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Washington Aqueduct

Veolia Partnership Puts $8M-$12M Savings on Tap for Water Utility

Washington AqueductA maintenance and productivity program at water supply agency Washington Aqueduct has increased worker productivity, cut costs and improved maintenance and management. Through the partnership with Veolia North America, Washington Aqueduct has realized a 43 percent improvement in overall field maintenance staff productivity and stands to save millions of dollars annually, the partners say.

Developed in 2013, Achieving Excellence – Source to Tap is a program between Veolia and Washington Aqueduct (pictured), which is managed by the US Army Corps of Engineers and provides water treatment services to three wholesale customers: District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (DC Water), Arlington County, Virginia and Fairfax Water in Fairfax, Virginia.

“DC Water, in collaboration with the other wholesale customers of Washington Aqueduct, hired Veolia to help find opportunities for efficiency and cost savings that would ensure the drinking water operation was being run as efficiently as possible,” says Paul Whitmore, manager of communications for municipal and commercial business at Veolia North America.

The program centers on developing tools and systems to improve workforce effectiveness. Washington Aqueduct general manager Tom Jacobus says the program didn’t involve new costs beyond the consulting contract fees “because we have been using the same organizational structure to accomplish the work differently. We have not cut any positions. And we have not acquired any specialized system nor have we disposed of any specialized system. Everything we needed was in place. The benefit was using it differently.”

Whitmore told Environmental Leader that the anticipated annual, recurring financial benefit of these improvements is $2.9 million every year through labor, chemical, power and water savings. “The initial phase 1 evaluation looked at every business aspect and operation at the Washington Aqueduct and resulted in 32 recommended improvements having an anticipated overall annual savings — operating expenses and capital expenditures of between $8 million and $12 million,” he says.

The first phase of the assessment identified more than 30 initiatives including changes in water treatment and quality processes, enhanced capital planning, safety program improvements, development of targeted individual development and training plans, improved communications, and implementation of performance management techniques across the organization.

Initially, the program focused on workforce productivity and workflow process improvements within the Washington Aqueduct maintenance branch. After establishing baseline performance metrics the team identified opportunities for improvement, focusing on formal work planning and scheduling. It them mapped out a process to better define emergency versus non-emergency work, helping also to prioritize non-emergency work.

To implement the new program, Washington Aqueduct established a work planning and scheduling team within the maintenance branch, and then staffed and trained personnel to implement the new workflow process. This team now develops detailed plans, schedules requested work, and analyzes data to effectively measure and manage overall field performance.

“We believe our most important achievements were in the maintenance management area where we created a formalized planning and scheduling unit to bring a much more disciplined system of initiating, prioritizing and reporting on work orders,” Jacobus told Environmental Leader. “Out of that has come a better understanding of the staffing requirements necessary to more effectively accomplish the work. By better identifying actual workload in our computerized maintenance management system and seeing what was actually reported accomplished in exacting detail, we are able to make better use of our available productive hours.”

After six months of implementing the new system for work planning and scheduling, Washington Aqueduct conducted a three-week analysis to measure overall impact on field productivity. The result showed an increase in overall productivity by 43 percent.

In addition to maintenance, the program focused on engineering, plant operations and “enablers,” Whitmore says. This includes:

  • Engineering: Veolia conducted a mini-master planning effort with Washington Aqueduct staff and customers including DC Water to identify future capital needs. Veolia also developed a capital improvement program prioritization tool that weighs repair and replacement of key equipment and helped engineering staff focus efforts to maximize efficiency to complete capital projects.
  • Plant Operations: Veolia developed a new Water Quality Program Manual that streamlines lab sampling and analysis and focuses on meeting regulatory needs as well as improving monitoring and reporting of taste and odor issues. The team also worked with the residuals processing facility to save costs on power, chemicals and solids disposal.
  • Enablers: Veolia updated the existing safety program, developed and implemented individual development plans that identify required core competencies and training, established regular communication between managers and staff through “all-hands” meetings, monthly newsletters, staff suggestion boxes and regular informal breakfast meetings for any staff and the general manager, and tied a formal performance management system to a series of key performance metrics and targets.

“Achieving Excellence – Source to Tap was an opportunity to focus on improving efficiency and process,” Jacobus says. “All of us find value in what we have achieved to date, and we look forward to additional improvements.”

Veolia says similar efforts are underway in Winnipeg, Pittsburgh, New York City, Akron, Ohio, Georgia’s DeKalb County, and Los Angeles. The biggest of these is New York City, where, since 2011, Veolia has been working with the Department of Environmental Protection. DEP and Veolia have implemented more than 80 initiatives in water and wastewater treatment, metering and procurement that are resulting in an annual recurring cash benefit of $98 million, the company says.

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