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Developing Level of Service Goals

When creating Level of Service goals, a system should begin by reviewing the regulatory requirements at the federal, state, and local level. At the local level, counties, cities, or system boards may adopt ordinances or other types of regulations they want a system to follow. Due to the number of regulations, it is not necessary for a system to list compliance with each regulation. Rather, a broad statement such as “the system will comply with all applicable state, local, and federal regulations” should suffice. However, if a particular contaminant or regulation is of interest to the broader community, a utility can set a goal related to that particular regulation.

Next, consider the fact that assets, both gray and green, have physical limitations. Assets cannot deliver services beyond these limitations. Together, regulatory requirements and physical capabilities provide boundaries a system should use to create internal and external goals. The system cannot go below regulatory requirements nor above the physical capabilities of the current system assets. If the system wishes to modify the boundaries, it can set goals to be more stringent than regulations or change the infrastructure to increase its capacities or capabilities.

All goals should be:

  • Meaningful – relevant to staff and stakeholders and providing a clear picture of performance.
  • Measurable – can be measured in a cost-effective manner expressed as a qualitative or quantitative measure.
  • Consistent – consistent with industry practice. Measurement is reproducible by others.
  • Useful – helps manage the utility and encourages improvement.
  • Unique – describes a specific attribute of system services or activities and is independent of other goals.

 The ability to measure a goal is particularly important. Without the ability to measure a goal there is no way to evaluate performance or communicate progress to the community. A system should consider:

  • How will we measure whether the goal has been met?
  • What data do we need to measure it?
  • Do we have the data readily available to measure it, or will we have to develop a process to get the data?
  • Will the results of measuring this particular goal help us better serve our customers or improve operational or managerial decision-making?

Some goals will require systems to set performance objectives for each goal to allow systems to determine their level of success. These performance objectives are often called key performance indicators (KPIs) but may also be referred to as targets or benchmarks. KPIsKey Performance Indicators that align with the level of service goals serve as a means to measure and regularly adjust the performance of green and gray assets. For example, as part of a system’s overall goal to provide reliable water supply through anticipated drought conditions and anticipated growth in demand, it might set KPIsKey Performance Indicators for one of its reservoirs to minimize annual storage capacity loss due to sedimentation. To accomplish this task, there are various operational and maintenance activities such as periodic dredging or trail maintenance that the system can perform to meet the KPIsKey Performance Indicators to reduce sedimentation. A specific KPIKey Performance Indicator could be to dredge at least a certain number of cubic feet of sediment every five years or rebuild 25 miles of heavily eroded trail by 2022.

KPIsKey Performance Indicators should be reviewed annually and compared to historical performance to help visualize the long-term effectiveness of a goal. KPIsKey Performance Indicators are already built into federal, state and local regulations but goals pertaining to other areas may not have standards. KPIsKey Performance Indicators are particularly important for green infrastructure to be able to gauge implementation and effectiveness. Systems will need to get together to set KPIsKey Performance Indicators for assets such as acceptable pressure levels, stormwater volume, and pollutant loading. It is important to carefully select these KPIsKey Performance Indicators and incorporate them into system goals to ensure that desired outcomes are being approached or achieved. In addition, for green infrastructure, monitoring and reporting should not wait until after it has been constructed. Rather, monitoring and reporting requirements must be sufficient to measure the benefits of green infrastructure as they begin to accrue and during the life of a long-term implementation plan.

Below are examples of level of service goals that are meaningful, measurable, consistent, useful, and unique. Whether these particular goals are appropriate for an individual system will depend on the system’s needs and whether the data to measure them is readily available or easily obtained.

Examples of Goals for Gray Assets:

  • Provide a minimum of 50 psi at all locations in the service area 98% of the time.
  • No more than 4 odor complaints per month.
  • Reduce unit real losses a specified amount (gallons per connection per day) compared to the previous year.
  • Document all real loss events (i.e., pipe breaks/leaks) by collecting the date it was reported, how it was reported, when it was isolated, and when it was repaired.

Note the caveat of 98% in the first goal. This caveat exists to ensure that customers understand there may be times when breaks occur, and pressure drops. As a practical matter, customers should not expect perfection, and no water system, no matter how well it is managed, is immune from all failures. Asset Management even allows for a strategy of “managed failures” for low-risk assets, so failures will occur in well-managed systems. These expected events should be accounted for in any goals created so that no unrealistic customer expectations are created.

Examples of Green Goals:

  • Increase the percentage of tree canopy in the city to 34% by 2023.
  • Eliminate three of the remaining seven combined sewer overflow points in the next two years.
  • Remove trash from green infrastructure installations once a month.
  • Restore 5 miles of stream by 2025 to provide healthy habitat for threatened native trout.

There is no magic number of goals a system must establish. The number will depend on the size of the system and the resources available. System staff creating goals for the first time should probably start with no more than ten to twelve. Additional goals can always be added over time as system staff gain a greater understanding of their capabilities and the community’s needs.

The key factors to keep in mind during this process are:

  • Keep it simple
  • Make sure the goals are important
  • Make sure the goals are measurable
  • Make sure the goals are within the capabilities of your existing assets
  • Set internal and external goals
  • Engage system staff in the process of setting internal goals
  • Engage the community when setting external goals

When you set targets, you need to bring costs into the equation – Kevin Campanella, P.E., Assistant Director, Asset Management, Department of Public Utilities, City of Columbus, OH