Why You Need a Business Practice Evaluation

Why You Need a Business Practice Evaluation

Have you thought lately about the overall health of your business?  In today’s economy, it’s important to not only deliver your service, but to operate effectively and efficiently. An excellent way to gain insight into this is through conducting a Business Practice Evaluation (BPE). A BPE assesses the health of a utility by developing the framework for a structured approach to managing, operating, and maintaining assets in a more business-like manner. The goal would be to minimize the total cost of operating, managing and maintaining utility assets while still delivering exceptional service to customers. This is accomplished by providing more effective preventive maintenance to reduce capital investment.

The evaluation process will ultimately enable utility managers to assess the efficiency and effectiveness of their business practices in comparison to industry standards. Developing system specific plans, programmatic approaches, and realistic timelines to optimize utility programs are included in this process.

Similar to management consulting services, a BPE has potential to bring incredible value to your utility. While the list of benefits is copious, here are a few of the major advantages of conducting a Business Practice Evaluation.

business practice evaluation graphic with words and icons including innovation, process, research, development, management, teamwork, marketing, analysis, strategy and efficiency

Next Level Growth

Firstly, conducting a BPE will provide a baseline of exactly where a utility or company’s business practices currently are. Through a rating criterion, findings report, and subsequent scoresheet, the opportunities for improvement will become clear. A company can then make modifications to their business practices to reach the next level of efficiency and effectiveness.

Objectivity

As a manager, it may be hard to focus on the cause of an issue when you are immersed in it every day. Conducting a BPE will allow for an industry expert to look at a situation objectively and make the best-informed recommendations based on the BPE’s proven history of success.

Cost Reductions

A successful Business Practice Evaluation will help companies cut costs by simplifying and refocusing existing business practices. Expert BPE consultants can look at costs from a different lens and offer insights based on data and effective-practice knowledge.

piggy bank with money falling into it

Improved Communication and Relationships

In big and small companies alike, communication is key. An open line of communication is particularly critical between management and field personnel in water and wastewater utilities. Through field observations of current business practices, valuable insights in reference to efficiency and effectiveness will be provided. Management and field personnel can then identify and prioritize opportunities for improvement, as well as come to a consensus in all business practices. A successful BPE will help to eliminate the fissure between management and field staff, eliminating the ‘us versus them’ mentality.

Staff Accountability

A Business Practice Evaluation is completed through a series of interviews within a diagonal slice of utility staff. Recommendations from the BPE findings report will aid in staff accountability by identifying and implementing realistic performance measures. For example, the report may show within the Administration category that an Emergency Response Plan (ERP) is not in place. Subsequently, a Public Water Supplier could then take the necessary steps to implement an ERP and provide staff with the required ERP training.

A Way Forward

One of the most valuable pieces of information obtained from conducting a BPE is knowing where a business stands from a micro-level view. Once the scoresheet is complete, a company can determine if their primary business functions are being efficiently and effectively managed (or not). Moreover, the risks and consequences of not moving forward with proposed recommendations are identified. Having this information allows management the ability to prioritize business practices and supporting attributes, and sets the business on the right path going forward.

Improved Quality of Life

Changes resulting from the completed Business Practice Evaluation have the potential to improve quality of life and staff morale by communicating and providing a clear management plan to move forward. While improvements may not always be evident prior to the BPE, management and staff alike will be happy when positive changes are made. With more efficient and effective business practices and improved communication, the business continues to thrive.

 

Image of business people hands on top of each other symbolizing support and power

Interested in the full scope of the Business Practice Evaluation? See the step-by-step process below.

  • Review utility documents and documentation of business practices
  • Develop rating criteria to determine level of performance of business practices
  • Develop business practice categories and supporting attributes scoresheet with the assistance of your utility staff
  • Conduct kick-off, consensus, and findings workshops
  • Conduct interviews within a diagonal slice of the organization
  • Conduct field observations of current business practices (not people)
  • Develop a BPE findings report
  • Develop a BPE scoresheet from the findings report

In conclusion, it is critical to stay on top of internal functionality regardless of the type of business you operate. Keep in mind, no matter how well-oiled a machine is, there is always room for growth and improvements. Organizations that have conducted a BPE significantly improve the management, operations and maintenance efficiency of their utility.

 

Earth Day 2019: Make a Difference with Water

Earth Day 2019: Make a Difference with Water

Happy Earth Day 2019! We hope you will do your part to keep our earth clean and read on to learn about the ways that you can make a difference when it comes to preserving water and keeping it clean.

