April 28, 2010
10 minutes with Mike Strub
MIKE STRUB has been involved in public infrastructure design, construction, and management for more than 30 years. He answers a few questions from the BC Water News team.
Name: Mike Strub
Title: Executive Director, LOTT Alliance (Olympia, Wash.)
Background: Mike has been the executive director for the LOTT Alliance since 2002. Mike carries out the policies of the Board of Directors and is primarily responsible for the overall management of LOTT's administrative and business affairs, operational and permitted responsibilities, implementation of the Wastewater Resource Management Plan, intergovernmental relations, capital and long-range planning efforts, and other activities related to carrying out the mission of the LOTT Alliance. Mike has been involved in public infrastructure design, construction, and management for more than 30 years. He is a registered civil engineer, holds a master's degree in engineering management, and has done post-graduate work in utilizing geographic information systems (GIS) for predictive utility planning. Previously, he was the public works director in Rapid City, S.D., and spent many years in the private sector as a utility consultant.
Project Director, Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Supply Expansion project
Division Manager, Wildland
Conservation, Austin Water Utility
Executive Director, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District
Executive Director, Food & Water Watch
Director, Water Environment Services, Clackamas County, Ore.
Director of Public Works, Meridian, Idaho
King County (Wash.) Wastewater Treatment Division
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What drew you to a career in the water/wastewater industry?
Mike Strub: Making a difference every day in a real way is why I do this.
How has the industry changed since you started?
Strub: We have gotten much better at what we do. As a result of the federal laws passed in the 1970s, we have dramatically changed the nation’s waterways, and we are way ahead of the rest of the world. There is an elevated public awareness and acceptance of what we do compared to 30 years ago. Overall there is a greater level of consciousness about our natural surroundings and sustaining them for future generations.
In recent years wastewater agencies and municipalities have been teaming up to create regional governance structures, like the LOTT model, for wastewater treatment, infrastructure, stormwater management and general asset management. What are the challenges and benefits to this governance structure?
Strub: The biggest benefit is the ability to manage on a region-wide basis. It saves money, optimizes investment, and most importantly, helps provide infrastructure for growth in a managed way. In our case, because of the makeup of our Board of Directors, one of the less obvious benefits is the forum it provides for elected leaders to discuss regional issues. The challenge is to overcome parochialism by ensuring that we are meeting the needs of the individual jurisdictions, as well as the needs of the region.
The LOTT Alliance is located in a very active, political community. How have you worked with the community and stakeholders? Have there been opportunities for synergy?
Strub: We are successful because we pay attention to community values. We spent a lot of time learning what those values were, and we have been continuously working to get better at meeting them. The public is willing to pay for what they believe in. Everything works better when your organization understands this principle.
LOTT has some of the most stringent effluent limits on Puget Sound. What unique solutions have you been able to provide to meet these challenges?
Strub: Most importantly, all new growth is planned as Class A reclaimed water use. We build smaller satellite plants on a “just-in-time” basis and allow for no new discharge into Puget Sound beyond what we are currently allowed. We also employ biological nitrogen removal at our main plant to keep levels at or below 3mg/l going into the Sound.
What does the concept of sustainability mean to LOTT? How do LOTT’s investments and proposed solutions reflect that concept?
Strub: We have developed a “build-out” planning horizon. Sustainability of our infrastructure is designed around constant upgrade, repair, and replacement to that date. Sustainability of the LOTT organization and vibrancy for the future are a constant goal for the governance. Water conservation, triple-bottom-line evaluations, energy generation, and LEED design are some of the elements we have incorporated into our sustainability approach to infrastructure development. Sustainability also means reducing our carbon footprint as we move forward into the
future, as well as understanding the potential impact of sea level rise. We strive to create a sustainable investment in every decision and infrastructure project as we move toward full build-out and beyond.
LOTT recently published both a Strategic Business Plan and an Asset Management Program. What benefits have you seen based on adopting these business models?
Strub: Our asset management program allows us to understand the overall investment necessary to sustain our infrastructure in the most optimized way. It also provides the tools for our customers to understand and “buy in” to that investment.
The Strategic Business Plan represents our effort to memorialize the values, levels of service, and measures of success that make up our business practices. It is the best way to demonstrate to our customers that we are meeting their expectations.
LOTT places an emphasis on community education and involvement. What are the most important benefits/outcomes of this commitment?
Strub: LOTT has had an ongoing effort to emphasize education in the community. We work with middle schools, making classroom presentations, as well as bringing students to the plants for educational tours. In designing our new Administration/Education center, we included an interpretive gallery and classroom space. This will be used to enhance and expand our current programs in the schools. Additionally we are partnering with the City of Olympia and the Hands On Children’s Museum, which will be constructed next to our building. The benefits we achieve are many, but the most important ones include:
• Conservation and resource management education. I think almost everyone agrees that
K-12 is the best place to input the ideals that will prevail in the future generation of ratepayers. With new treatment capacity at nearly $20 million per mgd, conservation has proven to pay off in our community.
• Advancing the adaptation of reclaimed water use in the community. In order for LOTT’s future strategy of building all new capacity in reclaimed water, the community must embrace the concept of reclaimed water use. Again, reaching students is one of the best ways to help that future be successful.
• Getting students interested in a career in the clean water industry. With retirements reaching nearly 35 percent in the next 10 years and a shrinking labor pool, it is imperative that we find new ways to recruit future workers.
What fun thing would you like the readers to know about you?
Strub: My interest in music. Music is like life. It’s one of those things that keeps you young, and all of my best management principles came from working with bands.
What would be one thing that you would hope to have as your legacy?
Strub: Building LOTT into a sustainable organization that has a positive impact on people's lives, and knowing that I made a difference.