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How Utilities can take the Lead in Securing the Community's Future!

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“Leaders are those who know what to do next, know why that is important, and know what appropriate resources to bring to bear on the problem at hand. Then, through effective communication they influence others to follow.” - Barry Bowater

Following this philosophy is exactly what the charter members of the Florida Water Environment Association's Utilities Management Committee (FWEA UMC) envisioned in 2001 by creating a standing committee to collaboratively address common utility leadership issues. A team effort was recognized as a significant need to address limited capital financial resources, declining infrastructure, baby boomer retirements compounded by a smaller future workforce, increasing regulations, and rate payer increasing demand for greater value. What makes the FWEA UMC formation and effective action distinctive and successful stems from how the members influenced each other by sharing knowledge and resources which led to achieving significant results and benefits in a relatively short time frame. All WEF and AWWA member associations can benefit from this collaborative philosophy and work approach to achieving, measuring and sustaining utility performance improvements.

The purpose of the Utilities Management Committee started with creating an awareness of current and future leadership issues, which led to developing tools to address these issues and instructing utility representatives in how to apply them to address the issues. Beginning with just four charter members, it has become one of the most active and accomplished committees in the large FWEA member association in just six years Each utility and contributing member of the committee has dedicated its expertise to assist local Florida chapters with utility management advice and program content for their meetings. Additional available resources include the areas of Six Sigma, Florida Sterling (Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award), asset management and reorganization skills. Examples of results and accomplishments so far include the following:

In 2005, utility members joined together with the University of Florida TREEO Center to formalize the 2004 volunteer mutual aid efforts under the name of FlaWARN (Florida's Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network). FlaWARN provides preexisting agreements which establish ground rules for mutual aid and a coordinating website for swift recovery from storm related events. All of the lessons learned in Florida during the unprecedented hurricane activity in 2004 were included in the mutual aid agreement.

A Florida Benchmarking Initiative has been established in which eighteen Florida utilities participated and developed performance indicator definitions and formulas to reflect regional characteristics based on QualServe. This allows the comparison of drill-down measures to provide more information to respond with improvement action. Two benchmarking workshops have been held in 2007 and a partnership is being established to provide a database to house and share the Florida regional data.

Several Environmental Management System (EMS) workshops and technical sessions have been produced to create EMS awareness and provide skills to participants to initiate an EMS. The committee partnered with the WEF EMS committee in 2005 to provide a full day EMS workshop at WEFTEC. Several member utilities as a result have pursued EMS or National Biosolids Partnerships and three member utilities so far have received ISO 14001 certification.

One committee member leads the Peer Center in Florida ( with his University of Florida partner ( A Fact Sheet was prepared by the committee for the FWEA Utility Council to lobby the Florida legislature to authorize regulatory perks, such as pipeline extension self-permitting, reduction of monitoring requirements, and reduction of staffing requirements to utilities who have successfully implemented an EMS and proven their performance excellence reliability.

Fitting with the collaborative philosophy, the FWEA UMC joined with Florida Water Associations (FSAWWA, FRWA, and FWPCOA) to improve coordination and complement fund-raising activities for Water for People. The combined donor group enhanced the ability to seek matching funds from Rotary and other potential third-party contributors to sponsor specific projects tailored to Florida water community interests and become a top tier donator.

The Municipal Utility Performance Excellence Award in 2006 was inaugurated to recognize high performing Florida utilities. In 2007, the finalists from the 2006 Award presented their best practices at a workshop at the annual Florida Water Resources Conference. This best practice sharing workshop is now an annual event.

This paper serves two purposes: (1) to provide a road map of how the committee was formed, created and managed relationships, communicated and sets goals, and (2) to more fully present the benefits and lessons learned derived by utilities from their participation. Ultimately, the authors hope to inspire other member associations to rally and take the lead and address tomorrow's utility leadership issues today through a similar collaborative philosophy and approach.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2008-01-01

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