SCWA unveils a new strategic plan

SCWA photo

SCWA unveils a new strategic plan

Story By: RICK CHALIFOUX
12/17/2015


SUFFOLK COUNTY—This month, the Suffolk County Water Authority officially announced a first-ever strategic business plan. The project, titled “Strategic Plan 2025,” marks a coordinated effort designed to ensure that the organization is prepared to meet the challenges of the next decade. 

The SCWA is the largest drinking water supplier in the nation, serving 1.2 million people, 85 percent of the Suffolk County population. Developed by key personnel, the plan consists of a blueprint of its top priorities for the years to come, highlighted by 10 comprehensive initiatives to help the authority best fulfill its self-proclaimed mission to provide customers “safe, pure, and constantly tested drinking water at the lowest possible cost with exemplary customer service.” 

Facets of the plan include major infrastructure investments to address an aging system, development of a customer service operation available to customers 24 hours per day, technological advancements to increase operation efficiency, and long-term plans to ensure an ample water supply throughout its service territory. 

The authority is also assessing the feasibility of creating alternative rates and fee structures to fund the projects within the plans and evaluating the possibility of creating an infrastructure reserve to quicken the pace of water main replacement.

“There are challenges ahead, and there is money that has to be invested, but we’re ready to do it,” said director of communications Tim Motz. “We have a plan of attack to make ourselves more efficient, more lean, more transparent, and more customer service-oriented.

“We’re very proud of the plan,” said SCWA CEO Jeffrey Sazbo, who noted that the initial idea for the plan came about two years ago. “It’s shocking we didn’t have one for so many years. If you want to be a successful entity, you have to have some sort of business plan to know where you’re going. Now that you have this thing in place, you can set a benchmark for your progress. My board has been very supportive as we’ve gone through the process, and it’s been educational for a lot of the staff to hear feedback and input from one another.”

The first goal is to invest nearly $1 billion to ensure that their infrastructure is capable of meeting the operational demands of present and future customers. To bolster this investment, the authority plans to create an all-inclusive asset inventory database to optimize the maintenance and replacement of assets in order to maximize their useful life.

The second is to transform into a 24-hour customer service operation, offering features such as automated appointment scheduling, automated customer notification of emergency situations, an updated interactive voice response system, real-time account posting, and live chat.

Another objective is to switch over to automated meter reading technology throughout its service territory. This would allow the authority to maximize operational efficiency, strive for a 100 percent read success rate, and collect data to help them respond more quickly to a wide variety of service complaints.

The next is to develop innovative and flexible strategies to attract new customers. This includes transitioning more Suffolk residents from using private wells to safe and rigorously tested public water.

“As you go further out east, you start to see more folks with private drinking water wells that are out of our system and not constantly tested,” said Sazbo. “We’re looking to offer free testing for their water supplies from our lab. Hopefully it’s good, but if it’s not we could offer some additional information that they might not regularly have. If they want to become customers, we could hopefully provide more for them to sign up.”

Another goal is to build a complete mobile workforce system throughout the authority to help improve communications, streamline workflow, increase information sharing, and improve customer response time. They are also looking to create an employee development center, which would effectively foster employee growth and training, ensure retention of its best performers, transition employees beyond outdated positions, and promote communication and transparency among departments.

“While we cover a large geographic area, we’re only 575 people,” said Sazbo. “We’re small enough where it makes sense to say, ‘let’s share information, improve communication, and tell everyone why we’re doing certain things.’”

In order to prepare for another major disaster like Hurricane Sandy, the authority will conduct vulnerability assessments of critical facilities and train its employees in all aspects of emergency preparedness. They are also set to develop long-term sustainable water supply plans for vulnerable areas, such as Fire Island and the South Fork. 

“When we started this, we wanted to be bold and explore all of our options,” said Sazbo. “We’ve been fortunate enough to get federal grants to improve some of the wells, water mains, and generators on Fire Island. We’re looking at a large project that would run a water main from the Fire Island National Seashore through Water Island all the way to Davis Park, which would be significant.”

Meanwhile, new treatment methods will be developed to properly test for any potential contaminants. Currently, the authority already tests for a total of 374 contaminants—149 more than federally required. 

“Fortunately, we’re at the cutting edge,” said Sazbo. “We have one of the best labs in the nation, and we will ensure that water quality remains very high. When it comes to being at the forefront of what contaminants we’re looking at in the future, we’re the ones working with the EPA to come up with that list. We’re proactive and always trying to get out in front of these things.”

For more information, visit www.scwa.com.