Level of service goals can be created for any of the categories presented in the table below. Systems should look over these categories and discuss internally which categories are most important to them. Many of these categories overlap, and a goal stemming from one will likely fit into another. For example, a goal may fall into Drought, Demand Management, and Water Efficiency/Conservation categories. Additionally, since green assets often complement gray assets, the performance of both can be included in a level of service goal. Systems may look at the categories below and envision relevant goals in all of them. However, prioritization is critical because the number of goals set by a system needs to be manageable. Systems must consider the time and resources it will take to track a goal. It is best to begin with setting 10 – 12 simple goals and make them more in-depth and add additional goals over time.
The goal categories below are meant to help systems consider all aspects of the water business when setting goals. Green asset goals are often centered around functionality and multiple co-benefits, while gray asset goals focus more on capabilities or performance such as water quality or quantity. Systems do not have to set goals in every category as that might be so burdensome that tracking them would be too time consuming or costly. The number of goals should be “right-sized” to the system – enough to adequately address community expectations but not so many that costs of tracking goals outweigh the benefits of having them.
Systems should identify the categories that are most relevant to their purpose and most important to their community. Regulatory requirements and consent decrees are often drivers of goals and are a good place to start. Additionally, aesthetics is usually very important to the community and is a good category to begin with when setting green asset goals. A good approach would be to pick 3 or 4 of the categories from the table below to guide the initial goal setting.
Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority (ABCWUA)
The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority (ABCWUA) is the largest utility in New Mexico, serving over 600,000 water users and managing 3,000+ miles of water supply pipeline and 2,400+ miles of sewer collector pipeline. ABCWUA chooses to break up their goals into the following five categories: Water Supply and Operations, Wastewater Collection and Operations, Customer Services, Business Planning and Management, and Organizational Development.
Rancho California Water District (RCWD)
The Rancho California Water District (RCWD) is an independent “Special District” in California responsible for providing reliable water and wastewater system operations. The District serves Temecula/Rancho California, which includes the City of Temecula, portions of the City of Murrieta, and unincorporated areas of Riverside County. RCWD serves around 110,000 people and currently has almost 900 miles of water mains, 35 storage reservoirs, one surface reservoir, 53 groundwater wells, and over 36,000 service connections. In RCWD’s 2017 Strategic Plan they broke up their goals into five categories based on the District’s guiding principles with several objectives (goals) in each category. These goal categories are Reliability, Quality, Stewardship, Sustainability, and Customer & Community.
Aesthetics is not the reason gray infrastructure is installed and rarely the reason for green infrastructure, but it is often a co-benefit and holds high importance to the community. Green infrastructure complements the built environment, softens the appearance of the surrounding surfaces and provides a visual screen. It can also provide relaxation space and recreational opportunities. As a result of aesthetic appeal and opportunity for outdoor recreation, property values can increase when larger green infrastructure is installed. Trees and parks are an important part of transforming an urban neighborhood into an inviting, exciting place to live, work and play. However, green infrastructure can just as easily decrease property value, trigger complaints and harm surrounding businesses if it is not maintained properly or if it does not fit within the desires of the local residents. Unkept, clogged or dilapidated green assets negatively impact those living in a community. Failures like these can cause widespread loss of community confidence in government and invite sustained adverse media. Because of the high visibility and popularity, stormwater systems especially should think of including goals that target aesthetics because the social consequences of failure can be significant. These goals should relate to maintenance and community outreach to keep these spaces clean.
