The utility partners with stakeholders to develop policies reflective of community values, and community engagement has never been higher.

Bellevue Utilities meets its mission using tools including audits, surveys, benchmarking and continuous improvement programs. Performance measures are tracked to gauge effectiveness, efficiency and workload. A financially self-supporting enterprise, it is comprised of four lines of business: drinking water, wastewater, storm and surface water, and solid waste.  Each is a stand-alone business that must be financially sustainable. Bellevue Utilities' long-term commitment to sustainability and environmental protection is demonstrated through successful public education and outreach programs.

The Water Works Board of the City of Birmingham plans for future growth in the region to ensure the system is viable for future generations. To provide for long-term viability, the utility's capital improvement plan averages $59 million each year, which supports systemwide infrastructure improvement and growth. A rate stabilization and equalization approach helps ensure financial and economic stability with adequate operating, capital, debt service and reserve funds. A watershed protection policy, developed with stakeholder involvement, provides guidelines for development near its key water source.

Sustainable utility water management is integral to Central Arkansas Water. The utility has assured rate stability and established dedicated funds for watershed protection. Implementation of a comprehensive watershed management plan involved close collaboration with private property owners and governmental partners and assures a high-quality drinking water supply. The utility also quantified its pipeline replacement needs, increased energy efficiency, implemented recycling programs and removed hazardous materials from sensitive areas.

An early managed competition leader, Charlotte Water transitioned into continuous improvement through benchmarking, re-engineering and embracing quality programs. The utility holds corporate ISO environmental and quality certifications, participates in Partnership for Safe Water, and has strong, active stakeholder partnerships. Triple A bond ratings by the three major rating agencies underscore the utility's strength. Revenue stability and predictability, fairness to customers and full cost recovery are the focus of a 10-year financial planning horizon, and increases in the fixed portion of rates improve sustainability.

Chesterfield County Utilities Department's annual performance plan tracks over 100 annual and historic performance measures from virtually every work center. The department improves its strong financial position through competitive rates that adequately recover costs, while providing for reserves and future needs, thereby maintaining a Triple AAA bond rating and ensuring future stability. Striving to be efficient and environmentally conscious in all aspects of operations, the department has implemented process improvement initiatives including reducing natural gas consumption, potable water usage and energy/chemical consumption.

Contra Costa Water District keeps local watersheds ecologically healthy, which ensures access to untreated water of high quality to process through its state-of-the-art water treatment plants, optimizing chemical and energy use. Significant investments in water use efficiency projects have helped reduce total water use by over 30 percent. The district is balancing operating expenditures, revenues and debt service, investing in infrastructure assets, controlling operations and maintenance expenditures and increasing water quality and customer service levels.

Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department's Water Use Efficiency Program improves management of traditional water supplies, encourages development of alternative water supplies and improves water use efficiency. The department has an aggressive supply-side management water loss reduction program, including improvements in the distribution system, an aggressive leak detection program and advanced meter infrastructure. Its methane sequestration project increases self-generated electricity. An asset management system minimizes the total life cycle cost of its capital assets and a capital improvement plan provides long-term funding to complete improvements. Its employee recognition program has produced more than $38 million in savings.

Sustainability is reflected in Prince William County Service Authority's strategic planning, business practices and educational outreach efforts. From pricing models and fee structures to customer engagement platforms, the authority promotes wise use of water while securing its financial future with sound fiscal management. With environmentally friendly technologies and proactive maintenance, the authority meets stringent regulatory requirements. It protects source waters and public health through meticulous planning, an exemplary workforce and agile responsiveness to its customers.

Guided by a utility roadmap to the future, Riverside Public Utilities Department (RPU) has developed projects, such as its Solar Well Project, that help decrease its reliance on nonrenewable resources. Other projects, like the North Riverside Aquifer Storage and Recovery Project, protect and improve local groundwater supplies. RPU serves as an integral part of its community through active participation in conservation, outreach and sustainable practices that engender community and stakeholder engagement and socially responsible initiatives.

Santa Rosa Water uses an integrated approach to manage the community's water resources, enhance customer service and raise awareness about water-related issues. It helps customers conserve water, manages an extensive storm drain system and enhances the health of its watershed. The utility conducts in-depth rate setting processes, leads innovative efforts to conserve water and energy, consistently budgets capital improvements and reserve funds, beneficially reuses recycled water, and provides outreach, education and technical assistance to its customers.

Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) replaces its water mains at a rate of 55-plus miles per year and mitigates the potential damage of large-diameter prestressed, concrete cylinder pipe by using breakthrough acoustic fiber optics technology. The utility obtains 28 percent of its electric power needs from wind power and has solar power projects at two wastewater treatment plants. Its budget includes a ratepayer-supported customer assistance program. A restructured debt program and transformed supply chain management saves WSSC tens of millions of dollars.

Platinum award winners
Anchorage Water & Wastewater Utility embraces continuous improvement. New metrics enhance its management toolbox – quantifying pipeline break statistics, equipment performance, employee engagement and customer satisfaction. The utility tracks employee suggestions, public concerns, capital investment decisions and other actions to maintain public accountability and transparency. Staff development is promoted throughout the utility. Reliable infrastructure, responsible finances and professional service promote public health and protect the environment.

Aurora Water strives for excellence through development of an integrated water master plan, key divisional reorganizations, a new compensation model and extensive performance metrics. Two of its treatment facilities earned Phase IV Excellence in Water designations from the Partnership for Safe Drinking Water. Aurora Water's potable reuse system provides the foundation for the first regional water-sharing partnerships of its kind. Its energy master plan outlines clear-cut goals to guarantee it is conducting business responsibly.

Boston Water and Sewer Commission's asset management approach, combined with an active leak detection and flushing program, dramatically reduced water pipe failures and produced a drop in unbilled water from 48 percent to 14 percent. Installation of automatic meter readers increased customer satisfaction and allowed for billing based on actual usage. Programs are in place to assist ratepayers when an emergency occurs with their personal sewer or water line. IT infrastructure improvement is ongoing to become more proactive and limit costs to ratepayers.

Denver Water is becoming a "Lean" organization, and process improvements made by employees have resulted in over $5 million of savings. Operating costs are trending down, the total number of injuries has dropped 26 percent and unplanned customer-outage hours have decreased 32 percent. It helped initiate collaboration among Colorado River stakeholders and has a scenario approach to water supply planning, capital budgeting and long-range financial planning. The utility is redeveloping its operating campus to increase efficiency, provide better customer service, and create an attractive workplace. For emergency planning it has completed a fully redundant disaster-recovery facility and disaster-specific plans.

The East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) has completed a $482 million project to deliver supplemental water supplies, greatly improving resiliency. Its business continuity program minimizes disruptions of critical business functions and enhances its capability to recover operations expediently following an event that causes business interruptions. The program includes preparing plans, conducting training and exercises, completing mitigation activities and performing outreach efforts. EBMUD proactively replaces pipelines to maintain high reliability and customer service. Its replacement rate will double from 7.5 miles per year to 15 miles in fiscal year 2016 and will continue to increase to about 40 miles per year in 2025-35.

In the past decade, the Las Vegas Valley Water District's economic environment provided a catalyst for change and organizational redirection. Focus shifted from capital projects to keep up with demand to an emphasis on operations and maintenance. Investments were made to maintain the existing water delivery system, rather than expand it. The district became leaner and more efficient. A companywide strategic planning effort led to process changes that provide for a more effective organization.

Prior to the early 1980s, Scottsdale Water relied 100 percent on groundwater for its drinking water supplies. Today, through strategic planning, innovation and community support, it has a diverse water portfolio with approximately 90 percent of its drinking water coming from renewable surface water supplies. The utility operates sophisticated indirect potable reuse facilities and recharges an average of 1.4 billion gallons of purified recycled water into the aquifer annually – pumping less groundwater out of the aquifer than it recharges back in since 2006.

The South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority strategic plan sets a course to reduce costs and target inefficiencies.  It developed a 10-year financial stability model, instituted workforce flexibility and succession planning, optimized operations to reduce costs and increase product quality, and made safety a strategic focus. The authority maintains a customer satisfaction index of over 90 percent. It focuses on employee and leadership development; ensures operational resiliency and continuity of operations; contributes to regional sustainability; and provides efficient, sustainable capital planning and delivery.

Gold award winner
Fort Collins Utilities has put in place numerous processes for exceptional utility performance, starting with ISO Certification for Environmental Management for its water treatment facility. The water system benefits from a robust strategic financial planning process, an asset management program that includes infrastructure modeling and capital improvement planning, and use of a continuous improvement cycle. Customer satisfaction and stakeholder understanding efforts garner high grades. An extensive water rights portfolio ensures access to water in even the driest years and a rigorous testing program assures high-quality finished water.

About AMWA
The Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies is an organization of the largest publicly owned drinking water suppliers in the United States.


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