Making a Difference since 1970

Since the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, the environmental movement has continued to grow with each passing year. What started as a way to bring ecological awareness to the forefront of people’s minds, became the catalyst for greater causes including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts. The Earth Day that we have grown to know encourages people from around the world to advocate for a cleaner earth.

Clean Water Act

As civil engineers in the water environment, we are particularly grateful for the CWA that stemmed from 1970 Earth Day efforts. When amended in 1972, this act:

  • Established the basic structure for regulating pollutant discharges into the waters of the United States
  • Gave the EPA the authority to implement pollution control programs
  • Maintained existing requirements to set water quality standards
  • Made it unlawful for any person to discharge any pollutants from a point source into navigable waters
  • Funded the construction of sewage treatment plants
  • Recognized the need for planning to address critical problems caused by nonpoint source pollution

Since 1972, many other laws have been put into place to aid in the cleanliness of our waters. In addition, clean water for all has become an issue that millions of people around the world care about.

Curious in how you can contribute to a better water environment this year?

Turn off Your Faucet

Did you know that you can save up to eight gallons of water each day by turning off the faucet when you brush your teeth, wash your face or shave? This equates to more than 200 gallons of water each month! This is one of the simplest and most effective ways to save water. Start this habit on Earth Day 2019 and carry it through every day!

faucet leaking water

Buy Products with Minimal Chemicals

If you’ve ever looked at the ingredients list on the back of any bathroom or kitchen product, you likely saw a number of words you can’t pronounce. While these ingredients serve their purpose, many are not good for the environment. Because of this, it’s important to be mindful of what gets washed down the drain. Although the water that comes through our showers and faucets has been treated, there are still many chemicals that end up in our water supply that cannot be removed.

Stop Polluted Stormwater Runoff

One of the most detrimental sources of pollution in rivers is polluted stormwater runoff. Chemicals and harmful pollutants that collect on impermeable surfaces like pavement and concrete get washed into rivers, streams and creeks. Fertilizers, road salt, pesticides, trash, car oil and more are just a few examples of harmful pollutants that flow into storm drains and straight into natural water sources. This kills fish, erodes streams, pollutes swimming areas, floods homes, and amongst other problems.

You can do your part in preventing polluted stormwater runoff by using products that are not harmful to the environment. Using organic fertilizer, green soap solutions, and minimizing the use of salt during winter will help tremendously. Being mindful of what goes into storm drains will help as well. So, keep in mind – only rain goes in the drain.

Another solution is to use native plants to capture and filter polluted runoff. Rain gardens, rain barrels, downspout diversions and permeable pavements are also excellent at-home solutions.

Use Refillable Water Bottles

Each year, Americans use an average of 50 billion plastic water bottles. Of that, roughly 9 percent of them are recycled. The rest go into landfills, or become litter, polluting our rivers, streams, and oceans and harming wildlife. Invest in a reusable water bottle and refill it throughout the day to save the environment, and your wallet!

camel back water bottle. fill your reusable water bottle on earth day 2019 and every day

Take Action!

The best way you can help contribute to cleaner water for all is to get involved. There are programs in your community, and around the country and world that are dedicated to keeping waters clean. Water for People and Water Mission are among the hundreds of organizations whose mission is to provide clean, safe water for all. In addition, getting out in your own neighborhood and collecting garbage from streets and water is an excellent starting point!

Happy Earth Day 2019!

 

Six Great Reasons to Work with a Small Engineering Firm

Six Great Reasons to Work with a Small Engineering Firm

There’s a lot to consider when it comes to addressing your water needs and ultimately awarding a project to the most qualified bidder. Whether you’re in need of a large scale project such as the design and construction administration of a water treatment plant, or something smaller like a new water main, the deciding factors are equally important. Although it may seem daunting to weigh the magnitude of experience and qualifications across all the competing bids, we are big proponents for small engineering firms. Read on to see six great reasons why working with a small engineering firm could be a huge benefit to your company, institution, or municipality.

True Experts in the Field

In choosing a small engineering firm, you’ll have the opportunity to work with engineers who have expertise in both a specialized service as well as experience across multiple facets of the business. It is common to see groups of small teams within a firm that focus on particular segments of the business, be it water, wastewater, stormwater, or construction. Given the nature of a small firm however, there are large opportunities for teamwork and collaboration across the different services. For example, an engineer with a focus on stormwater, may have contributed their knowledge to a wastewater project.

Folks in smaller, privately owned firms, also tend to stay at the company for longer periods of time. With a feeling of trust and community within the company, experience will always increase with longevity.

Client Focused and Reliable

From first interaction to project completion, the team will be there to assist through every step. Teams within small engineering firms are known to go the extra mile to meet the needs of their clients and stop at nothing to make sure all expectations are exceeded. More so than the project itself, a solid client-firm relationship is critically important. When a company is small, team members are often more accessible and eager to help.

