The Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies honored 20 public drinking water systems with its top utility management awards on Oct. 17 in ceremonies at its 2016 Executive Management Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona. Five systems received the Sustainable Water Utility Management Award, 10 received the Platinum Award for Utility Excellence and five were presented the Gold Award for Exceptional Utility Performance. 

The Sustainable Water Utility Management Award recognizes water utilities that have made a commitment to management that achieves a balance of innovative and successful efforts in areas of economic, social and environmental endeavors. The Platinum and Gold awards recognize outstanding achievement in implementing the nationally recognized Attributes of Effective Utility Management.

The 2016 AMWA Sustainable Water Utility Management Award winners are:

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  • DC Water (District of Columbia)
  • Louisville Water Company (Kentucky)
  • San Diego County Water Authority (California)
  • San Diego Public Utilities (California)
  • Western Virginia Water Authority (Virginia)

Winners of the 2016 AMWA Platinum Award for Utility Excellence are:

  • Beaver Water District (Arkansas)
  • Fort Wayne City Utilities (Indiana)
  • Kansas City Board of Public Utilities (Kansas)
  • KC Water (Missouri)
  • City of Mesa Water Resources Department (Arizona)
  • Phoenix Water Services Department (Arizona)
  • City of Raleigh Public Utilities Department (North Carolina)
  • San Antonio Water System (Texas)
  • Suffolk County Water Authority (New York)
  • Tacoma Water (Washington)

AMWA's 2016 Gold Award for Exceptional Utility Performance was presented to:

  • Central Arizona Project
  • Coachella Valley Water District (California)
  • Montgomery County Environmental Services (Ohio)
  • Sewerage & Water Board of New Orleans (Louisiana)
  • City of Richmond Department of Public Utilities (Virginia)

"AMWA awards spotlight the impressive advances and substantial achievements of public drinking water utilities that are leading the nation in their efforts toward sustainability through innovative management practices, executive leadership and employee engagement," says AMWA President Scott Potter, director of Nashville Metro Water Services. "Communities count on their drinking water systems for reliable and adequate supplies of clean, safe water, and those served by AMWA's 2016 award winners can take pride in their outstanding accomplishments."

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Sustainable Water Utility Management Award winners
DC Water has tripled its water main replacement program, supported by changing its water rate structure to create a dedicated $40 million annually. To fund large-scale environmental projects, the utility issued an innovative green century bond in 2014. Its $2.6 billion Clean Rivers Project will significantly reduce the combined sewer overflows and a $470 million waste-to-energy project uses innovative technology to turn residuals from the wastewater treatment process into electricity and a beneficial soil amendment. DC Water's research teams have provided insights into the effects of galvanized plumbing on lead leaching and leading to advancements in thermal hydrolysis.

Louisville Water Company adopted the Effective Utility Management performance benchmarking framework and also makes use of a 20-year facilities plan, a five-year capital improvement plan, and both five- and 10-year financial projections. Its asset management program is focused on transmission main assessments, lead service replacements, water main and fire hydrant rehabilitation and replacements, and water storage tank inspections and restoration. Its customer outreach with the pure tap program serves tap water at hundreds of events and includes an education and social media campaign, drinking water fountain signage and partnerships with local businesses that serve tap water. 

San Diego County Water Authority's sustainability mindset saves ratepayers money, reduces the environmental impacts of projects and operations, conserves energy and water, and helps the agency thrive in a changing climate. A central goal is ensuring that existing and planned facilities are built and operated to minimize effects on the environment and to mitigate any unavoidable impacts. In 2014, the Authority adopted its first Climate Action Plan and completed the San Vicente Dam Raise, a key element of the agency's long-term strategy for providing sustainable water supplies in dry years. In 2015, the nation's largest seawater desalination plant started delivering drought-proof water to San Diego County.

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The City of San Diego Public Utilities Department (PUD) maintains many award-winning community outreach, education and conservation programs and is proud of its water rate assistance program for low-income residents. The utility has implemented energy and carbon management strategies, including resource recovery, to ensure optimal energy usage, storage and production levels. It is implementing a multiyear Pure Water San Diego Program that uses proven technology to clean recycled wastewater to produce sustainable, high-quality water. Its rate structures use industry-recognized rate-making practices to cover cost of services and maintain a balance between long term debt, asset values, O&M expenditures, and revenues and expenses. 

