Water Online

May 2017

Water Innovations gives Water and Wastewater Engineers and end-users a venue to find project solutions and source valuable product information. We aim to educate the engineering and operations community on important issues and trends.

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have in place today. AWWA's job is to help utilities implement proper corrosion control and to communicate properly with their customers on everything from filters to explaining the household action level. Long term, we are advocating for a future where water doesn't come into contact with lead materials at all — meaning the removal of LSLs over time. Our goal is to help communities develop plans to do this in a collaborative manner that involves the utility, customers, public health officials, and other stakeholders. As a longtime customer and support services manager, what lessons or advice do you have for utilities dealing with concerns such as contamination threats, the need for rate hikes, or other issues? I can't say this enough — engage your stakeholders, media, and customers early and often. You need to form alliances and educate them on an ongoing basis. You need to have your customers' trust, so they know you're being good stewards of their money and that you take your job seriously in providing safe water. Create those relationships in advance of any problems. I also recommend relying heavily on a team of experts from across the utility, including finance, engineering, communications, and customer service. Running a utility is not a one-team show — everyone plays a pivotal role. What are the major utility management considerations of the day — those being addressed by AWWA's Management & Leadership Division, of which you have been a member? I've always been a big fan of AWWA's Utility Management Conference, because it's the event that focuses on the nontechnical/operational side of the business. When we think of utility workers, I think we tend to focus primarily on the technical folks. But there's a ton of other work that goes into managing a successful utility, such as succession planning, customer analytics, communications, asset management, and finance. AWWA is in the process of trying to highlight the opportunities we have available for this group more effectively, and I'm so glad to see it. This is a whole part of the water profession that often gets overlooked, and we need to tell their story better, if for no other reason than because it will help us recruit new and different professionals into the water sector. How about the role of AWWA's Diversity & Member Inclusion Committee, which you have also worked with? When I first started working in the water sector almost 30 years ago, diversity wasn't something we focused on very much, and if we did, it was primarily to make sure women were better represented. Since then, it's been gratifying to see a lot of progress in expanding the idea of what diversity means. Over the past couple of years, my predecessor, Jeanne Bennett-Bailey, has focused on this extensively, and I've had members tell me how much they appreciate the work that she's done to elevate diversity and inclusiveness in our community. Fostering diversity and inclusion is even one of the core values in AWWA's current strategic plan, right up there with protecting public health and safeguarding the environment. How would you characterize the current utility labor situation? Are you optimistic or worried about keeping utilities staffed with qualified personnel? It's no secret that our workforce is aging, and the pool of qualified personnel is shrinking, but there are many options still available. There are many veterans available who already have the skills we need. There are young professionals (YPs), and for them many of the skills you need are second nature, even if they haven't done a specific job before. Plus, working in the water sector requires being committed to public health and a steward of the environment — YPs have demonstrated an interest in careers where they feel they are giving back. I'm optimistic, but I do have concerns as well. As we have turnover in senior staff and institutional memory walks out the door, there's going to be a blend of staff who have different values and work styles. It will lead to friction and changes, which can be uncomfortable. Some things may fall through the cracks, and it's definitely going to be different. How is AWWA's Annual Conference & Exposition, ACE17 in particular, helping to shape the future course of the industry? Given the current challenges we're facing, ACE17 offers a strong water quality focus. We're also working to expand the conference to appeal to a more diverse and international audience. And for me, I always look forward to the networking. As someone who's come from a nontraditional water background, having those relationships has been invaluable as I've navigated my career. The people you meet at ACE become both friends and your expert resources. wateronline.com n Water Innovations 7 EDITOR'SLETTER When we think of utility workers, I think we tend to focus primarily on the technical folks. But there's a ton of other work that goes into managing a successful utility, such as succession planning, customer analytics, com- munications, asset management, and finance. Brenda Lennox, president-elect, American Water Works Association

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