2004 Platinum Award for Sustained Competitiveness Achievement

Winners of the 2004 AMWA Platinum Awards for Sustained Competitiveness Achievement were:

  • Anchorage Water & Wastewater Utility
  • Chesterfield County Utilities
  • Columbus Water Works
  • Contra Costa Water District
  • El Paso Water Utilities
  • Las Vegas Valley Water District
  • Onondaga County Water Authority
  • City of Portland Bureau of Water Works
  • Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities
  • Seattle Public Utilities
  • Spartanburg Water System
  • Tualatin Valley Water District
  • Tucson Water
  • Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission

Since receiving the AMWA Gold Award for Competitiveness Achievement in 2001, Anchorage Water & Wastewater Utility (AWWU) has continued to stabilize expenses and increase revenues, efficiency, customer service and quality in a competitiveness process of continuous improvement designed and driven by AWWU 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, AWWU net income totaled $18.3 million and its water revenue bond rating increased from A to AA minus. What started as an employee steering team has evolved into a combination of formal teams for utility-wide efforts and more informal teams for the division and section levels. All supervisors are now part of the Leaders of Change Group, which is tasked with facilitating continuous improvement at AWWU. A tremendous synergy is occurring and the number of grievances and accidents are at a historical low while employee moral and customer satisfaction are at an all-time high. AWWU is on its way to attaining a lasting culture of employee involvement and continuous improvement.

Chesterfield Utilities today continues the Total Quality Initiative (TQI) it initiated in 1992. The TQI includes strategic planning, team problem solving, process management, performance based measurement, staff development, and rewards and recognition, all of which have positioned Chesterfield to easily implement competitiveness strategies as they have evolved in recent years. Chesterfield Utilities' efforts have allowed user charges to remain relatively low while at the same time achieving higher levels of customer satisfaction. The utility also 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. This approach avoids significant rate increases in a particular budget year. In 2002, Chesterfield Utilities' 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. Fitch Ratings commented, "The county's utilities department credit strengths include a positive operating performance record, substantial reserves, rapid debt repayment, sound management practices and healthy debt service coverage levels."

Columbus Water Works (CWW) focuses on continuous improvement by thinking competitively in all aspects of its operation. CWW measures itself against industry leaders and continually strives for improvement. CWW's competitive drive influences its strategic planning processes and financial planning processes by placing emphasis on compatibility and synergy of central business elements. All planning projects (i.e., Capital Improvement Plan, Financial Management Plan, Asset Management Plan and Strategic and Master Plan) are tested against CWW in order to be competitive and to excel in business, all to the benefit of the customer. CWW formed five strategic planning goal teams to pursue further development of its vision and major goals. Each goal team identified key strategies for advancing each goal. This effort was the continuation of a formal process intended to improve CWW's performance throughout every component of its business, thereby becoming more competitive. CWW 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. The organization also encourages open discussion and examination of all work processes, and the positive work environment encourages a participative work effort.

Contra Costa Water District's (CCWD) goal is to assure that the public not only receives a reliable supply of high-quality water, but that the process of delivering the water is both efficient and customer-focused. CCWD is one of the largest urban water districts in California and is a leader in water treatment technology and source water protection. CCWD has completed over $600 million in major projects since 1999. A 100,000 acre-foot reservoir in Los Vaqueros was built to deliver better quality water and provide an emergency water supply. A 21-mile long treated water pipeline and a pump station were constructed to provide a new distribution system and a backup to the existing canal. And, the Contra Costa Swim Lagoon was created to improve public health by separating a recreational swimming area from a large raw water reservoir. While implementing new projects, CCWD has succeeded at holding water rate increases at half of inflation. Current data shows that over 83 percent of customers give CCWD excellent marks.

El Paso Water Utilities has proactively embraced change as it moves into the 21st century. Serving a growing population in a desert community and sharing water resources with two other states and one other country dictates an assertive water management strategy. El Paso developed and continues to update its strategic plan, a 50-year water master plan and a strategic information systems plan. Guided by these plans and with input from key constituents, stakeholders, consultants and the community, El Paso aggressively implemented strategic goals and objectives. By implementing new technologies – such as Geographical Information Systems project management tools and the Enterprise Financial and Human Resources Systems cross training employees and reengineering processes – the utility lessened and even deferred operating and capital costs. El Paso adopted benchmarking and best management practices as a result of a major initiative to instill the concepts of Total Quality Management (TQM) and Continuous Process Improvements (CPI). It 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 world's largest inland desalination plant.

