Washington, D.C. — A new maintenance and productivity program at Washington Aqueduct is paying dividends to drinking water customers of DC Water, Fairfax Water and Arlington County, Va., including increased worker productivity, cost improvements and improved maintenance and management of Washington Aqueduct's facilities. As a direct result of new formal work planning and scheduling techniques implemented through a Peer Performance Solutions partnership with Veolia North America, Washington Aqueduct has realized a 43 percent improvement in overall field maintenance staff productivity.

Washington Aqueduct is a federally-owned and operated public water supply agency and is a division of the Baltimore District, United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). The facilities comprising Washington Aqueduct were designed and built by USACE, with operation beginning in 1859.  Today, Washington Aqueduct delivers potable water to approximately one million customers through its three wholesale customers: District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (DC Water), Arlington County, Virginia and Fairfax Water in Fairfax, Virginia.

Developed in 2013, Achieving Excellence – Source to Tap is a collaborative program between operational managers and front-line employees of Washington Aqueduct and technical experts from Veolia who are working together to identify and implement process improvements.  The partnership originated from idea sharing between DC Water, Washington Aqueduct and other Aqueduct customers to determine the feasibility of optimizing operations to lower overall costs, ensure efficient operations, and strengthen operational and maintenance practices.  The program centers on developing tools, systems and structure to enhance workforce effectiveness while developing a metrics-based performance culture that improves operations in Washington Aqueduct's maintenance, plant operations, engineering and administration branches.

The first phase of the assessment identified more than 30 initiatives and the Washington Aqueduct and Veolia team is now implementing 20 initiatives with targeted, recurring operational savings of almost $3 million per year, along with the potential to realize an additional $4.5 million in savings on annual capital expenditures.

Initially, the Achieving Excellence – Source to Tap program focused on workforce productivity and workflow process improvements within the Washington Aqueduct Maintenance Branch. After establishing baseline performance metrics through field-observation and analysis, the team identified opportunities for improvement focused on the implementation of formal work planning and scheduling. Using customized workflow techniques, the team developed and mapped a process that better defined emergency versus non-emergency work, helping also to prioritize non-emergency work.

To implement the new program, Washington Aqueduct established a work planning and scheduling team within the Maintenance Branch, and then staffed and trained personnel to implement the new workflow process. This team now develops detailed plans, schedules requested work, and analyzes data to effectively measure and manage overall field performance. Following six months of implementation of this enhanced work planning and scheduling, Washington Aqueduct conducted a three-week analysis to measure overall impact on field productivity. This comprehensive analysis included field observation and measurement across all maintenance shops and crews. The result showed an increase in overall productivity by 43 percent.

"The work done every day at the Washington Aqueduct to provide safe drinking water is critical to everyone who lives, works or visits our region," said George Hawkins, chief executive officer and general manager of DC Water, who provides program oversight as a wholesale customer board member of Washington Aqueduct. "Great steps are being taken to ensure our drinking water not only meets the highest quality standards but is delivered in an efficient and effective manner, keeping costs down to lessen the burden on our ratepayers." 

Key improvement initiatives include: 

  • changes in water treatment and quality processes;
  • enhanced capital planning;
  • safety program enhancements;
  • development of targeted individual development and training plans;
  • improved communications, and;
  • implementation of performance management techniques across the organization.

The partnership is part of Veolia's Peer Performance Solutions model, enabling public water utilities to benchmark against other leading utilities while preserving public governance and a public workforce that benefits from specialized private-sector expertise. Similar efforts are underway in Winnipeg; Pittsburgh; New York City; Akron, Ohio; DeKalb County, Ga.; and Los Angeles.