New benchmarking tool helps water plants meet effective utility management goals

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DENVER, CO, Feb. 8, 2014 -- A new tool helping water and wastewater utilities develop and implement ten key attributes for effective utility management (EUM) was recently released by the Water Research Foundation (WRF), a global water research provider dedicated to advancing the science of water, in conjunction with CH2M HILL, a global full-service consulting, design, construction, and operations firm.

WRF sponsored project #4313, Performance Benchmarking for Effectively Managed Water Utilities, to provide a practical tool for utilities to conduct self-assessments and strategically develop key organizational attributes to meet specific goals. The tool builds on recommendations presented in the report, Effective Utility Management: A Primer for Water and Wastewater Utilities, which was established in 2008 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), six water and wastewater industry associations, and representatives from 16 utility systems.

"The Water Research Foundation recognized that water utilities were compelled to work towards more effective utility management but could benefit from detailed guidance on the implementation of more sustainable methods of operation," said Robert Renner, WRF executive director. "Project resources provide utilities direction as to the important practice areas that can support effective utility management and a structured process to track performance."

The EPA, the associations that sponsored the initial development of the Primer, a project advisory committee, and nearly 30 utilities provided valuable input on the benchmarking guidance and tool. The resources include an Excel-based tracking tool, user guide for the tool, and guidance document that can help utilities meet EUM goals -- all free and accessible to the general public.

The document provides utilities with specific recommendations on how to benchmark their current and target performance for attributes and identify strategies to address gaps in order to improve performance and effectiveness of their systems. Additionally, a free webcast presenting the project results and resources will be held on Thursday, March 6 (registration available here).

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and several North American organizations promoting the interests of water and wastewater utilities have identified EUM practices to support utilities on a more sustainable path. In 2006, these organizations joined a collaborative effort that produced the report, Findings and Recommendations for a Water Utility Sector Management Strategy, which identified the following "Ten Attributes of Effectively-Managed Water Sector Utilities":

1.    Product Quality
2.    Customer Satisfaction
3.    Employee and Leadership Development
4.    Operational Optimization
5.    Financial Viability
6.    Infrastructure Stability
7.    Operational Resilience
8.    Community Sustainability
9.    Water Resource Adequacy
10.  Stakeholder Understanding and Support

WRF identified two major gaps that hampered utilities' efforts when trying to implement the ten attributes: an explicit identification of practice areas that utilities can use to support these efforts, as well as a structured process benchmarking exercise to guide the development and implementation of these attributes. To fill these gaps, WRF funded Project #4313.

Accordingly, the Foundation worked with nearly 30 water, wastewater and stormwater utilities of various size and geographies from North America, the United Kingdom and Australia on this project. Recommendations for utilities interested in using this EUM benchmarking tool and guidance include:

1.       Forming a benchmarking team and develop an initial plan of action
2.       Selecting EUM attributes to address
3.       Selecting associated practice areas and performances measures to address
4.       Revising the plan of action (if necessary)
5.       Conducting self-assessment benchmarking for selected attributes, practice areas and performance measures
6.       Evaluating results and identifying methods to narrow priority gaps
7.       Developing follow-up plans

See also:

"Water associations, EPA release case studies for effective utility management practices"

"Effective utility management primer, electronic toolbox released"

About the Water Research Foundation

The Water Research Foundation is an internationally recognized leader in sponsoring research that supports the water community in holistically and cooperatively managing water from all sources to meet social, environmental, and economic needs. WRF’s research provides reliable and relevant solutions to the most critical challenges facing the water community today and into the future. Founded in 1966, WRF is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that has sponsored nearly 1,500 research projects and serves more than 1,000 subscribing organizations. For more information, visit www.WaterRF.org.

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