| Benchmarking a key tool for long-term utility success
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Benchmarking a key tool for long-term utility success

Charleston Water System. Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority. Sweetwater Authority. Columbus Water Works. These are a few of the water utilities that have increased their long-term success by participating in the American Water Works Association’s (AWWA) Utility Benchmarking Program.

Rick Bickerstaff (pictured right), a member of AWWA’s Utility Benchmarking Advisory Committee and formerly with Charleston Water, said, “AWWA Benchmarking gave Charleston Water System the opportunity to gauge our level of performance and use comparisons to set realistic short-term and long-term targets.

“Through the use of AWWA benchmarks, CWS was able to win the South Carolina Governor’s Quality Award, the highest quality award in the state,” he added.

AWWA’s 2020 benchmarking program

The 2020 benchmarking program, which uses data from 2019, is open to water, wastewater and combined utility participants now through April 1. Participants enter their data through an online platform, enabling them to track their performance and compare their results to aggregate data for all participants in the same service group.

Mark Sanchez, Albuquerque and Bernalillo County Water AuthorityIn addition, participants receive a free customized report that can help them prioritize areas for improvement, establish strategic goals and initiatives, and maintain accountability with stakeholders. All individual utility data remains confidential.

“We are proud to say that we have integrated the AWWA’s performance metrics into our strategic planning process, aligning it to the Effective Utility Management framework and the Partnership for Safe/Clean Water programs,” said Mark Sanchez (pictured left), executive director with Albuquerque and Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority. “Through benchmarking and performance management, we also engage our customers in setting priorities, service levels and rates.”

The 2020 benchmarking program includes specialized guidance for utilities serving fewer than 50,000 customers, and any utility participating for the first time. This includes a smaller selection of key utility measures to allow these utilities to focus their efforts and build upon them in future years.

AWWA’s 2019 benchmarking report

The 2019 AWWA Utility Benchmarking publication for water and wastewater, released this month, summarizes 2018 fiscal year data provided by 144 utilities from 38 states, two Canadian provinces and two U.S. territories. Where available, data also provide historical trends from previous AWWA Utility Benchmarking Surveys.

Participating utilities indicated that the main drivers “that lead them on their daily efforts of continuous improvement” are:
•    Regulations and standards
•    Financial obligations
•    Customer expectationsPie chart showing distribution of types of utilities in program.

Of the participants, 62 percent were from combined utilities, 31 percent from water utilities and 7 percent from wastewater utilities. In relation to their size, 33 percent have more than 500,000 customers, 41 percent between 100,000 and 500,000, 13 percent between 50,000 and 100,000 and 13 percent have less than 50,000 customers.

Participants provided data for objective performance indicators in five key areas:
•    Organizational development
•    Business operations
•    Customer relations
•    Water operations
•    Wastewater operations

“With benchmarking data in hand, utility managers can determine areas where performance should be improved,” said David LaFrance, AWWA’s CEO. “This information can assist them in establishing or revising policies and practices with the goal of improving utility operation and service.”