Customer service is a vital part of the water industry. Departments must consistently respond to customer inquiries in a prompt, accurate, and professional manner. Customer service goals should address the critical factors necessary to improve the customer experience. These goals are wide-ranging and often overlap with other goal categories in this document. Customer service goals address appropriate staffing, technology improvements focused on improving customer information systems, improvement of key business processes, customer risks for financial exposure, employee training, customer responsiveness, and customer education. Timeliness of response, quality of response, and ease of doing business are critical factors to achieving a good customer experience and high levels of customer satisfaction. The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority set a goal to improve these factors in the 4th Quarter of FY21 by setting the following four call-center targets: 1) Average Wait Time of less than 1:00 minute; 2) Average Contact Time of less than 4:00 minutes; 3) Abandoned Call Ratio of less than 3; and 4) First Call Resolution of greater than 95%. When thinking about goals in the customer service category, systems should consider what customers want. Customers generally want clean safe water, consistent delivery and treatment, accurate and prompt bills, and to be treated in a professional and courteous manner when they interact with system personnel. Any of these can be turned into goals. Customer service goals are important because customer service failures can lead to loss of good will and support for the system and potentially impact the willingness to accept future rate increases. A utility bill can be used to communicate not just customer service goals but goals in other categories, such as education or drought. All water, wastewater and stormwater systems should set some goals related to customer service.
Demand management involves a complicated set of choices and requires influencing demand and water use through planning, education, voluntary conservation and water restrictions. Goals for demand management fall into two categories: supply-side response and demand-side response. Supply-side response goals relate to finding or developing new resources. Areas with limited or costly options for finding or developing new water resources must resort to adopting demand-side responses. Demand-side response goals relate to more efficient use of the existing supply, voluntary or mandatory water conservation, or drought management. Water efficiency programs are another type of demand management. Setting goals for some sort of residential water efficiency program can help with demand reduction. Demand management goals will likely be a higher priority in areas with water scarcity, like the desert Southwest, or in areas with fast-growing populations. However, any area can benefit from household water efficiency programs and goals, which can benefit both the system and individual customers. Both gray and green assets contribute to demand management (e.g., groundwater recharge, reclaimed water for landscaping, low-pressure supply connections) and all system types should consider goals in this category.
Drought management should not be equated to demand management, but the two are inextricably linked, and a level of service goal may fall into both categories. Almost every state, at one time or another, will experience prolonged periods of abnormally dry or unusually hot weather that threatens the availability of water. In wetter areas, these periods are more likely to be short-term and transient in nature, while in dryer areas, the trends can be much longer lasting. Systems will need to set goals to withstand these short- or long-term droughts and their related consequences. During periods of drought, water conservation is key. Green assets reduce impervious surfaces and allow much needed stormwater to filter down and recharge groundwater systems or streams. Drought conditions lower stream flow; therefore, stormwater runoff entering streams will have more concentrated pollutants in drought years since the flow will be less able to dilute the pollution. During a drought, management actions for water supply and water demand should occur at the same time. Goals in this category relate to managing decreases in water supply, establishing drought response plans, monitoring supplies, establishing and communicating key messages to customers and stakeholders, identifying ways to reduce water use, monitoring changes in water quality, water banking, and others. Setting a reduction goal during drought is common. Systems can express this goal as a percentage reduction from “normal” use or as reductions of a specific quantity in acre-feet or million gallons per day. If a system sets this goal, there should be a clear understanding of what “normal” use is.
Educating the public is key to implementing goals in any of the categories presented in this section. The SW EFCSouthwest Environmental Finance Center encourages systems and departments to make goals promoting community education through awareness, stewardship, training and engagement. Education can promote greater household participation in water conservation programs, protect public health and the environment, and improve customer’s willingness to pay. Creating programs to collaborate with schools, create high school internships, or plan facility tours are all great ways to engage with the community. Education about green infrastructure is especially important because it is still not well understood by the general public. Setting goals to put up signs explaining green infrastructure installations or setting up green infrastructure walking tours are excellent ways to reach out to the community and gain support. Effective community education about the problems of, and solutions to, polluted stormwater can make a difference in both the quantity and quality of stormwater that reaches a river or other receiving waterways. Since a number of pollutants come from an uninformed public (e.g., littering, lawn chemicals, pet waste, household cleaners, etc.) education is a critical component of any successful stormwater management effort. An example of a goal targeting stormwater education could be something like: “The system will develop and conduct two workshops for the public on stormwater solutions every year.” This type of goal is measurable, meaningful and consistent. Education goals create positive changes in behavior within the community, limit negative impacts on water systems, and increase community understanding of and connection to water, wastewater and stormwater systems.
