10 Attributes of Effectively Managed Water Utilities

Water organizations lay the framework for a utility's path to effective and sustainable operations
10 Attributes of Effectively Managed Water Utilities
From product quality to employee leadership and development, these 10 attributes are the building blocks of effectively managed water utilities.

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The American Public Works Association and seven key water associations, including the American Water Works Association, the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, the National Association of Water Companies, the Association of Clean Water Agencies, the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators and the Water Environment Federation, in collaboration with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, announced the release of the Effective Utility Management (EUM) Report at the National Water Policy Forum in Washington, D.C.

The report, titled "Taking the Next Step: Findings of the Effective Utility Management Review Steering Group," identifies refinements to the EUM framework, which includes "10 Attributes of Effectively Managed Utilities" — or building blocks — of effectively managed water sector utilities.

1. Product quality
Produces potable water, treated effluent, and process residuals in full compliance with regulatory and reliability requirements and consistent with customer, public health and ecological needs.

2. Customer satisfaction
Provides reliable, responsive and affordable services in line with explicit, customer-accepted service levels. Receives timely customer feedback to maintain responsiveness to customer needs and emergencies.

3. Employee and leadership development
Recruits and retains a workforce that is competent, motivated, adaptive and safe-working. Establishes a participatory, collaborative organization dedicated to continual learning and improvement. Ensures employee institutional knowledge is retained and improved upon over time. Provides a focus on and emphasizes opportunities for professional and leadership development and strives to create an integrated and well-coordinated senior leadership team.

4. Operational optimization
Ensures ongoing, timely, cost-effective, reliable and sustainable performance improvements in all facets of its operations. Minimizes resource use, loss, and impacts from day-to-day operations. Maintains awareness of information and operational technology developments to anticipate and support timely adoption of improvements.

5. Financial viability
Understands the full life-cycle cost of the utility and establishes and maintains an effective balance between long-term debt, asset values, operations and maintenance expenditures, and operating revenues. Establishes predictable rates — consistent with community expectations and acceptability — adequate to recover costs, provide for reserves, maintain support from bond rating agencies, and plan and invest for future needs.

6. Infrastructure stability
Understands the condition of and costs associated with critical infrastructure assets. Maintains and enhances the condition of all assets over the long-term at the lowest possible life-cycle cost and acceptable risk consistent with customer, community, and regulator-supported service levels, and consistent with anticipated growth and system reliability goals. Ensures asset repair, rehabilitation and replacement efforts are coordinated within the community to minimize disruptions and other negative consequences.

7. Operational resiliency
Ensures utility leadership and staff work together to anticipate and avoid problems. Proactively identifies, assesses, establishes tolerance levels for, and effectively manages a full range of business risks (including legal, regulatory, financial, environmental, safety, security and natural-disaster-related) in a proactive way consistent with industry trends and system reliability goals.

8. Community sustainability
Is explicitly cognizant of and attentive to the impacts its decisions have on current and long-term future community and watershed health and welfare. Manages operations, infrastructure and investments to protect, restore and enhance the natural environment; efficiently uses water and energy resources; promotes economic vitality; and engenders overall community improvement. Explicitly considers a variety of pollution prevention, watershed and source water protection approaches as part of an overall strategy to maintain and enhance ecological and community sustainability.

9. Water resource adequacy
Ensures water availability consistent with current and future customer needs through long-term resource supply and demand analysis, conservation and public education. Explicitly considers its role in water availability and manages operations to provide for long-term aquifer and surface water sustainability and replenishment.

10. Stakeholder understanding and support
Engenders understanding and support from oversight bodies, community and watershed interests, and regulatory bodies for service levels, rate structures, operating budgets, capital improvement programs, and risk management decisions. Actively involves stakeholders in the decisions that will affect them. 

For more information about the EUM report titled "Taking the Next Step: Findings of the Effective Utility Management Review Steering Group," please visit watereum.org/about/ or contact Anne Jackson, APWA director of sustainability, at ajackson@apwa.net

About APWA 
The American Public Works Association is a not-for-profit, international organization of more than 29,000 members involved in the field of public works. APWA serves its members by promoting professional excellence and public awareness through education, advocacy and the exchange of knowledge. APWA is headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, has an office in Washington, D.C., and 63 chapters in North America. 


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