2001 Gold Award for Competitiveness Achievement

AWMA's 2001 Gold Awards for Competitiveness Achievement were presented to:

  • City of Akron Public Utilities Bureau
  • City of Albuquerque Water Utility
  • Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility
  • Anne Arundel County Department of Public Works Bureau of Utility Operations
  • City of Austin Water and Wastewater Utility
  • City of Atlanta Department of Water
  • City of Chicago Department of Water
  • Greater Cincinnati Water Works
  • Des Moines Water Works
  • East Bay Municipal Utility District
  • El Paso Water Utilities
  • Green Bay Water Utility
  • Knoxville Utilities Board
  • Metropolitan Water District of Southern California
  • Orange County Water Division
  • City of Raleigh Public Utilities Department
  • City of St. Louis Water Division
  • Saint Paul Regional Water Services
  • Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities
  • Tacoma Water
  • Tampa Water Department
  • Tualatin Valley Water District
  • Tucson Water
  • Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission

In 1998, when its water rates were among the highest in the state, the City of Akron Public Utilities Bureau recognized the need to stabilize rates by changing the way it operated its utilities. A Blue Ribbon Commission evaluated work practices and produced a report that served as a catalyst for Akron to change the way it does business. EMA Inc., hired to perform an analysis of the Public Utilities Bureau (PUB), found a competitive gap of $10 million in annual controllable O&M costs. This led to selection of the Leading Change Team (LCT), a steering team consisting of a cross-section of the work force, including management and labor, with representatives from each division. The LCT commissioned six major core design teams, plus several smaller work teams to encourage the team concept. Notices were posted publicly to allow all interested employees the opportunity to apply. As a result of the Blue Ribbon Committee report, EMA assessment and employee design teams, Akron achieved $4.6 million accumulated savings in controllable O&M costs over the last two years. The city's PUB is becoming highly trained, flexible and efficient, using best business practices to be competitive and supplying citizens with quality services at stable rates.

Faced with significant operating challenges and opportunities, the City of Albuquerque's Water Utility is undertaking a major change initiative to become more competitive. Groundwater supply and quality issues triggered the need for water conservation and construction/operation of a new surface water treatment plant. The effects of water conservation in turn resulted in declining revenues per customer, and the new surface water plant will add to the operations and maintenance burden of the utility. Potential regionalization of water services in the Rio Grande Valley presents an opportunity to expand the service area of the water utility with a resulting increase in revenue. However, prior to expansion, the utility must be able to provide a high-quality product at a competitive price. Albuquerque's change initiative includes the Albuquerque Water Operations and Management System (AWOMS), which merges integrated information from a new Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) and state-of-the-art Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition system (SCADA). These systems work in concert with retooled O&M practices to produce a competitive and highly efficient water utility. Currently, the utility is mid-way through a five-year optimization project to apply these new technologies and practices to yield bottom-line results for its customers.

Since a devastating depression in Alaska served as a wake up call in 1987, Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility (AWWU) has steadily worked to stabilize expenses and to increase revenues, efficiency, customer service and quality. These efforts culminated in the utility's Excellence Adventure, a competitiveness process designed and driven by employees to make AWWU a world-class utility. As a result, customers per employee increased 56 percent from 242 to 377 and the amount of plant per employee increased 144 percent from $1.3 million to $3.25 million. The last AWWU rate increase was in 1992 and since then net income increased from $203,000 to $10.5 million. During the same period, the utilities' water revenue bond rating increased from A to AA-. The engine behind many of these improvements is employee involvement on teams chartered with specific goals and deadlines. Participation on teams for strategic planning and competitiveness efforts grew steadily from 48 employees in 1998 to an estimated 106 (40 percent of total employees) in 2001, creating a tremendous synergy. The number of grievances and accidents are at a historical low while employee ideas/suggestions and employee morale are high. AWWU is on its way to attaining a lasting culture of employee involvement and continuous improvement.

