Flood of Community Benefits Realized for NOCWA Members
North Oakland County Water Authority (NOCWA) is a regional water authority comprised of Auburn Hills, Rochester Hills, Orion Township, Pontiac, and Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner’s Office (Pontiac water system owner/operator). NOCWA was created out of collective concern regarding system reliability, decreased water pressure, rising Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) water supplier rates, and overall operating expenses. The NOCWA operations plan relies on effective operation of Pontiac’s oversized storage tanks during peak water use periods – when residents most use water. Draw from DWSD is reduced during morning and evening peaks by monitoring overall NOCWA demand and supplementing resident demand via the storage facilities through a coordinated process. Results include water pressure increases, reduced energy costs, and $3.8 million annual savings. This win-win partnership illustrates the power of working together to achieve results otherwise unattainable if not for the innovative, collaborative efforts of these communities.
Replicability:Communities with an interest in working together to achieve cost savings and improved service levels, much like NOCWA, must have contiguous borders and surplus water storage capacity to decrease peak water draw from the supplier. Though alternatives were evaluated, the individual NOCWA communities opted to retain ownership and maintenance of all infrastructure and assets, which resulted in minimal capital investments. Only minor changes in system operations were required to effectively implement the collaborative operations plan. Utilizing shared resources allows for water authority members to delay, or eliminate altogether, larger capital projects - as well as realize millions of dollars in savings to the communities. This type of partnership produces positive results applicable to an entire region, not limited to just a single municipality, authority or district. NOCWA adopted a simple governance approach concerning organizational structure, authority rights and limitations, system operations, infrastructure ownership, revenue requirement allocation, etc. Its authority to enter into binding contracts is limited to contracts with DWSD for water supply, and for consulting services such as engineering, financial and legal. The partnership was guided by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG), which provided facilitation services, and OHM Advisors, which provided technical support.
Creativity and Originality:Four communities working together, without large capital outlay, to reduce energy costs, decrease water rates, and increase water pressure is no small feat. The formation of NOCWA required frequent work sessions, and a great deal of trust and willingness to cooperate for the benefit of common goals. NOCWA's formation under a simple governance structure affords maximum control to each member community, with minimal capital investment. Additionally, the arrangement is unique in that it allows each community to own, operate, and maintain their infrastructure and assets - whereas water authorities typically transfer their assets to a single authority and hire staff for system operations and maintenance. The NOCWA system relies heavily on the proactive communication, coordination and implementation of a jointly developed NOCWA operations plan, which outlines each community's water usage, designated storage tank filling schedule, and an emergency protocol should a deviation plan be necessary. Initial investment and operating expenses were kept to a minimum. Fixed costs associated with the legal formation of NOCWA totaled approximately $80,000. With shared annual savings of $3.8 million, the return on investment is less than 10 days! Furthermore, all NOCWA formation expenses were offset by a $100,000 Competitive Grant Assistance Program awarded to the City of Rochester Hills. In short, the myriad community benefits and cost savings realized through NOCWA more than outweigh the effort to form and manage the partnership.
Community Impact:Though the impressive numbers below speak to real impact, extensive community collaboration - beyond NOCWA - is an unexpected byproduct that emerged from the solid trust developed by working so closely together. Equipment and best practices are being shared. Conversations outside of water are taking place. The NOCWA partners are seeking additional opportunities to enhance service for residents through the sharing of operating costs, regional assets, and programs and services that have mutual benefit. The statistics tell NOCWA's success story: $3.8 million collective annual savings; significantly reduced DWSD water rates for each participating community; peak demand water pressure rates increased 5-7 PSI. In a specific example, the City of Pontiac realized significant energy savings by increasing supply from their higher pressure district in the winter months. This simple change results in $36,000/year in energy savings and consistently higher water pressure. Similarly, operational changes at their booster pump station reduced water main breaks by 40% this past winter over 2013-14. Each community independently decides where their savings resulting from NOCWA participation will be redirected. Most member communities plan to utilize their savings to improve aging infrastructure - for example, water main replacement - which will result in improved operations and, ultimately, better service to residents.
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Project PowerPoint - Flood of Community Benefits Realized for NOCWA Members