By Peter Chawaga
In May of 2006, seven leading advocates of the country’s water and wastewater utilities agreed to support those utilities through the concept of Effective Utility Management (EUM). This would provide a roadmap for management success, guiding utilities through emerging obstacles, be they public health concerns, environmental challenges, or economic restrictions. To share those guidelines with the nation’s utilities, these partners created “Effective Utility Management: A Primer for Water and Wastewater Facilities.”
“The EUM Primer is designed to be useful to water and wastewater utilities of all sizes and types,” said Adam Carpenter, the manager of energy and environmental policy at the American Water Works Association (AWWA), an original partner behind the guide. “It is designed to assist utilities with taking a 360-degree look at their utility and setting priorities based upon their unique circumstances … and to set goals in both strong areas and areas that need improvement.”
The guide revolves around two fundamental sets of standards: the “Ten Attributes of Effectively Managed Utilities” and the “Five Keys to Management Success.”
According to the guide, effectively managed utilities will produce quality effluent, satisfy customers, garner stakeholder support, be financially viable, operate in an optimal way, develop employees and leaders, plan for resiliency, effectively manage infrastructure, and provide for a sustainable community and water resources.
The primer also dictates that effective management can be achieved by focusing on leadership, strategic business planning, knowledge management, performance measurement, and continual improvement.
Beyond parsing these broad attributes and keys, the guide exists as a methodology for appropriate goal setting as well as a toolbox for meeting those goals.
“Utilities can make the most of this guide by following its process to identify goals and take action on those goals,” Carpenter said. “Throughout the document are references to tools and resources from the collaborating organizations that can assist in implementation of many different kinds of goals, such as manuals of practice, benchmarking studies, and standards.”
To ensure that the guide remains effective against the latest obstacles that have emerged in water and wastewater treatment, the U.S. EPA convened a EUM utility leadership group with representatives nominated by each of the 11 collaborating associations behind the guide. In addition to AWWA and the EPA, these associations include the Water Environment & Reuse Foundation, the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, the Water Environment Federation, the National Association of Water Companies, and the Water Research Foundation.
“The EUM Primer was updated primarily through this group’s input with staff and contract support by EPA and additional staff advice and review by the collaborating organizations,” Carpenter said.
According to a report from a EUM review steering group, shifts in technology, policy, society, and the environment affect the day-to-day operations and long-term planning of utilities, compelling some of the updates made to the primer. Specifically, the update took into account smart systems and data integration, climate variability and extremes, customer expectations, employee recruitment and retention, resource recovery, regulatory requirements, and stormwater and watershed management.
“The updates revolve primarily around changes in the sector since 2008 as well as updated suggested methods of measuring various components of a self-assessment,” said Carpenter. “Success is measured through the utility’s progress.”
Rather than pushing that information to a specific, updated section of the report, the new tips are integrated throughout so that users can get the most from the primer as written.
In a world that seems to present new challenges to water and wastewater utilities every day, it’s critical that guides like the EUM Primer continue to provide new solutions too.