In 1996, the Anne Arundel County Department of Public Works undertook a competitiveness assessment that determined a need for change in order to compete with the best of private utilities. In an effort to avoid privatization, a program was put into place to change work practices and move to a team-based culture called EXCEL for Excellence in Cost Effective Leadership. EXCEL is led by a steering team of labor and management representatives whose goal is to achieve environmentally sound water and wastewater service with rate stability. A pilot project showed that a team-based culture could improve productivity and work practices, allowing effective operation with a reduced staff. Since1999, staff reduction through attrition and energy savings have saved the Bureau $3.1 million, reducing the competitive gap from 19 percent to 10 percent. The supervisory ratio increased from 1:9 to 1:13 through a Bureau-wide reorganization and attrition. Currently, employees are undergoing an extensive training program to develop multiple skills in the fields of mechanical, electrical, instrumentation and operations as part of a flexible workforce program that increases efficiency and productivity.

From the early 1990s, the City of Atlanta Department of Water has made significant efforts to improve operating efficiency and reduce costs, while providing excellent service to customers. Staff positions were reduced from 863 in 1993 to 480 at the end of 1998. A one-stop call center, initiated in 1997, has vastly improved customer service. Aging steam powered pump stations are being replaced with new electric powered facilities, and a new $42 million, 200 MGD pump station for the downtown area will be on line by the end of 2001. Energy incentives with the electrical utility and new operating patterns have saved over $1 million annually in energy costs. Back-up electric power generation projects, totaling $22 million, will be completed by the end of 2001 for the two major treatment plants and all the most critical pump stations, ensuring operational reliability. Atlanta is also promoting water conservation education by providing a summer xeriscape program to customers. In 1999, Atlanta entered a 20-year contract with a private firm, United Water Services Atlanta, to manage water system O&M. The agreement will save the city $20 million annually and $400 million over the term of the contract. The Atlanta Water Department continues to maintain a small staff to oversee and manage the firm's performance and to manage the capital improvements program, an aggressive five-year plan with more than $502 million in facility and distribution improvements.

The population in counties served by the City of Austin Water and Wastewater Utility increased more than 40 percent in the last decade, with a corresponding 36 percent explosion in average water demand. The challenge has been to meet both this increased need and higher customer expectations through a strategy of continuous process improvement and a customer satisfaction philosophy. Using benchmarking, competitiveness assessments and employee involvement, the Utility systematically created and implemented systems, processes and programs to increase efficiency, effectiveness and competitiveness. Major accomplishments include: accommodating the increased demand for products and services with fewer employees; increasing the capacity for water production and delivery; stabilizing water service rates over the planning horizon; upgrading the Utility's bond rating to an A+; winning the Greater Austin Quality Council's Significant Merit in Quality award for two years; and, becoming a model for other utilities for the treatment plant operator and mechanic cross-training program, which resulted in a 20 percent reduction in operators. Not only has customer satisfaction with water quality increased by 22 percent, but internal customer (utility employee) satisfaction also increased by 11 percent, with labor and management successfully partnering to resolve mutual issues.

The Chicago Department of Water (CDOW) owns and operates the world's two largest purification plants, 12 pumping stations, 4,323 miles of mains, 47 miles of finished water tunnels and over 47,000 hydrants. CDOW purifies and distributes more than one billion gallons of water daily to over 5 million people. CDOW has earned an AA+ bond rating while maintaining the third lowest water rates in the nation. The department shortened its water main replacement cycle by 16 years and implemented a SCADA system for six of its pumping stations, reducing costs by $30 million. In addition, electricity costs are being lowered through a cooperative bulk purchase; a new billing and collection system was implemented to improve collections management; response time to water quality inquiries was reduced by almost 70 percent; over 23,000 engineering drawings were computer-archived; and the department received the GFOA Financial Accounting Award. CDOW is embarking on a department-wide review starting with a thorough analysis of water treatment, billing and collection, and procurement processes. The department will compare these with other utilities to maximize operational efficiencies without negative impact to employee morale. With a five-year, $620 million infrastructure investment, including 50 miles of annual main replacement, CDOW will continue to be competitive and maintain the high level of service its customers expect.

The Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW) is a 162-year-old municipally owned utility serving over 950,000 people in a 400-square-mile area. In 2000, the utility supplied an average day demand of 133 million gallons of water through both surface water and groundwater treatment plants using 2,800 miles of transmission and distribution mains. In addition, as the billing agent for the primary sewer and stormwater utilities in Hamilton County, GCWW operates a multi-utility billing operation of approximately 225,000 accounts. In 1995, a five-year Strategic Business Plan (SBP) was implemented to lead GCWW closer to its vision of being a utility that will serve as a standard for excellence in the water utility industry and will remain extremely competitive. Various strategies in the SBP were designed to allow GCWW to assist the southwest Ohio region grow economically by providing a reliable supply of high-quality water and outstanding services in a financially responsible manner. Results of the most successful strategies include: surveys demonstrating that GCWW customers are extremely pleased with the service received; a review of chemical treatment processes that saved $100,000 annually; utilization of real-time electric pricing that saved over $290,000; reduction of 70 employee positions; and participation in an award-winning groundwater protection program.

For more than 100 years, the independently operated Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) has been committed to supplying a safe and sufficient supply of drinking water to the residents of central Iowa. The largest drinking water utility in the state, DMWW currently services approximately 350,000 people. Through the years, changes have been implemented to improve water quality, increase water production, enhance and beautify the properties' landscape and provide educational opportunities for all ages. Some of the DMWW programs and projects include: a 1,400-acre park system used for watershed protection, picnics, walking, jogging, bike trails, flower beds and fishing; the Arie den Boer Arboretum; 200-acre Maffitt Reservoir, educational initiatives including a Water Wisdom newsletter for teachers; a DMWW Museum; an Urban Environmental Partnership to educate the public on the importance of water quality protection; a Volunteer Monitoring Project in the Raccoon River watershed; development of the Lime Sludge De-watering Facility; and Project H2O (Help-2-Others), a program to assist low-income households with the payment of water bills.

The East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) in Oakland, California, provides water service to 1.3 million customers and wastewater service to 610,000 customers. Despite rising inflation in the greater San Francisco Bay Area, EBMUD has met its strategic goal of keeping water and wastewater rates at or below the rate of inflation. The Capital Improvement Program is prioritized annually, investment is made in new technologies that increase efficiency and effectiveness, and the operating budget is continually reviewed for cost reductions. In 2000, EBMUD bought chemicals, pipe and other commodities through a single contract and entered into multi-year contracts to save over $1.5 million. At the same time, the utility promoted industry-leading programs in water conservation, water recycling, seismic improvement and water quality. EBMUD's 10-year, $189 million Seismic Improvement Program is internationally recognized for its proactive approach to seismic risk assessment and mitigation. At the program's halfway point, more than 200 critical facilities have been upgraded. Commitment to financial stability resulted in bond rating upgrades to AA and AA2, changes that will lower interest payments on new bonds by $5.5 million over 30 years.

Continuous process improvement by a workforce focused on quality and customer service is the mainstay at El Paso Water Utilities. In four years, costs have been reduced by re-engineering the organization and enhancing technology. Staff was reduced more than six percent while the customer per employee ratio improved by 14 percent because of rapid growth in the customer base. In addition, human resources were improved with enhanced training efforts, greater employee empowerment and better safety training, and workman's compensation claims were reduced 30 percent. While the utility is rapidly expanding its infrastructure, it has not neglected renovation needs. About $12 million per year is dedicated to renovation projects. The renovation program, combined with an expanded leak detection program, helped reduce unbilled water from 14 percent to 11 percent over the past few years. Because El Paso Water Utilities serves an arid, water-short region, it established an aggressive water conservation program that resulted in a 20 percent reduction in per capita water use since 1990. The Utility continues to be one of the most efficient water systems in the Southwest, whether measured by its low rates, AA3 and AA bond ratings or workforce size.

