03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Recognizing Private Water Companies for Sustainable Solutions

While a series of national issues are consuming the public discourse on Capitol Hill, state and local governments across the country continue to look for innovative ways to navigate complex and necessary upgrades to infrastructure systems while also meeting an increasing demand for environmental stewardship. To that end, government entities and private service providers are increasingly working together to meet the needs of consumers and communities everywhere.

The National Association of Water Companies recently recognized three private system operators for their work in delivering solutions that meet consumer demands in an environmentally responsible way, awarding them 2009 Management Innovation Awards. These annual awards recognize new and innovative programs that promote better water service, wider recognition of the industry and improved utility management.

This year's winners, United Water, Arizona American Water and Suburban Water Systems, were recognized at the 5th Annual National Drinking Water Symposium in Orlando, Fla. The award-winning programs represent a longstanding commitment from the private water industry to rigorously pursue environmental sustainability and water conservation.

United Water eBilling PUSH Project
Sending nearly 5 million bills for water and/or sewage services annually, United Water's billing traditionally created more than 119.5 tons of paper using more than 1.9 million gallons of water, emitted approximately 605,000 pounds of greenhouse gases and represented a significant opportunity to enhance sustainability efforts while increasing efficiency and reducing costs associated with paper billing. The company identified an eBilling PUSH solution to reduce United Water's dependency on paper billing which, in order to attain a larger participation rate than traditional offers of eBill services, delivers bills directly into the consumer's inbox as an encrypted offline attachment. This allows customers to access their bill without having to remember a username and password, or access the internet, allowing a one-click payment option directly from within the eBill itself. United Water's eBilling PUSH solution will achieve high adoption rates and help the company meet its overall objective of reducing the environmental impact of its operations.

American Water's Greener Reclamation Facility
When the operators at American Water's Arizona operations at the Northwest Valley Regional Water Reclamation Facility realized their odor scrubber operations, which eliminate smells from sewage systems, accounted for 95 percent of monthly potable water consumption at the facility, they decided to put their collective brainpower to identifying a way to practice what the company preaches in terms of water conservation. At the time, the scrubbers were utilizing a combined 25-30 gallons of water per minute, or 36,000-43,000 gallons of potable softened water per day. In doing so, they found a new way to reuse water from the facility's 1.2 million gallon equalization basin, drastically cutting water expenses from between $5,000 and $7,000 per month to approximately $800 to $1,500 per month. In terms of water savings, American Water's project enables the company to keep approximately 850,000 gallons more per month -- or more than 10 million gallons per year -- in local aquifers.

Suburban Water Systems' Suburban Residential Price Signal Index
Decades of econometric studies show that improved water-pricing policy positively affects water users' behavior, meaning that 1) water demand can be altered; 2) prices alter demand; and 3) prices can be used intentionally to alter demand. However, there has been little research by water purveyors to objectively evaluate how alternative conservation rate structures compare with other water purveyors who are known to have made a demonstrated commitment to water conservation. This is partly because in the past benchmark rate structures had never been compiled, and there was no software tool available with which to easily evaluate and compare the price signals that customers were receiving from these benchmark rate structures. The Suburban Residential Price Signal Index (SRPSI) fills that void, providing an easy-to-use template that allows the user to input an inclining block rate structure and immediately see how that rate structure compares to the average for the benchmark rate structures with similar rate designs. The SRPSI is sure to serve as an important tool in comparing the relative effectiveness of pricing on water conservation, allowing water purveyors to better set their prices to support water conservation goals.

Congratulations to these award recipients and the countless others in the private water service industry who continue to provide excellent service to nearly one in four Americans while maintaining a stern focus on sustainability.