Competitive public drinking water utilities earn national recognition: AMWA

The Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) honored 16 public drinking water systems with its top utility management awards. Two systems earned Gold Awards for Competitiveness Achievement and 14 systems received Platinum Awards for Sustained Competitiveness Achievement, awarded for the first time this year...

Oct 15th, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG, FL, Oct. 19, 2004 -­ The Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) honored 16 public drinking water systems with its top utility management awards.

Two systems earned Gold Awards for Competitiveness Achievement, recognizing their accomplishments in applying competitive business strategies to meet the high expectations of drinking water consumers and municipal government leaders. In addition, 14 systems received Platinum Awards for Sustained Competitiveness Achievement, awarded for the first time this year, recognizing their long-term excellence and innovation in utility management.

Winners of the AMWA 2004 Gold Awards for Competitiveness Achievement are:
-- City of Fort Worth Water Department
-- City of San Diego Water Department

Winners of the AMWA 2004 Platinum Awards for Sustained Competitiveness Achievement are:
-- Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility
-- Chesterfield County Utilities Department (Va.)
-- Columbus Water Works (Ga.)
-- Contra Costa Water District (Calif.)
-- El Paso Water Utilities
-- Las Vegas Valley Water District
-- Onondaga County Water Authority (N.Y.)
-- City of Portland Bureau of Water Works (Ore.)
-- Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities
-- Seattle Public Utilities
-- Spartanburg Water System (S.C.)
-- Tualatin Valley Water District (Ore.)
-- Tucson Water
-- Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (Md.)

"AMWA's Gold Award-winning water systems successfully reinvented, reengineered and reinvested to establish new business directions in an increasingly competitive water industry environment," said AMWA President David Rager, director of the Greater Cincinnati Water Works. "They met goals for overall efficiency, cost of operation and quality of service, while establishing forward-looking plans to maintain their infrastructure and ensure adequate future water supplies," Rager said.

"The Platinum Award winners have established a track record of achievement," Rager noted. "Whether they are using cross training for smaller, more flexible work forces, establishing capital improvement reserve funds to stabilize rates, or introducing technologically advanced automation and information systems, they are continuously applying best management practices to meet the public's requirements for safe water and low-cost service," he added. AMWA¹s Platinum Awards program was open to utilities that earned Gold Awards at least three years ago.

"With their exceptional competitiveness achievements, both the Gold and Platinum award winners raise the bar for the water industry and are a credit to their communities," Rager said.

Gold Awards
In recent years, benchmarking assessments at the Fort Worth Water Department resulted in better efficiency and cost savings and provided tools to help utilities improve service. The utility¹s PAY$ program provides financial rewards to employees for suggestions leading to improved processes and customer service and a reduction in operational costs.

The San Diego Water Department uses a Bid-to-Goal effort that departs from conventional thinking to focus on the development of a public employee labor/management collaboration aimed at achieving the best possible service delivery at competitive costs. San Diego is the first water utility in the country to combine ISO 14001 certification for environmental management practices with a Bid-to-Goal program.

Platinum Awards
Since receiving the Gold Award in 2001, Anchorage Water & Wastewater Utility (AWWU) continued a competitiveness process of continuous improvement designed and driven by its employees. As a result of major technology initiatives, systems integration and numerous other improvements, customers per employee increased from 375 to 400 and the amount of plant per employee increased from $3.2 million to $3.8 million. During this period of no rate increases, AWWU¹s bond rating increased from A to AA minus.

Chesterfield County Utilities (Va.) established a Rate Stabilization Reserve Fund to assure funding for infrastructure replacement in the future. The rate-setting model incorporates operating and capital improvement budgets, rate stabilization reserve funding for the next 10 years and bond covenant requirements. The utility¹s enhanced financial position was recognized when its bond rating was raised from AA to AAA by the three primary rating agencies, one of only two joint water/wastewater utilities in the nation to achieve this status.

