Last summer, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority partnered with Veolia Water North America to find ways of improving services and operating more efficiently.
Nine months in, officials said the executive management services agreement between the two entities has been beneficial. Rob Nicholas, vice president for development with Veolia, said PWSA has been able to find ways to bring in more revenue without raising rates for customers.
“That came from looking at how fees were billed; that came from working with large customers to see if we couldn’t have them buy more water,” he said. “The reason revenue is important is – that’s how you run the utility.”
Through other measures, such as adjusted power settings and debt restructuring, $2 million in savings were identified. Nicholas said that went toward infrastructure improvements and debt reduction. Veolia also surveyed all senior management of the PWSA.
“By doing that we learned a couple of things very quickly," Nicholas said. "First off, we needed more training. That was just a critical issue to help them do their jobs better. The second thing was safety, to put more concentration on safety for everyone’s sake.”
In addition to cost savings, customer service is being addressed. Nicholas said wait times for people who call into utility have dropped by 50 percent in the last nine months. The improvements are expected to continue.
“We’ve got a road map now,” Nicholas said. “There’s a plan for 2013, and having a good road map has meant that there’s no rate increase in the coming years, and hopefully with the momentum that’s built we can carry that on so that there’s either fewer rate increases or they’re a lot more moderate in the future.”
Going forward there will be metrics in place so that employees, the board and the public can see how the PWSA is doing.
The executive management services contracted to Veolia is for 12 months with a possible six-month extension. The 12 months will be up in July, and officials said they aren’t sure at this point whether the contract would be extended.
Veolia Water is currently treating over 2.6 billion gallons of water and wastewater each day across the nation. The company has been involved with similar projects in Buffalo, Indianapolis, Milwaukee and New York City.
PWSA has approximately 250,000 consumers throughout the City of Pittsburgh.