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WATER AND SEWER UTILITY PARTNERING WITH WHOLESALE CUSTOMERS

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The creation of partnering agreements between multiple parties is a common way of conducting business. Partnering agreements can be made at a single moment in time for the sole purpose of accomplishing one significant objective, or they can be continuous processes aimed at building mutual trust, cooperation, respect, and enhanced communication. A partnering agreement allows parties to work together to identify and resolve problems as a team.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) has established partnering agreements with both its wholesale water and sewer customers. DWSD initiated the first partnering effort between its staff and project consultants in December 1993 to guide efforts on the development of its Long Term Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) Program. At the time, partnering was seen as a way to create a cohesive team from a large, diverse group and to capitalize on individual knowledge to develop a cost-effective solution. The success of the initial partnering effort in meeting its goals led DWSD to apply the concept towards other objectives. Subsequently, DWSD has entered into three additional partnering agreements: one with its consultants to further planning and program efficiency; one with its wholesale sewer customer communities designed to overcome an atmosphere of mistrust regarding the overall rate-making process; and one with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality aimed at developing a demonstrative approach to CSO control, which was, at that time, contrary to the agency's thinking that "one size fits all." Through these agreements, committees have been formed to address issues related to benefits, flows, rates, contracts, public involvement, and management. DWSD recently signed a partnering agreement with its wholesale water customers, whereby establishing similar committees to address issues relating to rates, best management practices, water master plan activities, public communication, and management. In each case, the partnering agreement has served to benefit both DWSD and its wholesale customers, while building a level of trust, confidence, and commitment between the signatory parties.

In this paper, the successful partnering agreements between DWSD and its wholesale customers will be discussed. In order to more clearly articulate the overall benefits that partnering has and can achieve for a public utility, this paper will discuss:



The history of DWSD's partnering agreements.


The role the participating parties have on the various committees created to address the key issues of concern for both DWSD and its wholesale customers


The achievements that have been realized to date.


The next steps in the partnering process.


Partnerships between utilities, consultants, customers, and regulatory agencies enable diverse and sometimes opposing parties to have open communications and share responsibilities equitably, resulting in an atmosphere of trust, faith, confidence, sharing, and commitment. This paper will additionally address how diverse work groups can work together toward the common goal of producing a cleaner, safer environment while implementing cost-effective solutions that the utility, its customers, and state and federal environmental regulatory agencies can accept.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2004-01-01

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