The Las Vegas community has grown rapidly, flourishing from a population less than 800,000 in 1990 to over 1.7 million today. For providers of municipal services, the challenges posed by unprecedented growth are compounded by the worst drought in recorded history. Through advanced planning, proactive leadership on emerging issues and collaboration with regional partners, the Las Vegas Valley Water District (LVVWD) met these challenges with tremendous success. To meet the demands of an expanding community, the LVVWD is committed to a comprehensive program of continuous improvement, measured conservation and community activism. The program encourages employee and community involvement in making the LVVWD more responsive, effective and efficient. This includes using open and inclusive decision-making processes that involve the local community, regional partners and employees. The LVVWD leverages technology, teamwork and continuous skill development to build and maintain efficient and effective facilities and operations. In addition to its local purveyor responsibilities, the LVVWD manages the Southern Nevada Water Authority and operates the Southern Nevada Water System. By responding effectively to the challenges of growth and drought, the LVVWD has remained exceedingly competitive, while maintaining its corporate values of respect for people, integrity, service and excellence.

The Onondaga County Water Authority (OCWA) set out on the competitiveness journey in 1990. At that time OCWA employed 132 people, provided service to 56,271 accounts and its "good year" standard for capital improvement projects was around the $3.5 million mark. Today the Authority employs 117 people providing service to 83,063 accounts located in 28 towns and 15 villages in a four-county region in Central New York. Through reengineering, reinvention and investment in automation, OCWA now serves nearly 48 percent more customers with 11 percent fewer employees and the "good year" standard for capital improvement projects is in the range of $7.5 million dollars per year. In fact, over the past 11 years OCWA saw total plant and water rights grow by more than $82.5 million. While internal growth averaged one percent per year over the last decade, the bulk of OCWA's expansion was the acquisition of 11 water systems ranging in size from 400 connections to nearly 7,000 connections. The Authority was able to accomplish this remarkable growth through a combination of excellent customer service coupled with reasonable water rates that compare favorably across the nation.

The City of Portland Bureau of Water Works created and sustained a strong organizational culture of performance measurement built on a process called City-wide Service Efforts and Accomplishments. Portland's successes are augmented by active involvement in benchmarking and ongoing work to develop and apply a balanced scorecard for the organization. Portland consistently evaluated and redesigned work practices to improve productivity and effectiveness and made substantial progress in dealing with critical but historically difficult projects. Portland 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. At the same time, the utility demonstrated a strong commitment to customer needs and carefully tracked performance and adjusted resources to ensure that performance targets were met. Portland maintains an Aa1 bond rating, demonstrating a strong organizational commitment to dealing with many challenges without undermining the utility's historically strong financial position. Finally, Portland prepared the organization for the future by investing in workforce training and development for key field positions and accomplished multiple objectives through this important program.

Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities (SLCPDU) maintains a high level of service to its customers and employees. The department emphasizes quality and retains a competitive position by providing excellent service at a reasonable price, and its success is reflected in high ratings from customers. The department's main achievements fall within four categories: customer focus, financial health, efficiency and effectiveness, and workforce quality. SLCPDU is continuously able to focus on these areas by tracking expressed goals monthly. Customer focus led to improved convenience for the customer through additional on-line services. Outreach to advisory groups during critical path policy development not only helped with approval but also acceptance. Not forgetting internal customers, union cooperatives, rewards and recognitions and an outstanding safety program make the SLCPDU a great place to work, and work force quality is fostered by a comprehensive internal training program. Financial health is critical to sustained success, and the SLCPDU's AA stand-alone bond rating is a notable achievement that reflects the utility's commitment to effectiveness and efficiency. In addition, its aggressive focus on source protection, water treatment optimization and distribution maintenance ensures quality drinking water at the customer's tap.

