MSD Develops, Pilots Benchmarking Assessment

MSD Develops, Pilots Benchmarking Assessment To Measure Utility Performance

Tool Could Lead To Nationally Recognized Reporting Measures For Utilities With Federal Consent Decree Orders

The Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati (MSD) has developed and piloted a benchmarking assessment designed to measure utility performance needed to comply with Consent Decrees under the Federal Clean Water Act.

"While there are different generalized self-assessment and benchmarking tools within the industry, there is no assessment tool that integrates and addresses the unique challenges of CSO communities and those managing large capital programs, said Tony Parrott, MSD Executive Director. "This will be a first."

MSD developed the benchmarking tool with feedback from industry experts to assess, measure and report out on its performance for 2012. MSD has obtained interest from the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, Water Environmental Research Federation along with USEPA to expand the use of the tool among other utilities for measuring performance.

MSD developed the tool during the winter of 2013. The utility reviewed various key performance indicators and measures of performance, and determined necessary data to evaluate. Utility industry knowledge gaps were filled with new practices and measures that addressed consent decree issues not yet dealt with by the industry.

The assessment, which uses both qualitative and quantitative evaluation, uses a five point scale to assess how a certain practice is applied as well as its effectiveness.

"Overall, this was a very comprehensive assessment of over 60 key metrics and 109 practice areas within six major categories of utility operation to evaluate MSD performance," said MSD Deputy Director MaryLynn Lodor. "The findings suggest that MSD is either on target, over target or under target on the key metrics of utility performance. What we were able to do is develop a baseline for performance that can be monitored, measured and improved upon over time as well."

The assessment is designed to:

  • Provide greater transparency on performance
  • Help utilities strategically and cost effectively work with regulators to manage consent decrees
  • Assess performance and utility management practices
  • Identify improvement opportunities
  • Provide a baseline for measurement against peer utilities

In June and July of 2013, MSD staff reviewed the framework and tools, and piloted the benchmarking tool to identify areas of organizational strength and areas for improvement.

Snapshot of some key metrics assessed:

Metric 2012 Actual 2012 Target Performance
Cash Reserve (days) 0.47% 1.0% Meets/Exceeds
Sewer System Effectiveness 92% 90% Meets/Exceeds
Sewer Treatment Effectiveness 94% 95% Within Range
Sewer System Disruptions per 1,000 Customers 2 Under Consideration
Planned Maintenance 55% 80% Under Target
Plant Availability 99.8% 100% Within Range
Debt Coverage Ratio 1.87 1.50 Meets/Exceeds
Capital Project Execution 85% 85% Meets/Exceeds
Total Small Business Enterprise Inclusion 18.4% 20% Under Target

The benchmarking assessment tool evaluates a spectrum of components ranging from infrastructure and environmental issues to overall stakeholder management.

"This has been a valuable experience. Some of our highest rated performance areas include organizational and operational performance," said Parrott. "We can now use this information to help identify the areas that are most worthy of investment and extra attention. It’s all about making smart choices and good investments so that we can continue to improve utility services."

MSD manages the consent decree activities required by the federal and state regulators to eliminate sanitary sewer overflows and reduce combined sewer overflows. A consent decree is a negotiated agreement that establishes a formal remediation program to address compliance issues.

MSD is one of approximately 740 utilities nationally that operate and manage a combined sewer system and a small number that are implementing aggressive capital improvement and asset management programs to improve public health and the environment. The benchmarking will serve as a tool for continual improvement and tracking progress.