Best of 2021: Utilities Offer Top Strategies and Advice

Best of 2021: Utilities Offer Top Strategies and Advice

San Antonio (Texas) River Authority

One of the best things about the sewer and water industry is utility workers' willingness to share stories, advice, know-how and new technologies with others around the nation. Whether you're networking at trade shows, participating in educational events, meeting up online, or reading and contributing to trade magazines like Municipal Sewer & Water, you're all helping set a high standard for the industry.

In that same spirit of sharing, we've compiled some of the best stories and advice we heard from our featured utilities in 2021.

Our agency wants to help communities plan new development. We talk with various stakeholders about doing things differently based on what we have learned, rather than doing it the traditional way. We ask them to try for multiple benefits for their community as they go forward. That’s how we are trying to help manage and to get ahead of potential pollution problems.
—Dr. Sheeba Thomas, senior technical engineer, San Antonio (Texas) River Authority

I can’t overemphasize the benefit of talking to customers who believe they haven’t used the water we believe they have, then getting them on our app and showing them exactly how water was used two Saturday nights ago. When we are sharing the same facts, the path to agreement is much shorter.
—Frank Eskridge, deputy director of utilities, Columbia (South Carolina) Water

We are able to provide our service at a lower cost than a smaller utility could. This is a very, very expensive business. When you can add accounts and stretch operating costs across a larger customer base, it makes it somewhat cheaper to provide water as well as making it more efficient and effective.
—Michael Johnson, general manager, Birmingham (Alabama) Water Works

The public-private partnership was a fantastic deal for McAllen, for the developer and for ratepayers. The vision was there and the master plan was there. We will be able to serve close to 80,000 people out there and avoid using millions of gallons of potable water in serving them.
—David Garza. director of wastewater systems, McAllen (Texas) Public Utility

Great Lakes Water Authority in Detroit, Michigan
Great Lakes Water Authority in Detroit, Michigan

We knew we achieved something special when one of our member partners proposed redirecting their own capital dollars to a project downstream from their municipal boundary, realizing that it was a better project for improving water quality. I would encourage water utility managers to consider how they could implement a regional approach in their areas. It has brought GLWA cost-effective solutions that otherwise would not have been possible.
—Suzanne Coffey, Interim Chief Executive Officer, Great Lakes Water Authority in Detroit, Michigan

Competency-based training enables us to tacitly embed knowledge for new operators more efficiently and methodically than before, using consistent, user-friendly standard operating procedures for the full variety of tasks, developed by internal subject-matter experts.
—Steve Moore, general manager, Ross Valley Sanitary District in San Rafael, California

It’s important to reach out to people and explain to them the ‘why’ — that correlation between impervious surface and generating stormwater. Then you still need to handle the calls you get as you roll out the first stormwater bills. Residents will say things like, ‘Well, my house doesn’t generate runoff,’ or ‘My runoff just flows into a wetland behind the house and disappears.’ You just have to keep explaining. Make those connections for people.
—Dave Wheeler, superintendent, South Burlington (Vermont) Stormwater Services

End-of-pipe solutions don’t get at the root causes of combined sewer overflows. We believe that front-of-pipe solutions go after the root of the problem by collecting stormwater and diverting it from combined sewers. We frame it as green versus gray infrastructure. We try to think outside the box and go after the main culprit in combined sewer overflows, which is rainwater.
—Diana Christy, executive director, Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati

Indianola, Iowa
Indianola, Iowa

Anything related to municipal work and infrastructure — the work is never done. You say, for example, we have all the streets paved, so the end is in sight, but that’s not possible. Yes, we have more I&I work to do and the storm sewers need a little more TLC, but they’re not in bad shape. We’re sitting pretty nice. We’re good.
—Ryan Waller, city manager, Indianola, Iowa

I saw this product [manhole rings and covers from Composite Access Products] and it was sitting in a tank full of water and underneath the tank it was dry. It had been sitting in there for two weeks or something to that effect. When I saw that, I said, ‘That’s what we need.’ So we bought some and started to implement them into our system.
—Roy Barnes, deputy director of sewer and wastewater treatment, Fulton County (Georgia) Public Works

It would save a tremendous amount of money and time if we could roll multiple projects into one large infrastructure project. It made no sense to me to keep digging the street up time after time by doing separate projects.
—Roger Vance, mayor, Hillsboro, Virginia

You really have to look at the area where you are working to determine if it’s going to be a wise decision, or if there is something better you can do in that area. Every situation has a different solution. You must evaluate all of the ramifications that come along with it. For example, maybe putting in a larger interceptor pipe in a business district is easier than doing a separation.
—Susan Negrelli, director of engineering, The Metropolitan District in Hartford, Connecticut


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