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A Pathway to Effective Utility Management at Small and Medium-Sized Utilities

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Large water utilities have made use of management system frameworks to tackle environmental, quality and energy management and often the build-out of the system appears complex and involves multiple staff with roles and responsibilities across the organization. This can seem daunting to small and mid-sized operations and often results in utility managers in these smaller operations to not consider the approach due to resource constraints. That is unfortunate because small and medium sized utilities can also realize the operational benefits - increased efficiency, improved planning, and reduced operational costs - that larger utilities realize. It can be argued that incremental improvements may have greater relative impact in a small utility setting.

Streamlined development processes, scaled-down tools such as templates and checklists, as well as strategies such as peer-partnerships and guerrilla communications have been successful in moving the management system process forward in the case studies presented.

In early 2007, Lewiston-Auburn Water Pollution Control Authority (LAWPCA) was one of a handful of small utilities in New England and Tennessee which signed on to the National Biosolids Partnership's environmental management system (EMS) for biosolids program. These utilities have worked through defining how the systems will function in their respective utilities and are now putting that into practice. The challenges that these small utilities encountered and the techniques and tactics that enabled that progress will be presented.

A simplified process was mapped out combining development activities on related requirements which lowered a psychological barrier to what can be an overwhelming process. LAWPCA joined other small utilities and private firms in New England to form an ad hoc working group where development ideas were shared and friendly peer pressure kept the process moving forward. The level of cooperation extended to the internal auditing process where utilities were so small that finding staff that were familiar with the EMS protocol but also independent of the process was a challenge. A peer exchange of auditors between LAWPCA and Mechanic Falls, Maine benefited both agencies.

The City of New Bedford (Massachusetts) Department of Public Infrastructure (DPI) implemented a compliance focused EMS in 2004. While the EMS was in place and successfully satisfied the requirements established through a consent order, the department was not utilizing the system to improve operations beyond the requirements. Though the EMS Director was using guerilla communication techniques to engage staff at different levels, staff engagement was not sufficient to realize significant benefits from the system. Then in 2007 they partnered with their energy provider to monitor energy usage and participated in a load-shedding program. Many potential energy reduction actions were identified with real potential for cost savings. DPI needed a tool to sort through all of the available initiatives and decided to use the same process they used for ranking and prioritizing environmental aspects and when that worked exceedingly well, the usefulness of the EMS process became more evident. The process of identifying and ranking improvement initiatives was then aligned with the annual budget process and acceptance and use of the management system tools grew. This experience has opened the EMS process to a wider range of initiatives for improving efficiency and resource use reduction in an ongoing continual improvement process that is now embedded across the organization.

The tactics and techniques used by small utilities to successfully implement EMS and use the management system approach to drive performance improvements will be described and presented in graphic format in this poster presentation. This material will describe a path forward for managers of small and mid-sized water utilities who have heard about the advantages of the Plan-Do-Check-Act model for effective utility management but have resisted putting it into place at their utility.

Keywords: EMS; Effective Utility Management; small utilities

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2009

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  • Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation is an archive of papers published in the proceedings of the annual Water Environment Federation® Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC® ) and specialty conferences held since the year 2000. These proceedings are not peer reviewed.

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