During the American Water Summit held October 24-26 in Philadelphia, four utilities were inducted into LUOW, a network of the world’s most successful and innovative water and wastewater utilities. New LOUW members included Denver Water, Alexandria Renew, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and Northumbrian Water, UK. A senior leader from each new LUOW member was asked to present the utility’s key issues and innovations. While each utility has its own unique challenges and strategies to
address those challenges, common threads ran throughout the presentations.
Adaptation to climate change: Adaptation was part of each utility’s long-term strategy. An outstanding example of addressing climate change challenges came from Denver Water where, in response to wildfires that threaten Denver’s surface water supply, they formed the Forests to Faucets Partnership with the US Forest Service. This partnership restored forests in priority watershed areas by removing dead trees in order to reduce fuel for fires and helped to plant over 1 million trees to reduce soil erosion.
San Francisco Public Utilities Commission created four key strategies to ensure sufficient water supply in response to a multi-year drought. These strategies include conservation (with the goal of reducing water usage to 40 gallons per person per day), groundwater sourcing, a new water recycling plant and use of non-potable water to offset 89 million gallons of potable water per year.
Talent acquisition and development: Across the board, utilities are dealing with a gap between the existing pipeline of water professionals and the high number of experienced water professionals nearing retirement. To address this issue Alexandria Renew created a highly successful apprenticeship program with three tracks of participation including operators, electricians and mechanics. Each year a new class of apprentices is brought in for specific training. It takes four to five years for the apprentices to earn their licenses, which corresponds well with the retirement of the experienced workforce.
In addition to attracting new employees, employee development is a key issue for many utilities. Denver Water works had to develop its employees and encourage innovation by creating a culture where it is OK to make mistakes. Encouraging “learning by doing” and weaving the goal of continuous improvement into all parts of business planning has paid off, as innovation and improved efficiency has resulted in a significant decrease in Denver Water’s operating costs.
Energy efficiency and vulnerability: Each utility understands the need to improve energy efficiency to reduce operating costs as well as the need to become energy independent to reduce vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. Alexandria Renew created an energy efficiency master plan with the goal of reducing energy consumption 25% by 2025. As part of the master plan, Alexandria Renew constructed a new LEED platinum headquarters building and is developing a system to capture methane for power.
Denver Water intends to become energy neutral by 2020. To achieve this goal, Denver Water worked to change Colorado’s regulatory framework regarding CO2 emissions and created its own long-term sustainability plan. Denver Water now generates hydroelectricity in seven locations, is exploring increased use of renewable solar energy and is increasing its number of energy efficiency projects in order to decrease energy use by 40% vs. 2017.
Better customer insight and engagement: Each utility saw better customer insight and engagement as integral to its long-term success. Examples of successful customer engagement include Northumbrian Water’s “Every Drop Counts” educational campaign to help customers better understand the importance of water conservation and the “Love Your Drain” and Rainwise campaigns to engage customers in better management of stormwater runoff. Northumbrian Water’s goal is to have 2M customers participate in programs like these, demonstrating how critical customer engagement is to the utility’s success.
In response to prolonged drought, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission employed a different but equally effective consumer engagement program. The clever and effective “Short and steamy” shower ad campaign helped customers understand the need to
conserve water through simple, every day changes at home. Despite the differences in approach to their common challenges, it is clear that the four new LOUW members share an innovative, progressive style that will serve them well in the challenging times ahead. It is also clear that their approach distinguishes them as leading utilities and merits their inclusion in the prestigious LUOW group.