Columbus Water Works (Ga.) has invested considerable effort to promote a cultural change, which values innovation, self-direction and empowerment of employees. It has encouraged a team-oriented work process, which stresses cooperation and communication. Open discussion and examination of all work processes are encouraged and the positive work environment encourages a participative work effort.

Contra Costa Water District (CCWD - Calif.), one of the largest urban water districts in California, is a leader in water treatment technology and source water protection. CCWD completed over $600 million in major projects since 1999. A 100,000 acre-foot reservoir in Los Vaqueros delivers better quality water and provides an emergency water supply. A 21-mile long treated water pipeline provides a new distribution system and a backup to the existing canal. While implementing new projects, CCWD held water rate increases at half of inflation.

Serving a growing population in a desert community, El Paso Water Utilities effectively mitigated dire predictions of unsustainable groundwater pumping by implementing an aggressive conservation rate structure; proactive conservation education and rebate programs; adding water management strategies (including utilization of reclaimed water); and building the world¹s largest inland desalination plant.

To meet the demands of a rapidly expanding community and the worst drought in recorded history, the Las Vegas Valley Water District committed to a comprehensive program of continuous improvement, measured conservation and community activism. Las Vegas leverages technology, teamwork and continuous skill development to build and maintain efficient and effective facilities and operations.

In 1990, the Onondaga County Water Authority (OCWA - N.Y.) employed 132 people and provided service to just over 56,000 accounts. Throughreengineering, reinvention and investment in automation, OCWA now servesnearly 48 percent more customers with 11 percent fewer employees. Over thepast 11 years OCWA saw total plant and water rights grow by more than $82.5 million.

The City of Portland Bureau of Water Works (Ore.) achieved a 24.8 percent reduction in its operating and maintenance budget over the last five years, using the savings to offset financial impacts of increased capital spending and to support rate relief to its customers, while maintaining an Aa1 bond rating.

At Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities, customers benefit from additional on-line services, employees benefit from union cooperatives and an outstanding safety program, and work force quality is fostered by a comprehensive internal training program. Salt Lake¹s AA bond rating reflects its commitment to efficiency while its aggressive focus on source protection, water treatment optimization and distribution maintenance ensures quality drinking water.

In its economic analyses of capital projects and programs, Seattle Public Utilities applies the Triple Bottom Line concept, which recognizes that actions, projects and programs have social and environmental outcomes as well as financial. The utility looks at the costs and benefits over the lifetime of the project or program, not just the initial development and construction costs. This approach has already saved millions of dollars.

At Spartanburg Water System (S.C.), the Pursuing Excellence strategic planning process provides a more diversely skilled and motivated work force, streamlines the management structure and increases the service area and revenue base. It also improves customer satisfaction, enhances water quality and security and expands the water supply. Environmental compliance exposure is reduced, debt service coverage and reserve funding are enhanced, and bond ratings are improved.

The Tualatin Valley Water District (Ore.) provides full services to three public water utilities. Cost competitiveness and water quality analyses helped the District determine its 25 year investment program. Tualatin's long-standing competitive pay program, strong financial position, low employee turnover and low ratio of employees per capita continue to make it highly competitive in the water service industry.

Organizational transformation at Tucson Water began with a comprehensive maintenance management program involving multi-skilled workers, skill-based pay and performance incentive pay, new organization and procedures, new technology, substantial training (including a leadership academy) and safety focus within the 5-Star Safety audit program. Because Tucson Water has a real-time water quality information system, the utility is partnering with a number of national organizations and firms to test new real-time security systems and devices.

Since 1996, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC - Md.) successfully flattened its organizational structure and eliminated a level of management, including reducing management positions from 93 to 61 and cutting 643 staff jobs. The utility has not had a rate increase in six years while earning and maintaining its first AAA bond rating from the three major bond rating agencies. WSSC is currently reengineering 14 of its business processes.

About AMWA
AMWA is the organization for the nation¹s largest publicly owned drinking water utilities. Its members provide safe and clean drinking water to more than 120 million Americans.

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