| Inside Champlain Water District’s drinking water treatment achievements
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Inside Champlain Water District’s drinking water treatment achievements

Pursue excellence and resist complacency – that is the formula for the long-term success of Champlain Water District (CWD) in South Burlington, Vt., the state’s largest regional public water supplier.

Back in 1995, CWD was one of the first to sign up when the American Water Works Association (AWWA) and five partner organizations founded the Partnership for Safe Champlain staff at treatment plantWater. The district was the first water supplier to be awarded the Partnership’s Excellence in Water Treatment Award in 1999, and it received the unprecedented Excellence Award for 20 consecutive years in 2019. (Pictured right, CWD operations staff)

Joe Duncan, CWD’s general manager, said the Partnership’s treatment optimization program has guided the district’s ability to collaborate across all departments from the ground up to produce high quality water for 75,000 people and several large industrial customers in 12 water systems.

Duncan credits Jim Fay, CWD’s general manager for 32 years before his retirement in June 2019, and the district’s elected governing board, for championing their culture of excellence and supporting their involvement with the Partnership.

“I believe the most important thing that strengthened our culture was joining the Partnership,” Duncan said. “Our treatment facility staff really embraced the idea of optimization. They developed a saying, ‘Your water quality is only as good as your worst filter’s performance.’”

Succession planning played a key role in the continuation of the district’s culture and involvement in the Partnership. Prior to succeeding Fay as general manager, Joe Duncan served as CWD’s chief engineer for several years, as well as serving as a past member on the Board, exposing him to the district’s longstanding vision of excellence. Duncan points out that “succession planning allows us to educate, mentor, and promote our current employees so that they can increase productivity and develop a synergistic fit within our team culture.”

Champlain Water District's Joe Duncan and Mike BarsottiMike Barsotti (pictured at far right with Joe Duncan), CWD’s director of water quality & production, said the Partnership’s process of system optimization “allows you to have clarity and insight into how your plant operates and functions.”

“You’re not as nervous about being innovative,” he added. “For example, as part of our water filter asset management program, we found significant amounts of media in two of our filter’s underdrains. The traditional mode is to rip them out and put in new ones, but we suggested cutting a channel at the back of each underdrain and flushing out the media. Both the manufacturer and the contractor didn’t think this was feasible, but we knew how our system operates and knew what it could do. Implementing this innovative methodology led to significant cost savings and improved water quality.”

Barsotti also stressed the value of the district staff’s volunteer involvement with the Partnership as original participants, technical contributors, reviewers and committee leaders. “What you give, you get back tenfold,” he said. “We’ve gained incredible knowledge from being involved and have brought that knowledge and best practices back to our system.”

The benefits that CWD has gained from the Partnership extend to the district’s positive reputation and relationships with its customers and communities.

“Because of publicity around our Partnership achievements, we are viewed as innovators and leaders,” Duncan said. “It has really bolstered our level of public trust. In today’s environment for drinking water, that is important and one of the factors that keep us committed to optimizing operations and the Partnership’s principles of continuous improvement.”

The Partnership for Safe Water is celebrating its upcoming 25th anniversary at AWWA’s Annual Conference and Exhibition in Orlando in 2020, and at the Partnership’s Water System Optimization Conference later that year.