Western Virginia Water Authority's fiscal policy includes a rate structure that provides for reliable daily operations, continued infrastructure replacement and a healthy financial standing to let it fund long-term capital projects and reserve accounts. Long-term sustainability also includes protecting current water supplies, planning for future sources and identifying leaks that can lead to non-revenue water.  Current water supplies are protected by best management practices and conservation easements while water infrastructure projects are nearing completion to connect to the Authority's future source of water. Community outreach includes educational programs offered for all school-aged students, recreational opportunities and a close relationship with local economic development organizations.

Platinum Award for Utility Excellence winners
Beaver Water District optimizes operations to produce a quality product by setting a goal of 100 percent compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act, maintaining membership in the Partnership for Safe Water and ensuring that capital planning focuses on maintaining high quality water. The utility updated its asset management plan and used the information to establish funding requirements for its Replacement & Refurbishment Fund, which is integral to its 15-year financial plan update and associated recommended wholesale water rate increases. The District promotes customer satisfaction and stakeholder support to achieve community sustainability through various outreach activities.

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Fort Wayne City Utilities consistently produces quality water for its customers, letting management focus on other key initiatives to improve its organization. The utility prioritizes employee and leadership development by encouraging continuous learning through in-house and external training opportunities, for example, growing the number of professional engineers on staff from two to 16. Management has also rewritten all job descriptions to provide for career growth. In 2015, the utility implemented a new customer account management and billing system, which has benefited both customers and the utility. And new chemical feed programs were implemented at its filtration plant, resulting in more consistent and better quality water. 

Kansas City Board of Public Utilities has implemented improvement initiatives including: valve, hydrant and customer leak detection programs; water treatment plant filter upgrades; water distribution facility maintenance and Geographic Information System; a water main and fire hydrant replacement project; a new 4-million-gallon water reservoir; and a Maximo asset work order management program. The utility develops programs to ensure training and understanding of work processes and standards throughout the organization. It works continually to improve its services to the community and measures overall customer satisfaction by reviewing data from customer satisfaction studies, customer inquiry reports, a cost-of-service study and AEGIS risk assessment.

KC Water has capitalized on challenges to establish an evidence-based, data-driven utility in all aspects, including infrastructure rehabilitation, maintenance, operational and customer-service programs. Achievements include: new infrastructure rehabilitation based on increased customer satisfaction as measured by customer surveys; improved main replacement protocols based on business risk exposure; and significant automation of many business processes. Careful management of debt coverage requirements to support long-term infrastructure investment has improved financial results. Forward-thinking processes have been implanted throughout administrative functions including customer service operations, employee training and staff development and long-range organizational planning.

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To conserve finite resources, Mesa Water decreased its dependence on non-renewable groundwater supplies from over 70 percent in 1984 to around 10 percent today. The utility recharges about 8,000 acre-feet of effluent a year and achieves close to 100 percent reuse of reclaimed water. Its technology initiatives include Cityworks computerized maintenance management software and asset management system, and its mobile dispatch uses geolocation to ensure responsive dispatch to emergencies and complaints. Mesa Water maintains an Aa2 bond rating from Moody's and developed a 20-year forecast model to anticipate revenues and expenses and prepare reserves for smoothing potential future rate increases. 

Phoenix Water's executive management team gathered supervisors, managers and field employees into cross-divisional teams based on the Attributes of Effective Utility Management to develop goals to drive and measure performance. Progress was reported over 40 targets. For example, the percentage of calls answered within two minutes went from a low of around 30 percent a year ago to 98 percent today. To prevent the catastrophic failure of prestressed concrete cylinder transmission pipelines, the utility set a goal of inspecting 32 miles of critical water mains in three years. It is currently poised to complete a cumulative total of over 55 miles of inspections.

As a regional utility, operations of the City of Raleigh Public Utilities Department are supported via an enterprise fund model and are fully funded by revenues received from rates and fees  for services, as well as fees associated with new development. Over the past three years, the utility made significant progress in strategic plan elements of employee and leadership development, operational optimization, stakeholder outreach, reliability, environmental stewardship, water resource management and financial viability. The strategic plan was updated in 2015 to identify new initiatives, and primary focus now includes customer service, reliability and operational optimization.