Familiar with the Area

Most small, regional firms tend to have a majority of clients close to their headquarters and satellite offices. Having a level of familiarity within a tighter geographic region provides huge benefits for firms and clients alike. For example, when a firm works with a town, they learn the ins and outs of new and existing systems. When it comes time for another project in the same town, the small, local firm is then one step ahead of the competition. Firms that are more local to the client also are more likely to have greater connections with other contractors and utilities nearby.

Tata & Howard worked with the town of Milford, MA on a Wastewater Treatment Facility

Engaged Engineers

According to a 2017 study by Gallup, smaller companies have higher levels of employee engagement. From 2012-2016, the percentage of engagement levels in small companies grew by five percentage points. In the same time frame, engagement levels in larger companies barely budged. Similarly, 42% of employees working at companies of 10 or fewer were engaged at work versus the 30% who worked at larger companies. Use this stat when you’re thinking about the team of engineers working on a project (i.e. 10 person companies can easily be equivalent to 10 person teams.)

Transparency

A big component of a solid working relationship is honesty. In any project, big or small, there will always be bumps in the road. A small engineering firm is more inclined to reveal challenges and concerns and face them throughout the course of the project. With full transparency, the firm and client can then work together to address all needs and achieve the end goal.

Small Firms – Big Hearts

In this day and age, ‘giving back’ is incredibly important to consumers. You want to know the company you’re doing business with cares about the world around them. Often times, you will see smaller firms participating in ways well beyond dollars. Giving time, partnering with local charities, and finding a cause that employees truly want to be a part of are what small companies tend to excel in.

tata and howrad employees introduce young girl scouts to engineering

 

Everything You Need to Know About Water Main Flushing

Everything You Need to Know About Water Main Flushing

Chances are that at some point in early spring, you have noticed fire hydrants being flushed and releasing large amounts of water into the streets. While it may appear that hundreds of gallons are going to waste, there are actually several benefits to this hydrant flushing process. Water main flushing is an important preventative maintenance activity that:

  • verifies proper operation of the hydrant
  • evaluates the available flow to the hydrant
  • allows utilities to deliver the highest quality water possible to their customers
  • removes mineral and sediment build up from the water mains
fire hydrant flushing water

Proper Operation of the Hydrant

According to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), the process of water main flushing is one of the most critical practices carried out by public drinking water systems. This practice allows water operators to identify broken or inoperable valves and hydrants to assure that they are working at their maximum potential.

Fire & Emergency Needs

During the flushing of a hydrant, operators can assess the water pressure and available flow rate for firefighting purposes. It’s imperative that each hydrant is operating as firefighters rely on them for fire-ground operations.

firefighter attaching hose to hydrant

High-Quality Water

Over time, water settles, ages, and is affected by biofilm (a thin layer of microorganisms) that grows on the inside of the distribution piping. Each of these factors affects the quality and taste of the water, so it is important to flush the water out of the mains and hydrants regularly. Flushing can remove water from areas of the distribution system that have low water use, since the older water may no longer have the desired chorine residual.

water coming from faucet

Mineral and Sediment Build Up

Throughout the course of several months or a year, loose sediment and mineral deposits may slowly build up inside of the water mains resulting in discolored water and reduced capacity. Flushing the water mains can remove the sediment and mineral build up, and improve the color, odor and taste of the water if it has been problematic.  Unidirectional flushing at the minimum required velocity will improve the carrying capacity of the mains.

Questions?

Now that we’ve discussed the benefits of flushing our water mains and hydrants, you may have some questions about the process and how it will affect your day-to-day life. We’re here to help!

When will a hydrant near me be flushed?

Hydrant flushing normally takes place at the start of spring. Your Pubic Water Supplier (PWS) should notify you of what streets will be undergoing flushing and when.

What can I do to prepare for flushing?

Prior to local hydrants being flushed, you may want to obtain water (in pitchers prior to flushing) for your everyday use including drinking, cooking, etc.

When the flushing is taking place, water quality may temporarily be reduced. Using water for tasks such as dishwashing, laundry, or showering may result in the discoloration/staining of your clothes or household items. Plan ahead and be sure your laundry and dishes are done before the flushing process begins!

How does water main flushing work?