Since the 1970s, the Green Bay Water Utility has been committed to improving the efficiency and effectiveness of its service through teamwork and participation, a cultural change that impacted all areas &endash; from purchasing through design teams. The utility met increases in customers supplied, customer services offered and mandated programs without the need for an expanded workforce. Water quality was upgraded with the addition of ozonation to the utility's treatment train, main rehabilitation proceeded without the need for rate increases, and GIS will bring real time information to repair crews and customer service personnel. An upgrade of the utility's SCADA system will allow one person to control the entire operation from pumping stations to pressure control vaults. Billing and record-keeping software are also being upgraded to allow for more efficient data handling and a more timely response to customer inquiries.

The Knoxville Utilities Board (KUB) provides electric, gas, water and wastewater service to 387,000 customers in East Tennessee. A successful traditional utility since 1939, KUB recognized in 1993 the need to adapt to the rapidly changing environment. KUB began to redefine itself around four corporate objectives: do the basics better; focus on the customer; be environmentally responsible; and serve the community's growth. Reorganization was undertaken along functional lines instead of by separate utility services. Employees focused on finding innovative ways to improve business processes and hold operating costs down through process improvement, re-engineering and organizational development. One innovative tool to improve service and efficiency is KUB's pilot water plant. A working scale model of the main plant, the pilot plant tests treatment processes and technologies for less money, in less time, and without risking the quality of the public water supply. The competitiveness strategy has paid off. KUB's 2002 budget marks the seventh consecutive budget without a rate increase, and operating cost per customer is actually four percent less than 10 years ago. KUB is proud of its efforts to improve service and hold rates down while continuing to maintain the integrity of its systems.

For 70 years, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern Californiahas successfully acquired and delivered high quality water supplies to Southern California. Recent years have seen a growth of external competition and political realities within California that threatened to change or reduce the utility's role. In late 1998 and into early 1999, the challenges and demands issued by the state legislature, member agencies and the public in general led Metropolitan's Board of Directors to recruit a new executive management team. The team would not only provide solutions to existing issues, but also positive direction and leadership for the organization into the next century. A plan to restructure Metropolitan was presented to the Board and approved in July 1999. This district-wide reorganization was necessary to become more responsive, accountable and transparent to Metropolitan's customers and the public in general. Moving forward with a strategy for appropriate and manageable change, management began reorganizing staff and analyzing business practices with a new vision in mind &endash; to reduce unnecessary organizational layers, eliminate inefficient business practices, increase competitiveness and meet the demands of customers while maintaining stable water rates. The past two years have produced substantial changes in not only how Metropolitan is viewed, but also how it will operate more effectively in the future. Accomplishments to date include: $144 million in operations, maintenance and capital savings, 188 fewer employees since April 1999, four new bargaining unit contracts, elimination of 150 consultant contracts, and improved relationships with customers.

The Orange County Water Division constantly monitors the effectiveness of programs and processes it established to meet citizens' needs and develops new techniques to ensure that future needs are met. The Water Division's mission is to provide customers with safe and reliable water services by continually improving facilities, work processes and the capabilities of employees. The Water Division's competitiveness strategy includes a variety of initiatives. As the population of Orange County continues to grow, more water facilities have been built to provide adequate service. A state-of-the-art laboratory was completed in 1998 at the Eastern Regional Water Supply Facility that allows staff to work in a central location to perform all necessary testing. Maintenance of equipment and training of personnel are top priorities in the Water Division. Public education for community groups and in public schools continues to expand as innovative programs, such as "Touring the Water Facts," are developed.