Energy costs often represent the largest controllable costs of providing water and wastewater services. While all systems can benefit from setting energy goals, they are most common with larger systems, systems that have a lot of energy using assets, and systems with very high energy costs. In order to determine potential costs savings that may result from reduced energy usage, the current energy use and its associated costs must be determined. This is known as developing a baseline. In order to develop this baseline, data on historical energy use will be needed. The most obvious energy goal is a decrease in overall energy usage, but a system can also set goals related to other aspects of energy usage. For example, the system can set a goal to switch its fleet vehicles to hybrid cars or reduce overall miles traveled. Or the system can set goals to reduce the carbon footprint of the plant or change the type of energy used. Goals specifically related to reduction in greenhouse gas emissions may also be set. Energy efficiency goals can also encompass building equipment upgrades (e.g., HVAC or lighting) and proper equipment sizing. Energy efficiency goals are usually more relevant for gray assets; however, green infrastructure has a role in energy efficiency. For example, green assets can significantly reduce the quantity of stormwater reaching wastewater plants thus reducing the overall quantity of water treated and saving energy. Departments will need to work together when setting energy goals that involve more than one department.
All systems must be cognizant of their environmental impact. While state and federal regulations set environmental standards, systems can and should go beyond these and set environmental goals that are more tailored to the needs of their community. Because there are many environmental regulations, permits and rules, it is not necessary to list compliance goals with each and every regulation. Rather, a broad statement such as “the system will comply with all applicable state, local and federal regulations” should suffice. Alternatively, the system could describe categories of compliance such as, “will conform to all water quality requirements” or “will conform to all endangered species requirements”. Additional non-regulatory environmental goals can be used to mitigate water contamination, promote resilience in the face of natural disasters or climate change, improve coastal protections, or protect habitat, as well as others. These goals are especially salient for green infrastructure because many of the co-benefits from the addition of green assets increase the healthy-functioning and resilience of ecosystems. This increased focus on green infrastructure has brought an awareness that stormwater management can provide numerous environmental benefits beyond improving water quality and urban hydrology; and a system may want to turn some of those benefits into goals. Systems can set a goal to restore a certain number of miles of stream by a certain year to provide healthy habitat for threatened species. Another goal could be to increase tree canopy to lower ambient temperatures, reduce carbon footprint, or increase aesthetic appeal.
Water, wastewater, and stormwater systems are faced with many financial challenges. Concerns for systems include rising costs, uncertain revenues, and lack of public recognition. Additionally, stakeholders may not fully appreciate the value of water services or understand that rate structures may need to increase over time to stabilize and enhance revenue. Systems need a financial strategy to ensure level of service goals are met with adequate sources of funding for current and future operation, maintenance costs, and capital needs. All systems should consider setting financial goals to maintain fiscal responsibility and security and to strengthen their financial future. Level of service goals related to financial stability could address debt ratio, customer affordability, credit ratings, cash levels, monthly financial reporting processes, or financial health.
Gray infrastructure tends to be designed to perform one function, such as transport or drainage, without contributing co-benefits or functions. A key tenant of green infrastructure, however, is its multifunctionality. Green assets can perform multiple functions and provide several benefits in the same spatial area. These functions can be environmental, such as conserving biodiversity or filtering stormwater; social, such as providing green recreational space; and economic, such as supplying jobs and raising property values. An example of an asset with this multifunctionality is a green roof. In addition to its main function which is intended to reduce stormwater runoff and the pollutant load, green roofs also decrease the urban heat effect, improve the insulation of the building, and provide habitat for a variety of species. It is the multifunctionality of green infrastructure that sets it apart from most of its gray counterparts. Communicating the additional functions to the community is important to gain support and fiscal backing. Systems should keep function in mind when creating goals, especially in other goal categories where multiple functions can act as co-benefits.
Health & Safety
All water systems are in the business of health and safety, and there are regulatory requirements to ensure certain standards are being met. Management should demonstrate an awareness and commitment to workplace safety and workplace training. Employees are a system’s most valuable resource, and their ability to work safety and in a safe environment is vital. Systems should create goals that make workforce training in relation to safety a priority. An example of a safety goal could be “employees will receive an average of 20 hours of technical training on an annual basis to remain up-to-date with technology advances and changes in environmental and regulatory standards.”
