| Decades of Partnership programs advance water systems’ improvement
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Decades of Partnership programs advance water systems’ improvement

This article summarizes a “Getting Optimized” column by Robert Cheng, assistant general manager, Coachella Valley Water District, published in the January/February 2024 issue of Opflow. 

Water technician monitoring in a treatment plantAlmost 30 years ago, in 1995, the American Water Works Association (AWWA) and five other water sector partners jointly created the voluntary Partnership for Safe Water

This took place after the June 29, 1993, effective compliance date of the United States’ Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). More significantly, it also followed the devastating April 1993 Cryptosporidium outbreak in Milwaukee, the largest waterborne disease outbreak attributed to contaminated drinking water in U.S. history. 

Along with AWWA, the founding Partnership organizations were the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Association of State Drinking Water Administrators, Water Research Foundation, Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, and National Association of Water Companies. Their goals for the new organization were to:

  • Demonstrate that utilities were willing to go beyond regulatory levels to ensure the delivery of safe drinking water for their customers
  • Emphasize to drinking water customers that safeguarding public health was still the top priority of utilities

With the approaching 50th anniversary of the SDWA and upcoming 30th anniversary of the Partnership, “it’s a good time to reflect on attributes that have contributed to the Partnership’s durability and relevance,” Cheng stated, including its expansion into Distribution System Optimization in 2010 and the Partnership for Clean Water in 2016. 

Key Partnership program essentials

Robert ChengFor one thing, all programs embrace the concept of using surrogate parameters as measures for plant and system performance. These include turbidity for the safe water program; chlorine residual, pressures, and main breaks for the distribution system program; and energy usage and sludge age for the clean water program.

Another common process is a phased approach to support utilities through continuous improvement. For example, the phases of the Partnership for Safe Water treatment program progress through written commitment, data trending, self-assessment, and an optional optimized system.

“Although the ideal goal is for all participants to achieve all phases, it’s understood that utilities face different resource constraints,” Cheng stated. “Equally important to achieving this goal is that participating agencies adopt a goal of continuous self-improvement and develop an action plan to guide their efforts.”

A third common practice that Cheng values in the Partnership programs is the process of self-evaluation. He listed some of the benefits as:

  • Unifying different parts of the organization through information-sharing
  • Gaining a better understanding of how to use existing data and trends for decision-making
  • Generating a list of actionable items for improvement
  • Knowledge transfer

“These areas provide the foundation for the self-improvement culture needed to ensure that utilities provide the highest level of service and highest quality water to their customers,” he stated.

Cheng played a role in enrolling the Long Beach Water Department and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California into the Distribution System Optimization program and the Coachella Valley Water District into the Partnership for Clean Water and the Distribution System Optimization programs.

“Although these agencies are different, they share a common goal in providing the best water services to their customers at the most reasonable cost possible and promoting a culture of continuous improvement,” he stated.