The City of Raleigh Public Utilities Department provides water to a service population of approximately 315,000 customers. While experiencing a period of large growth, Raleigh remains committed to providing quality services at an affordable cost to its citizens. With only two rate increases during the past 12 years, current utility rates are the second lowest in the state and among the lowest in the region. Two new two-million-gallon elevated storage tanks, a new five-million-gallon clearwell and a new ozone generator top the list of recent improvements to the system. A proposed new water treatment plant is in the design phase to accommodate additional growth. Raleigh currently maintains bond rates of Aa1 from Moody's, AAA from Fitch and AAA from Standard and Poor's, the first water and sewer utility in the U.S. to achieve AAA ratings from Fitch and S&P. Utility employees continue to be a vital part of the improvement process. A SIP (Service Improvement Program) Committee develops programs to improve service to both internal and external customers. Work Order Process Teams study ways to improve various work processes and increase efficiency.

For the City of St. Louis Water Division, competitiveness improvements begin and continue with staffing levels. The improvement process started in 1996 when each section manager was charged with evaluating the number of positions needed to perform critical functions. The resulting reduction of 8.7 percent of staff was realized through re-thinking work processes and utilizing technology advances, without any layoffs. Completion of a touch-read meter reading system, with an on-going migration to an automated meter reading system (AMR), more than doubled the productivity of meter readers. With the final installation of the AMR system, the meter reading force will be reduced to one individual. As a water utility in a city with fixed boundaries, the Water Division determined to use its excess capacity to become a regional water supplier. Using its Howard Bend Plant on the Missouri River as the source, it successfully negotiated to supply three wholesale customers in neighboring St. Charles County. An aggressive capital improvement program was initiated. A completely new reservoir (two tanks) was built within the historic exterior of the previous reservoir, retaining the character of the neighborhood. Also, a new pre-sedimentation and softening basin was added at the Chain of Rocks Plant on the Mississippi River to ensure compliance with future quality regulations. Conventional and innovative technologies are being utilized to upgrade the distribution infrastructure.

Saint Paul Regional Water Services (SPRWS) has focused its efforts in three areas. The first is water quality. Although the utility has access to abundant sources, SPRWS never takes water quality for granted and is committed to protecting the supply, improving treatment and ensuring delivery. Second is customer service. SPRWS regularly seeks feedback through the use of surveys, which help the utility clarify policies and enhance customer service. SPRWS continues to expand its customer base by entering into wholesale, retail and acquisition partnerships with suburban communities. The utility also has emphasized cost effectiveness by managing performance. Appropriately deployed technology and other improvements are directly linked to reduced cost and improved efficiency. Over the past five years, SPRWS has managed to increase revenue-funded capital improvements by five percent annually while holding increases in operating expenses to 1.4 percent per year and rate increases well below inflation. SPRWS recognizes that a public utility can benefit from adopting tools and practices utilized by the private sector. The utility's excellent reputation as a publicly owned organization provides additional leverage for these tools, bringing SPRWS even closer to its goal of becoming the leading regional water service provider.

The Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities began its efforts to achieve continuous improvement and gain competitive advantage in 1992 when it embraced the philosophy and tools of total quality management. Since then, through extensive employee involvement, many processes have been improved and newer, more efficient and effective ones implemented. The department invested in SCADA technology to control a complex water distribution system, with only two employees monitoring the system. Water treatment plants combined operation and maintenance functions, and by using SCADA and particle counters, operators consistently maintain a 0.1 NTU finished water quality. Recognizing the need to continuously learn, the department implemented a leadership development program, which is open to any interested employee. A recently empowered Education Advisory Committee makes recommendations for technology, equipment, water industry and cross-training opportunities to improve employee communication, teamwork and job knowledge skills. The department partners with other government agencies, organizations and citizens to maintain superior source water quality while managing a watershed within the most-used national forest in the United States. A proactive watershed protection program helps keep the cost of water treatment down and reduces health risks by controlling pollution at the water supply source.

Tacoma Water stands ready to meet unexpected and expected changes in the economy, the climate, competition and regulation. The utility's primary resource is its staff of committed employees who are trained to think strategically, to use current process improvement tools, to innovate and to respond quickly to meet utility needs and exceed customer expectations. Employee teams can be assembled quickly to address issues and produce workable, cost-effective and timely solutions. One long-standing team, for example, identifies infrastructure replacement needs. Another more recent team has produced thoughtful recommendations to address a more immediate challenge, a budget shortfall resulting from a drought in the Northwest and the related downturn in business activity. Tacoma Water's new business plan and continuing progress on its second regional water supply project also add to the utility's ability to remain competitive. Tacoma Water is proud of its role as a leader in the community, the region and the water utility industry.