In general, the purpose of maintenance is to sustain or enhance the level of performance of the asset. Maintenance is an everyday activity for systems. However, O&MOperations and Maintenance budgets are often the first to be cut when money is tight. This causes systems to do more reactive maintenance rather than preventive maintenance. Examples of reactive maintenance are restoring eroded streams or removing blockages from sewer pipes. Examples of preventive maintenance are exercising valves or thinning forest fuels on an annual basis. The types of maintenance activities that may be required will differ for different types of assets. Maintenance of green infrastructure generally requires more labor and less heavy equipment than maintenance of gray infrastructure. Additionally, lack of maintenance for green infrastructure is usually visible to the public sooner than gray infrastructure (e.g., trash in rain gardens) but lack of maintenance for gray infrastructure can have more significant consequences. There is a large range of maintenance goals a system can set from development of protocols and schedules (e.g., frequency with which bioretention cells need to be inspected, weeded or plants replaced) to quantity of maintenance (e.g., cleaning a certain number of sewer pipes over a one-year period or exercising all valves in a system every six months). A companion activity to maintenance is monitoring. Monitoring is necessary to determine when maintenance should be performed. Monitoring may be permanent and on-going with continuous-read equipment, or it may be intermittent. Incorporating monitoring into maintenance goals will make them more accurate and will provide systems with additional data they can use to determine an asset’s repair, rehabilitation or replacement future.
Quality is the traditional focus of most systems because it is regulatory driven with defined levels of service. State water quality standards classify many parameters such as dissolved oxygen (DO), pH, coliform, temperature, floating and settleable solids, turbidity/color, taste/odors, and toxic substances. Urbanization increases the variety and concentration of pollutants carried into streams, rivers, and lakes. Impervious surfaces such as roads, parking lots, and roofs associated with sprawling urban development significantly impact water quality. Impervious surfaces increase the amount and speed of water entering waterways by preventing rainwater from soaking into the ground. Untreated stormwater runoff carries pollutants to rivers and streams or overwhelms infrastructure, potentially causing sewage overflows when there are combined sewers. Sewage carries pathogens that can end up in drinking water supplies and swimming area, killing aquatic life or causing disease. There are various strategies systems can use to reduce water quality problems. Systems can go beyond regulatory standards and include green infrastructure goals to address existing water quality impairments and help prevent future impairments. A pipe cannot treat water, but green infrastructure can. Green stormwater infrastructure projects are designed to capture pollutants in runoff and prevent them from reaching downstream water bodies. Goals in this category can cover water sampling and quality testing. The following are potential water quality goals: 1) Meet/stay under Maximum Contaminant Levels 100% of the time. 2) Limit wastewater overflows from the collection system to less than two per 100 miles of collection system per year. 3) Remove 80% of total suspended solids.
When developing Level of Service goals, it is easiest to start with goals related to local, state, and federal regulatory requirements. The federal regulations are generally specified in the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act. Regulatory requirements at all levels may relate to water quality, stormwater discharge, pretreatment standards, open meetings, operator certifications, inspections, and assessments. 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 local, state, and federal regulations” should suffice unless there are one or more regulations community members are particularly interested in that the system wants to highlight through an individual goal.
Water agencies around the country face numerous uncertainties and challenges providing reliable services. Reliability in the water business can take many forms. Goals related to reliability often pertain to topics such as expanding water storage capacity, diversifying supply, maintaining adequate pressure, and improving management. Reliability in terms of maintenance is also key. Infrastructure that is not maintained can cause residential delivery interruptions or create water quality problems and/or aesthetic issues. Reliability is often an issue that impacts community satisfaction the most. However, even if reliability goals are met, overall reliability satisfaction can be impacted by external issues such as the customer’s latest bill, personal interactions with system personnel, and other non-related matters that drive opinions and affect results. When setting reliability goals, systems can be as specific as possible by using percentages. For example, a reliability goal could be “90% of valves will be operating during an emergency” and “less than 5% of customers will experience a cumulative outage of water for more than 8 hours per year” or “distribution system planned, or unplanned outages will be limited to an annual average of no more than 0.5% of customers per month”.