Water main flushing usually takes place in one of two ways – conventional flushing or unidirectional flushing (UDF). WATER Finance & Management does a good job describing the difference between the two methods. In conventional flushing, hydrants are opened in different targeted areas and discharge water until accumulations are removed and water runs clear. While easy to conduct by water operators and crews, this method requires a lot of water, and may not always clean the pipe completely. With UDF, each pipeline is isolated to create flow in a single direction and quickly clean the pipe. By concentrating the flow, UDF creates higher velocities to clear the pipes and requires less water.

Learn more about the benefits of unidirectional flushing in our infographic here.

UDF-infographic

How will flushing affect my water?

During the process, you might experience a difference in the water pressure in your faucets as well as some discoloration in the water.

How long does it take to flush the hydrant?

Typically, this process takes between 30 and 60 minutes.

When will my water be back to normal?

Once the hydrants in your area have completed their flushing, it won’t be long until your water is ready for normal use again. In most cases, water should run clear with just a few minutes of faucet flow. Turn your faucets on cold and let the water run for 5 minutes or so. If you are still seeing discolored water or sediments in the water, continue running cold water on all your faucets until it is clear. Should your water still be discolored after several hours, please contact your water supplier.

Is water main/hydrant flushing a waste of water?

Although you will see water flowing for up to an hour, rest assured that most of the water that was flushed will return to a river, stream, or aquifer.  Flushing is a necessary process to help keep our water mains clean and clear of sediment, allowing your public water supplier to provide excellent water quality, and increased pressure and flow.

For more information and tips like this, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter!

 

6 Ways to Help Prevent Stormwater Pollution this Spring

6 Ways to Help Prevent Stormwater Pollution this Spring

You know what they say; April showers bring May flowers. While the start of spring and warmer days to come is certainly exciting, it’s important not to oversee what else comes with an increase in seasonal rain – stormwater pollution. Stormwater is water that comes from precipitation and snow/ice melt. The water either soaks into exposed soil or remains on top of impervious surfaces like pavement or rooftops. Most stormwater will eventually evaporate, but often times it will flow as runoff to another location. As the water runs it picks up pollutants along its path including debris, sediment, pesticides, fertilizers, pet waste and more. This polluted stormwater can cause soil erosion, stream impairment, flooding, fish and wildlife habitat loss, and reduced groundwater levels. Although stormwater pollution cannot be eliminated completely, you can do your part in preventing it. Check out these six ways to help prevent stormwater pollution this spring.

stormwater drain leading into creek

1. Only Rain Belongs in the Drain

As you start a spring cleanup in your yard, it’s important to remember that storm drains are not garbage disposals. Substances including leaves, yard waste, and other debris should be disposed of properly, and not released into neighborhood drains. Do your part to ensure that the only thing flowing into the storm drains are rain and snow/ice melt.

2. Use Lawn Chemicals Sparingly

With the arrival of warmer weather and outdoor summer fun on the horizon, now is the time when people start getting their lawns in tip-top shape. When it comes to fertilizer, remember that a little goes a long way. While a 20-pound bag of lawn fertilizer may seem small, do note that it will typically cover up to 4,000 square-feet of space (bigger than a tennis court). When spreading the fertilizer, use it sparingly to assure the excess does not overflow into runoff when rain comes. Choosing an organic fertilizer will also be less detrimental to the environment.

man fertilizing lawn

3. Avoid Over-Watering Your Lawn

While fresh, green grass is the end-goal for most yards come springtime, be sure not to over-water your lawn. In addition to the risk of fertilizer flowing over and out into the streets, it’s not good to have pools of water collecting in your grass. Avoid this by scheduling times each week to water your lawn, or by turning on sprinkler timers.

4. Wash Your Car Over Grass or Gravel

If you plan to wash your car at home, find an outdoor surface such as gravel, stone or grass to wash it on. Soapy water and grime will have an easier time neutralizing if it is filtered out before it reaches our streams and creeks. Try using a non-toxic or biodegradable soap as well to allow fewer chemicals to get into the water. An even safer alternative would be heading over to your local car wash where they will have a system in place for recycling or removing wastewater.

kids washing car at home

5. Pick Up Pet Waste

Although this sounds like a given, there are still many folks who do not pick up their pet’s waste. Pick up, bag, and dispose of pet waste properly to assure that unhealthy bacteria is not flowing into local waterways.

6. Plant Low-Maintenance Grasses and Plants

When it comes time to choose either grass seeds for your lawn or decorative plants, go with a low-maintenance, native (ones that occur naturally in a region in which they evolved) option. Because native plants adapt to local environmental conditions, they require far less water and are a lot better for the environment. Curious about what types of native plants are in your area? Check out this Native Plants Database to find out!

Interested in learning more about eco-conscious stormwater management to avoid stormwater pollution? Check out our infographic here and keep these tips in mind as you get going on your spring activities.