EWEB honored with three Excellence in Communication Awards

Each year, water utilities from across the region submit their brochures, reports, websites, and other communication tools to the Pacific Northwest Section of the American Water Works Association (PNWS-AWWA) Communications Committee for award consideration.

EWEB won three awards this year in the following categories:

  • Electronic Communications by a Large Utility, awarded for our Preparing for Winter & Preventing Frozen Pipes infographic, developed in partnership with students in the University of Oregon School of Journalism & Communication.
  • Wild Card by a Large Utility, awarded for our “Tapping into Clean Water” children’s museum exhibit, developed in partnership with Springfield Utility Board, Rainbow Water District and The Science Factory.
  • Best in Show by a Large Utility, also awarded for the “Tapping into Clean Water” exhibit.

The awards were presented during a ceremony at the section annual conference in Kennewick, WA on May 5.

“Tapping into Clean Water” helps kids look at this amazing natural resource in a whole new way

The “Best in Show” award is given each year to the top entry from among all the individual category winners. At the awards ceremony earlier this month, we received the exciting news that our “Tapping into Clean Water” science museum exhibit was the first entry ever to achieve a perfect score for the Best in Show category.

The exhibit challenges kids to navigate a raindrop through the landscape to the water treatment plant, learning about pollutants along the way. Other stations explore water filtration and treatment processes that are similar to those we use at our Hayden Bridge Water Filtration Plant to deliver safe drinking water from the McKenzie River to customer homes.

The project was an ambitious two-year undertaking that involved technical experts from the three local utilities, an exhibition contractor and science educators, according to Jill Hoyenga of EWEB’s Communication, Marketing & Research Department, and one of the exhibit’s designers.

“It was an honor to be part of the team that created this fun, hands-on activity to help young people embrace the value of water and watershed protection,” says Jill.

Kids and parents can visit the award-winning “Tapping into Clean Water” exhibit throughout 2017 at the Science Factory, 2300 Leo Harris Parkway in Eugene.

Frozen pipes: A hot topic this winter

They say a good infographic is worth a thousand words. EWEB’s “Preparing for Winter & Preventing Frozen Pipes” infographic also was worth an honor from the American Water Works Association for excellence in electronic communication.

Students in the University of Oregon School of Journalism & Communication worked with members of EWEB’s Communication Department to create the infographic which does an impressive job of packaging useful information with eye-catching designs.

The award committee recognized the infographic for its applicability to all water utilities, and for the collaborative effort between industry and education.

“The collaboration, which took serious effort between the students and EWEB as the client, worked quite well,” said Connie Chandler, Public Relations Instructor at the University of Oregon. “It’s wonderful to see professional colleagues honor the work of students who are not even in the workplace yet.”

Another notable fact according to the award committee, was the infographic’s presentation of costs to homeowners from water damage and freezing pipes. The students dug into insurance industry data to uncover that water damage and freezing account for almost 22 percent of all homeowner insurance industry claims and average $4,024 per claim. A great bit of sleuthing and creativity by these future communications professionals!

The Pacific Northwest Section of the American Water Works Association was founded in 1927 and provides leadership to drinking water professionals in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington in the areas of water quality and distribution, water resource policy, conservation and engineering.

The Excellence in Communication Awards recognize outstanding communication efforts by water utilities in Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

Congratulations to these creative teams for their much deserved awards!

Happy National Drinking Water Week!

We’re joining the American Water Works Association and water professionals across the country in kicking off Drinking Water Week with the theme, “Your Water – To Know it is to Love it.”

How lucky are we to have some of the cleanest, safest, best tasting water in the world, right here in our community? While this week marks the official observance of National Drinking Water Week, many of us in Eugene, and especially here at EWEB, celebrate our drinking water all year long!

This week, let’s all make a special point of appreciating the pure, tasty, and healthy water we have the privilege to enjoy right from our taps, any time day or night.

While we’re at it, let’s raise our water glasses to the Water Operations staff who construct, operate and maintain our water treatment, transmission, storage, pumping, and distribution systems. And of course to our staff and partners who help protect and conserve one of community’s most valuable resources — clean drinking water. Thank you for all that you do!

In keeping with this year’s theme, “Your Water — To Know it is to Love it” here are some interesting facts about Eugene’s drinking water:

•Our drinking water begins a journey to customer taps from the Cascade Mountains.
•We divert water from the McKenzie River at the Hayden Bridge Filtration Plant.
•Our 24 pump stations keep water moving to homes and businesses throughout our service area.
•Our water travels through more than 800 miles of transmission and distribution main lines.
•Our 28 reservoirs store water to ensure good water pressure and a steady supply.
•For decades, we have tested our water for lead. This testing shows that there is no lead in the water that enters the distribution piping. We also adjust the pH of the water to reduce corrosion in our pipe systems and to help prevent lead from leaching out of your old household plumbing fixtures.
•Our water meets or exceeds all state and federal drinking water health standards.
•We have never violated a maximum contaminant level or any other water quality standard established by the EPA.
•Over the past eight years, we’ve invested more than $30 million upgrading, expanding and renovating the Hayden Bridge Water Filtration Plant.
•Our Drinking Water Source Protection Program offers two plans to assist homeowners in the McKenzie Watershed with septic system repairs, replacement, inspections and pump-outs to help to protect the excellent water quality of the McKenzie River.

All of this information and more is available to customers on our website, as well as through our annual Drinking Water Report (known to water professionals as the Consumer Confidence Report). The Drinking Water Report was highlighted in the Spring 2017 Pipeline, and is available for download on the web.

What’s happening this week?

The Communications, Marketing & Research Department is coordinating several Drinking Water Week activities, and there are opportunities for you to get involved too!