The Tampa Water Department serves a customer population of almost 500,000 through 120,000 connections in a 211 square mile service area. Its primary water resource is the Hillsborough River Reservoir Basin located adjacent to the historic Hillsborough River Water Treatment Plant and Dam. Tampa Water is proud of the department's tradition of innovation and continuous improvement with the simultaneous objectives of delivering unquestionable water quality, sound financial performance and customer satisfaction that is considered "best in class" for the industry. Beginning in 1996 with a comprehensive competitive assessment and a strategic re-evaluation of the objectives of the department's Water Quality Master Plan, Tampa Water launched its Water Quality 2000 initiative in the Production Operations Division. This initiative included re-engineering O&M processes and a series of facility upgrades to ensure superior water quality, cost containment and process flexibility and reliability into the 21st century. Workforce reductions (achieved without layoffs) with simultaneous improvement in productivity and job satisfaction were achieved through training, skills based compensation and automation projects. Water quality initiatives include rehabilitation of the existing filter galleries with new under-drains, the addition of air scour, activated carbon filter media and a 20 MGD production augmentation facility employing Actiflo and ozone disinfection technologies.

Located in the Portland, Oregon metropolitan area, Tualatin Valley Water District provides full water service to parts of three cities and unincorporated Washington County. The District is recognized for its competitive service and uses that competitive edge to obtain contracts to provide service to other agencies. In 2000, the City of Sherwood, the fastest growing city in Oregon during the '90s, selected the District to be its water operator and manager. In 2001, the Valley View Water District also selected the District for its O&M. Through a competitive bidding process in 2000 the city of Beaverton, Oregon chose the District to provide meter reading service. Meter reading services were reengineered, and a productivity meter reading pay program was established. Merit based pay for performance is applied to all District employees, who are not rewarded for longevity but for contributions they make to the organization each year. This resulted in a highly skilled workforce with a turnover rate just over 4 percent, with half of that due to retirements. The District's competitive pay program, strong financial position, low employee turnover and low ratio of employees per capita make it highly competitive in the water service industry.

The competitiveness achievement highlights of the Tucson Water Department include its Business Office Call Center, where staffing patterns are adjusted to most responsively handle customer calls, and 80 percent of the calls are answered in 20 seconds with less than a three percent drop rate. In addition, collapsed classifications and broad-banded skills in the department's Meter Service allow it to provide more efficient use of staff. Tucson Water evaluated Automatic Meter Reading technology and made routing and program changes to produce an efficiency increase of about 25 percent. The Maintenance Management Program is currently in a multi-year program to reengineer maintenance procedures in all areas of the department. This will involve reorganization, reclassification of positions, broad-banding of positions and a new maintenance computer system. A Reengineering Steering Committee was created of employees from throughout the department elected by their peers. The Committee coordinates multiple improvement projects, including a new job-shadowing/mentoring program to provide employees with new work/career experiences. A revolutionary water quality information system provides near real-time, neighborhood-based water quality information over the Tucson Water web site. The utility's financial system reflects information-based systems, customer and policy-driven rate structures, and the integration of short- and long-range plans and budgets.

The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) was created in 1918 by the State of Maryland to serve a 1,000 square mile bi-county area just outside Washington, D.C. For the first time in the Commission's 83-year history, it has a multi-year fiscal plan and a multi-year Blueprint for Change implementation plan which follow three parallel tracts: business strategies, cultural change and individual employee growth and development. WSSC received AAA bond ratings from all three investor agencies. Employee-led work teams have identified and implemented best practices in plants and maintenance to include flexible workforce, staffing for the baseload, importing in crisis, program driven maintenance, unstaffed operations, consolidated laboratory services, wireless access to information and incentive plans.