Winter is here — what does that mean to the City of Minneapolis Water Department?
For us winter is a time to plan for the next construction season and to do the maintenance at the treatment plants.
The biggest issue we have with the colder source water from a treatment perspective is that there is a certain temperature range where we will get freezing sludge. If not anticipated and dealt with proactively it can be real burdensome.
Any increases in main breaks or anything like that?
We do not have very many main breaks for a community our size. Historically, we average around 50 a year. This past winter was brutal and everyone's main breaks are up. In Minneapolis, we have good soils and our mains are buried about 6 inches deeper than typical. We're pretty fortunate.
What are Minneapolis Water’s biggest accomplishments since you have joined the department?
We developed a new strategic plan and we're trying to make that a living document. As part of that, we created a matrix organization that is quite different from a hierarchical organization structure of the past.
What do you see as the greatest challenges for the Minneapolis Water Department going forward?
We're an old utility and when you have an old utility you have to be willing to be self-reflective and look at some of the things you do and ask why you do them. And if you can't answer that question then you should probably dig a little deeper.
Are you having a lot of retirements and turnover in the workforce?
Yes and that's not all a bad thing. We had our share of turnover over the last couple of years. I would say that we weathered it quite well and now the biggest challenge is we have new people on board who need to come up to speed.
The Twin Cities metropolitan area is facing pressures to reduce its reliance on groundwater. As a regional water provider, what role do you see Minneapolis Water playing with existing and new partnerships in addressing this challenge?
We have excess surface water capacity, but how much depends on how you frame that question. We have some additional base capacity. We are not as interested in adding to our peak load. The biggest barrier is getting the treated surface water to where the potential new customers are at a reasonable rate. There's a financial barrier there.
I understand that suburban communities around the Twin Cities who have groundwater supplies want to keep that supply autonomy.
Finding that balance between surface water and groundwater, from an ideological perspective is great, but the challenge is how do you address some of the cost barriers? It's an interesting discussion in which every aspect of the discussion lends itself to debate.
If you could change one thing about state or federal regulatory programs, what would it be?
From the state perspective, it would be how the state regulatory programs collect fees to fund their programs. The financial impact is disproportionately born by Minneapolis and St. Paul. As they keep looking for ways to fund additional programs they go back to the same old models.
What is something that people might be surprised to learn about Minneapolis Water Department?
We were established in 1867, the same year I think that Minneapolis became a city. We are almost 150 years old. I think the Minnesota Health Department was established around the same time as well.
We're a very old utility, we started out as a fire fighting utility with our first pump stations located downtown.
What are the top priorities for the Minneapolis Water Department over the next few years?
To continue to develop our asset management program, to be much more strategic in how we invest. I don't think that's unique to Minneapolis. For a long time utilities tolerated zero risk. The amount of redundancy we have in our systems reflects that. We just need to get better about truly understanding and quantifying risk.
What is the most significant project you have been involved with in your career?
I think coming to Minneapolis and being in a position to to set a strategic direction. Selling to the entire staff the unique opportunity we have to leave a really great lasting legacy.
The programs that we're setting in place now will benefit us in the short term but they will really benefit those that come after us. Setting that framework for leaving that legacy is something I want to be a part of. I hope that future leaders can look back at this time period and say, "Those guys really had the right idea, they set the framework for what we're doing today."
I'm excited by that challenge, it gets me fired up to come to work every day.
What is on your reading list right now?
It's a book by Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal called "How Great Leaders Think: The Art of Reframing." It's all about reframing organizations in four different frames, structural, human resource, political and symbolic.
What is on your to-do list?
It's employee appraisal time so we're busy with that process. The city has spent a lot of time and effort in developing a whole performance cycle.
It's a pretty robust process that we have implemented down to include our first-line supervisors. Beginning in 2015, we'll be taking it across the entire utility.