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Water Utility Industry Supports Sustainability, Water Conservation through Management Innovations

10/22/2009

WASHINGTON — The National Association of Water Companies’ (NAWC) 2009 Management Innovation Awards were presented by Donald L. Correll, president and chief executive officer of American Water and immediate past president of the NAWC Board of Directors at the 5th National Drinking Water Symposium on Oct. 13. These annual awards recognize new and innovative programs that promote better water service, wider recognition of the industry and improved utility management.

First prize went to United Water for its eBilling PUSH project; second prize was awarded to a subsidiary of American Water, Arizona American Water, for significantly reducing water consumption at its Northwest Valley Regional Water Reclamation Facility; and Suburban Water Systems, a subsidiary of SouthWest Water Company, was recognized with a third prize for its Suburban Residential Price Signal Index.

“United Water, American Water and Suburban Water Systems exemplify the high level of commitment our industry has to our customers and to the communities in which we do business,” said Michael Deane, executive director of the NAWC. “NAWC members have pioneered numerous environmental sustainability practices and always strive to practice what they preach when it comes to water conservation. The winning management innovation programs of these three companies represent the best of the best in those areas.”

United Water eBilling PUSH Project

United Water sends almost 5 million bills for water and/or sewage services annually. Traditionally, paper bills were sent to customers, creating over 119.5 tons of paper using over 1.9 million gallons of water and emitting approximately 605,000 pounds of greenhouse gases and representing a significant opportunity to enhance United Water’s sustainability efforts while increasing efficiency and reducing costs associated with paper billing. However, United Water’s research showed that companies introducing traditional eBilling services —which essentially let customers know via email that their bill is ready for viewing — see very low adoption rates of only 5 percent in 3 years. Therefore, the company identified an eBilling PUSH solution to reduce United Water’s dependency on paper billing. A critical differentiator in the PUSH technology is that the entire eBill is delivered directly into the consumer’s inbox as an encrypted offline attachment, meaning 1) no username and password to remember; and 2) no need to access the internet to view the bill. Because this eBilling solution is integrated with United Water’s electronic payment vendor, it is able to offer a one-click payment option directly from within the eBill itself, enabling the consumer to make a payment without ever having to register or visit a Web site. With its many benefits, United Water looks to its eBilling PUSH solution to achieve high adoption rates and help the company meet its overall objective of reducing the environmental impact of its operations.

American Water Makes Reclamation Facility ‘Greener’

When the operators at American Water’s Arizona operations at the Northwest Valley Regional Water Reclamation Facility realized their odor scrubber operations, which eliminate smells from sewage systems, accounted for 95 percent of monthly potable water consumption at the facility, they decided to put their collective brainpower to identifying a way to practice what the company preaches in terms of water conservation. At the time, the scrubbers were utilizing a combined 25-30 gallons of water per minute, or 36,000-43,000 gallons of potable softened water per day. In so doing, they found a new way to reuse water from the facility’s 1.2 million gallon equalization basin, drastically cutting water expenses from between $5,000 and $7,000 per month to approximately $800 to $1,500 per month. In terms of water savings, American Water’s project enables the company to keep approximately 850,000 gallons more per month — or more than 10 million gallons per year — in local aquifers.

Suburban Water Systems Suburban Residential Price Signal Index

Decades of econometric studies show that improved water pricing policy positively affects water users’ behavior, meaning that 1) water demand can be altered; 2) prices alter demand; and 3) prices can be used intentionally to alter demand. However, there has been little research by water purveyors to objectively evaluate how alternative conservation rate structures compare with other water purveyors who are known to have made a demonstrated commitment to water conservation. This is partly because in the past benchmark rate structures had never been compiled and because there was no software tool available with which to easily evaluate and compare the price signals that customers were receiving from these benchmark rate structures. The Suburban Residential Price Signal Index (SRPSI) fills that void, providing an easy-to-use template that allows the user to input an inclining block rate structure and immediately see how that rate structure compares to the average for the benchmark rate structures with similar rate designs. The SRPSI is sure to serve as an important tool in comparing the relative effectiveness of pricing on water conservation, allowing water purveyors to better set their prices to support water conservation goals.

About National Association of Water Companies

The National Association of Water Companies (NAWC) represents all aspects of the private water service industry. The range of our members’ business includes ownership of regulated drinking water and wastewater utilities, and the many forms of public-private partnerships and management contract arrangements. Seventy-three million Americans – nearly one in four – receive service from a private water service provider.

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