Seattle Public Utilities sustained a range of competitiveness accomplishments. Currently, Seattle is applying the Triple Bottom Line concept in its economic analyses of capital projects and programs. This concept recognizes that actions, projects and programs have social and environmental outcomes as well as financial. These implications are quantified and weighed in decision-making processes. As Seattle evaluates proposed new projects and programs, the utility is looking 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. Seattle has documented various customer and environmental service levels and established key performance indicators. It is working toward improving service levels in a variety of areas, including a recent initiative allowing customers to use Internet technology and interactive voice response technology to conduct business during and outside of normal business hours. Along with customer service improvements, Seattle also made significant improvements in crew productivity by establishing performance goals, developing monthly performance reports, consistent use of bi-weekly work programs, and developing and implementing best practices. As a result of these initiatives, 2003 water and wastewater operations and maintenance expenditures fell by eight percent.

The Spartanburg Water System (SWS) / Spartanburg Sanitary Sewer District (SSSD) recognizes that competitiveness with both public and private purveyors of water and wastewater services is essential to thriving in today's marketplace. To assure quality of life and continued economic growth in the community, SWS/SSSD vigorously pursued a path of benchmarking and continuous improvement under the umbrella of its Pursuing Excellence program. Through utilization of peer review via QualServe, independent third party competitiveness assessment, direct benchmarking against other utilities, customer and employee surveys and adoption of the WERF Balanced Scorecard Model, SWS/SSSD emerged as a strategy-focused organization. The benefits of this effort are many, including: a strategic planning process that balances customer needs; innovation, learning, and internal business processes with financial considerations; a more knowledgeable, diversely skilled and motivated work force; streamlined organizational and management structure; increased service area and revenue base; improved customer service and satisfaction as indicated by surveys; enhanced water quality and security; expanded water supply to meet one hundred year projections; reduced environmental compliance exposure; enhanced debt service coverage and reserve funding; and, improved bond ratings.

The Tualatin Valley Water District (TVWD) continues to improve upon the competitiveness programs it developed over the last five years. Management, operations and maintenance contracts are continually renewed while the District provides full services to three public water utilities. All present strong evidence of competitiveness. The TVWD Board of Commissioners sets annual goals which allow the District to set new strategies to help it maintain its competitive edge and seek new solutions that lower the cost of water to customers while at the same time maintaining a high quality of water. TVWD's continued dedication to service earned a 96 percent good or excellent customer satisfaction score. A key objective in 2004 is to evaluate the District's three water sources for both cost competitiveness as well as water quality. As a result of this analysis, TVWD will determine where to invest anywhere from $300 million to over $600 million over the next 25 years. The District's long-standing competitive pay program, strong financial position, low employee turnover and low ratio of employees per capita continue to make TVWD highly competitive in the water service industry.

Tucson Water measures customer service through surveys, focus groups and benchmarking studies. The utility has effectively reached out to Hispanic customers, succeeded at minimizing general rate increases and continues to effectively promote conservation through rates and programming. Organizational transformation is well underway, beginning 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 for all supervisory staff) and safety focus within the 5-Star Safety audit program. With significant employee assistance, Tucson Water is developing a Vision 2004 strategic plan to expand quality customer service and further achieve internal excellence. Its 50-year water resource plan, which explores alternatives to existing limited supplies, is nearly complete, using staff-developed tools. An internal Strategic Initiatives Team keeps abreast of issues potentially affecting the organization, and improved utility-wide planning led to the successful integration of the Colorado River into the Tucson Water system. 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.

The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission's (WSSC) journey to competitive achievement evolved through a number of critical stages. Rapidly approaching a decade of innovative initiatives, the journey began in the mid-1990s with the recognition and acknowledgment that privatization was a growing industry trend. Customers demanded cost and rate control as well as increased service levels. The WSSC had a high debt ratio, federal and state regulations required higher levels of treatment and the WSSC needed to adopt a more business-like approach. WSSC's is currently reengineering 14 of its business processes (including core processes), resulting in the implementation of revised work processes, skill-based compensation models, flexible worker programs combining multiple job descriptions, peer evaluations and performance measurement systems. Since 1996 WSSC successfully flattened the organizational structure and eliminated a level of management, including reducing management positions from 93 to 61 and cutting 643 staff jobs without adversely impacting productivity or safety while increasing salaries by 1.5 percent. WSSC proudly reports that it has not had a rate increase in six years while earning and maintaining the its first AAA bond rating from the three major bond rating agencies.