Tony Parrott, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Metropolitan Sewer District, sat down recently with John Salo, senior vice president at Brown and Caldwell, to discuss the district's wet weather program and the challenges facing water and wastewater utilities. This interview is available exclusively to BC Water News readers, and is the type of content you receive free with your subscription.
April 17, 2012

10 Minutes With …

Tony Parrott
What is the mission of the Greater Cincinnati Metropolitan Sewer District?
The MSD was created in 1968 and provides wastewater collection and treatment services to about 850,000 people in the City of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, Ohio. We also provide services to Warren County and parts of Claremont and Butler counties. In the past 15 years we also have managed the cityís stormwater management utility. Our goal is to be one of the best public utilities in the world at protecting the environment while also being great stewards of ratepayersí money. This attitude is reflected in the decisions that we make and the ways we meet the regulations and guidelines for the EPA and the Clean Water Act. Itís important to us that we make a difference to the community by showing the next generation the benefits of the work that we do every day.

What do you see as the greatest challenges and opportunities facing water and wastewater utilities?
Public wastewater facilities are at a crossroads because our challenges are so significant. The main challenge, particularly in large urban areas, is implementing major capital initiatives for a declining population. That challenge is complicated by the significant infrastructure funding gap that exists across the nation. On the wastewater side historically there were a lot of grant opportunities that helped us build our assets and come into compliance with certain requirements. Today we canít tap the same resources, so for the first time ratepayers are starting to see the full cost of water and wastewater utilities. Given the economic downturn and population decline, this situation will be a test to our financial sustainability.

Fortunately we recognize where we are. As we make these investments, we have the opportunity to meet the requirements of the CWA and at the same time bring value to the communities we serve. Projects that support economic development and the revitalization of our urban core, while also maximizing opportunities for small businesses and the local workforce have some inclusion in the work that we do. With those opportunities we can be less of a burden on the local ratepayers by giving them an opportunity to receive some of the benefits of our efforts.

MSD has been a leader in making its large wet weather program benefit the community. Tell us about how you are accomplishing that.
The key thing to remember is that the wet weather program is not a dry weather problem and affects mostly combined sewer utilities. We have to decide the correct strategy to deal with wet weather programs and how they benefit the community. We can no longer make project decisions in a vacuum. We need community understanding of what our requirements are, and we need input on what benefits they expect to receive. We need a strategy that is grounded in sustainability, using construction techniques that mimic the natural hydrology of a watershed as it was predevelopment. We also must look at treating things at the source. Leading with source control treatment to maximize those waters that donít need secondary treatment and treating them at the source will give us the opportunity to create amenities to change the face of neighborhoods. We think there is value in the marriage of conventional and sustainable treatment methods.

What other steps are you taking to educate the public and to make MSD a good neighbor?
We have a proactive and progressive communication strategy with the public. This includes normal methods like public outreach, newsletters and our website. Communication is the best way for the public to understand why, when and how the public will be affected by a project, as well as the benefit it will bring to ratepayers. We are doing more community open houses and design workshops so the public can be involved as we plan a project. Not everybody will be on board, but taking that proactive step helps change perceptions.

As a utility manager, what is your view of EPA's proposed Integrated Planning framework?
The overarching objective of the integrated planning framework proposed by the EPA is to foster consideration by local governments of all their CWA obligations when assessing and prioritizing solutions for meeting water quality issues. EPA views the integrated approach as including wastewater and stormwater obligations, and green infrastructure utilization when planning for projects intended to meet the CWA obligations. For the past three years MSD has been using the integrated approach recommended by EPA when planning watershed projects. We developed our integrated model in 2009 which weíve had some discussions with EPA, and I think part of our discussions have been taken into consideration in the development of the global framework that EPA is now putting out there. We must get EPA away from a siloed approach to establishing regulations. There canít be so many combined sewer and stormwater regulations, so many air quality regulations. There is a limited amount of dollars we have to be able to come into compliance with these regulations. The integrated approach allows you to mix those obligations and plan effectively.

Construction reform in Ohio now allows alternative forms of project delivery. What are the implications of this reform legislation on how MSD will implement its ongoing CIP?
This is very important for MSD and other utilities in Ohio. Up until now, utilities under the Ohio Revised Code have had limited access to this alternative delivery method. The law is important because of our Consent Decree projects that are tied to specific milestone dates. It gives us a tool that will allow us to speed up the schedule and delivery of projects. Itís a very important tool as we try to be as efficient as we can with the ratepayerís dollars.

MSD recently completed a sustainability plan to parallel your overall strategic plan. What is the role of sustainability in the utility of the future?
Sustainability is a broad term. It is something we define as the type of treatment technologies you use, type of assets you build, type of operation and management tools to improve utility efficiency, and the type of strategies you use to make your utility financially sustainable. Sustainability is all about how we shape the direction of the utility to enable it to prosper environmentally, operationally and fiscally.

What's the most significant project you have been involved with in your career?
Thatís a tough one. One of the most significant is a current one, the Lick Run Alternative. That project is a model for sustainability and integrated watershed planning. It has all of the elements of the proposed framework of the EPA and it has the intrinsic value we think is necessary to benefit the community. It has the opportunity to meet the objectives of the Clean Water Act, and it creates a public asset that deals with stormwater and can be used for revitalization of an urban core community.

What career advice would you give to the next generation of professionals entering the environmental field?
The environmental field is so wide open for the next generation. Many career paths are available. My advice is to figure out what your passion is and recognize that you have many opportunities in the environmental field. As people enter the workforce they must think about not only what they want but also what the mission of a particular agency is and how it can shape a career and the community it serves. It is also important to remember that the public utility field is a business and we have to think and act like one.

What do you do for fun?
I love retreating to the backwoods of Kentucky where I was born and raised. I enjoy tending to family farm where we raise registered Black Angus. Being in the country allows me to have perspective on life, have some solitude and be with family and friends. I also enjoy listening to jazz and classical music, and I love to exercise.


Name: James A. "Tony" Parrott

Title: Executive Director, Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati, Ohio

Background: Tony has been in the public utility business for 26 years. After completing his degree in business and communications at Georgetown University, Tony joined the Butler County Department of Environmental Services in Ohio, where he served as executive director from 1995 through 2004. He moved to the Metropolitan District of Greater Cincinnati in 2005. Tony sits on the National Board of Directors for NACWA representing Region 5 and the National Board of Directors for Water Environment Research Foundation. In 2011 Tony was recognized by the Water Environment Federation as a WEF Fellow.

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