All systems want to provide reliable, responsive, and affordable services because that is what customers expect. Systems are in the business of customer service, and responsiveness and response time are key indicators of customer service. Low responsiveness to customers typically goes along with weak customer relations and poor complaint management. Customers have become accustomed to receiving rapid, high-quality answers from many other industries. Water agencies should strive for excellent customer service and response time wherever possible, both for customer satisfaction reasons and to ensure support for utility funding needs. Systems establishing goals targeting response time should think about monitoring customer complaints and setting a target response rate. Setting clear expectations regarding response rates will give community members a better understanding of the time it takes to address different complaints. A goal in this category could be “customers with requests that require field visits will receive a response within 48 hours, except emergencies, which will be addressed within two hours 95% of the time”.
All systems should consider setting goals that prioritize equity and accessibility of water and water infrastructure within their community. It is important to continue to work towards building and maintaining positive relationships with community members. Emphasizing social goals will boost confidence and positively impact the system’s public image. Green infrastructure is a great way to build social capital because of the diverse array of community benefits it can provide, including improving the local economy, revitalizing struggling neighborhoods and commercial corridors, and improving quality of life for residents. For some systems, enhancement of the natural environment is part of the system vision, aligning with the values held by the service area community, and may be explicitly reflected in the mission statement of the organization. Green assets like trees and parks are an important part of the recipe that can transform an urban neighborhood into an inviting, exciting place to live, work and play. Green infrastructure can also foster community pride through visible signs of new investment in the community and make other members want to participant in the revitalization. Social consideration goals should focus on bringing the community together and keeping spaces well maintained and inviting.
Communities want to protect their water quantity and quality while also getting the greatest possible benefit out of every investment made. To create more sustainable systems and supplies, many systems are conserving, restoring, or enhancing natural areas and incorporating green infrastructure practices. Goals for sustainable water resources may overlap with other Level of Service goal categories like water conversation, energy efficiency or environment. Goals in this category should focus on the long term, and will primarily involve water quantity, infrastructure, financial viability, and long-term planning. Green infrastructure can be a highly valuable policy tool to promote sustainable development and smart growth by meeting multiple objectives and addressing various sustainability demands and pressures.
To keep up with demand, customer service, and complex regulations, systems must strive to effectively and efficiently manage their water, wastewater and stormwater programs. Goals in this category focus on management of the system, including financial management, and employee development. Goals can relate to establishing training programs, leadership development, and advanced certification and licensing. Securing accurate staffing or creating contingency plans with contract operators ensures a system continues to run smoothly. Goals in this category are essential to promoting job satisfaction and improving facility performance. Systems can also address long-term planning for system operations and resource allocation activities in these types of goals.
In order to meet the challenge of providing water for current and future needs, communities must use water more efficiently. Demands for residential, commercial, and industrial water use are expected to grow over time; and conservation can stretch limited water supplies. Those who live in dry climates need to conserve, and systems are responsible for educating their communities on the best water efficiency and conservation practices. The best education programs are those that direct their messages to the population that can affect the needed change in behavior. Besides educating the public, systems should consider setting goals to promote investment in and maintenance of efficient water infrastructure and green infrastructure. Green assets cut down on impervious surfaces and allow much needed stormwater to filter down and recharge groundwater systems and other waterways. Other water conservation goals can focus on demand by setting a reduction goal such as reducing average daily use by a certain percent in a specified number of years or reducing peak daily and seasonal water use. Systems can also set goals to create incentives to encourage efficient water use and conservation through rebate programs and residential water audits and can also reuse by-products of wastewater and stormwater treatment systems like reclaimed water for irrigation.
Water Loss Control
The way a system sets their Asset Management goals will impact their water loss control program. These goals can focus on maintenance requirements, reducing use, or reducing loss. An example of a water loss control goal is “the system will improve data quality related to water sources by implementing a master meter testing and calibration program within two years.” Another goal in this category could be “master meters will be tested and calibrated annually.” If a system uses AWWAAmerican Water Works Association’s M36 Manual and water audit software and has performed a water audit, they can further target their goals to non-revenue water and real water loss strategies.