San Antonio Water System (SAWS) integrated infrastructure, employees and rates by combining with a large utility, BexarMet. This multiyear process demonstrated the ability to merge the assets, liabilities, rights, duties and obligations of a substandard utility with the high expectations of SAWS while successfully providing seamless service to customers. The utility constantly forecasts with sophisticated models to anticipate conditions affecting revenue, such as climate, population growth and supply. Strategies include refinancing debt, reducing O&M expenditures, developing alternative water supplies, and increasing education and outreach to support conservation. With more than 11,000 miles of pipe, condition and repair is consistently monitored and tracked.  

Suffolk County Water Authority's Strategic Plan 2025 incorporates mobile workforce technology, development of a 24-hour customer service operation, development of new treatment methods for emerging contaminants, creation of an Employee Development Center to foster employee growth and substantial infrastructure investment. The utility organized the Long Island Commission for Aquifer Protection to preserve the aquifer that provides all of Long Island's drinking water. It also expanded testing to 398 chemicals – 249 more than required by regulators. Its environmentally friendly vehicle fleet and infrastructure include 26 compressed natural gas-fueled vehicles and a compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling station. Construction on a CNG-compliant repair facility is underway. 

Tacoma Water has made significant progress in becoming a more effective organization through planning, analysis and developing strong stakeholder relationships. Understanding risk through data and analysis is an important dimension of the enhanced planning and decision making at Tacoma Water, which will position it well to adapt to future conditions and opportunities. The utility's main accomplishments include: strategic planning and use of balanced scorecard to measure execution; completion of construction and startup of its filtration plant; significant natural resource enhancements and habitat work in the Green River Watershed; GIS implementation; asset management program development; and adoption of a decision-making framework for budget development.

Gold Award for Exceptional Utility Performance winners
The Central Arizona Project (CAP) plays a critical economic role, delivering more than 1.5 million acre-feet of Colorado River water annually to municipal, industrial, agricultural and Native American water users. CAP works collaboratively with customers, government agencies, water users in the seven basin states and the Republic of Mexico to address regional water supply issues.  The agency helped develop cooperative interstate and international agreements designed to conserve Colorado River water and ensure the continued reliability and sustainability of that shared water supply.  It employs open, transparent budgeting and rate-setting processes, and a recent assessment found CAP's asset management program led all surveyed North American utilities.

Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD) is a multi-faceted California Special District serving more than 318,000 people across a 1,000 square-mile area in portions of Riverside and Imperial counties. Services include drinking water for homes and businesses, irrigation water imported from the Colorado River, recycled water for golf course and landscape-related use, wastewater treatment, regional stormwater protection, groundwater basin management and conservation programs and education for customers. Strategic plan goals include employee workforce development, financial stability, water supply sustainability, exceptional customer service, water quality and environmental leadership, and infrastructure investment and management.  Progress is measured using the SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely) matrix.

Montgomery County Environmental Services provides high quality water, wastewater, solid waste and recycling service to citizens in Southwest Ohio. Its innovative "block and index" energy purchasing strategy has allowed the utility, since 2013, to reduce energy costs by 15 percent. Leadership development is addressed through a cross-department Executive Steering Team and a Managers Bookclub for middle management, which provides training in team building, effective communication and understanding personal strengths and weaknesses. The department also opened a state-of-the-art Environmental Learning Center, constructed with sustainable building materials and designed to educate citizens about utility services, waste reduction, recycling and water conservation.

In recent years, the Sewerage & Water Board of New Orleans (S&WB) coordinated a massive rebuilding of destroyed infrastructure with the city's department of public works, accelerating the timeframe of recovery and saving taxpayers millions of dollars of unnecessary duplicative efforts. A $2.1 billion Hurricane Katrina FEMA settlement was negotiated and the funds used to construct the Southeast Louisiana (SELA) drainage program to prevent street flooding in parts of the city previously damaged by heavy rains. The utility is also constructing a Water Hammer to mitigate boil water advisories and is replacing 124 miles of water lines. S&WB has produced seven green infrastructure projects and is planning a green roof for its main office downtown.

The City of Richmond Department of Public Utilities' (DPU) Enterprise Asset Management Plan assists in coordinating planning and management of projects across the city and includes components to maintain inventory and maintenance schedules, track key performance indicators and capture Standard Operating Procedures in a centralized location. DPU has continually been in compliance with all federal and state drinking water requirements and new technologies have been adopted to improve operational efficiencies. The Department engages and educates customers through its website, newsletters, social media posts and advertising. DPU staff present information at community meetings, and a Citizens' Academy was developed to provide a more in-depth look at utility operations.

About AMWA
The Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies is an organization of the largest publicly owned drinking water suppliers in the United States.

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