•We will be promoting Drinking Water Week in social media all week long to remind customers of the vital role water plays in our daily lives and to highlight the steps we take here at EWEB to care for our drinking water sources and to invest in water infrastructure.
•We’re distributing emergency water storage containers to customers who pre-ordered, and selling containers in the headquarters customer service lobby. If you’re an EWEB customer and you have not yet received your limit of four containers per household, come by the lobby this week to purchase the 3-gallon, BPA-free containers for just $5 each, while supplies last!
•Also in the headquarters lobby, the WaterTown USA game board is on display for kids, parents, and anyone who is interested in learning more about how we deliver tap water from the McKenzie River to customer homes. The game board is part of EWEB’s award-winning “Tapping into Clean Water” exhibit, which is at the Science Factory in Eugene throughout 2017.
•If you’re into getting your hands dirty, join us for the Turtle Flats habitat enhancement volunteer work party this Saturday, May 13. Contact Jill Hoyenga at 541-685-7157 for more information.

What do customers tell us about our performance and their priorities?

For a number of years, EWEB has conducted annual customer satisfaction surveys, as well as focus groups and stakeholder interviews to measure customers’ opinions and identify trends over time. Through routine outreach in a variety of forms, and through qualitative, informal feedback, we’ve built up a clear body of research about how customers view the utility’s performance, and their priorities in terms of products, services, programs, and spending.

We use surveys to understand customer preferences and expectations on a variety of subjects, including product quality and reliability, service, communication, and prices. We also collect feedback through more in-depth focus groups, expert panels and advisory committee discussions about emerging and current issues such as modernization efforts, plans to diversify our water sources, pricing models, conservation programs, and community or environmental initiatives. Through post-program participation or transactional surveys, we learn about individual customer experiences with EWEB employees and program contractors.

Ultimately, the goal of this outreach is to better align our work with the needs and expectations of our customers.

The most recent customer satisfaction survey was completed in 2015; the first quarterly survey of 2017 wraps up this week. In Q4 2015, a total of 1,109 randomly-sampled residential customers completed or partially completed interviews (816 online and 293 by phone). Here are a few high-level results:

  • Reliability and our core business functions remain extremely high, both in customer satisfaction and perceived importance. Customer respondents had the highest satisfaction with drinking water quality and water and electric service reliability, which received average ratings between 8.3 and 8.8 on a 10-point scale.
  • Customer satisfaction has significantly improved for responsiveness to customers’ needs and concerns, moving from 7.3 in 2014 to 7.6 in 2015, and for efforts to control costs, which moved from 5.7 in 2014 to 6.0 in 2015.
  • Our plans to diversify and add alternate water sources was considered very important by most customers (88% felt it was important to do so, including 59% who felt it was very important).
  • Customers are still learning about Smart Meters, but they appear to value the features they offer, and an increasing proportion is indicating favorability for the modernized meters.

    The survey also included a “Gap Analysis,” providing insights into the relationship between importance and satisfaction. In 2015, the most significant differences between satisfaction and importance existed for efforts to control costs, protection of drinking water sources, and responsiveness to customer needs and concerns.

    The gap between importance and satisfaction with “efforts to control costs” is a clear improvement opportunity, and a trend we’ve seen for several years running.

    In 2016, we did not issue a customer satisfaction survey, but instead hired a consultant to conduct one-on-one interviews with a cross-section of community stakeholders to gather meaningful feedback about the future direction of the utility. Twenty-two people representing business interests, community organizations, non-profits, energy advocates, young professionals and other thought leaders participated.

    The interview results were mostly consistent with past satisfaction surveys. Reliability is the clear top priority. The interviewees gave us high marks for customer service and conservation programs. And while they viewed economic development and social needs support as important community issues, they questioned EWEB’s role and spending in these areas. We heard similar feedback about community programs in the 2015 Customer Satisfaction Survey. Community involvement such as grants, sponsorships and special events are considered a strategic or “value-added” activity, according to customer research, and rank below safety, reliability and affordability.

    Customer feedback about spending priorities and satisfaction with efforts to control costs are driving factors behind GM Frank Lawson’s new affordability target. Currently, EWEB customers spend approximately 4% of the median income in Eugene on power and water bills. Frank would like us to be closer to 3.2% of median income, a 20% improvement. To get there, Frank and the Executive Team are working on plans to trim $15 million and some 60 employees from the annual budget.

    More outreach planned

    This year, the Customer & Community Relations Division is administering more surveys and outreach to gather detailed information on customer sentiment. Some of the upcoming surveys and outreach include:

  • Distribution engineering survey of contractors and builders
  • Customers satisfaction survey, which we will now be administering quarterly
  • Greenpower customer survey
  • Atrium and contact center transactional surveys (every 15th customer)
  • Residential electric pricing advisory committee to explore different pricing reform options
  • Golf Scramble Tournament to benefit HHUG Friday, June 9

    Last year’s Golf Scramble “Fore” Employees was so successful, we thought why not do it again!

    The Golf Scramble will be held again at River Ridge Golf Course and is open to employees and retirees. Each participant may also invite one guest, and the cost for this afternoon of 18 holes of golf and fun will be $56 per person (this includes a cart).

    This event is a fundraiser for EWEB’s own Helping Hand Utility Gift (HHUG) program and ALL levels of play are welcome! Last year’s inaugural event raised over $600 for HHUG!

    There will be prizes for longest drive, longest putt, and closest to the pin. There will also be snacks provided throughout the day, with an awards party on-site, immediately after the tournament.

    Don’t miss out on this fun afternoon of friends, golf, and lots of laughs!

    Contact misty.fisher@eweb.org to sign up now! A deposit of $10 (cash only please) will be due two weeks prior to the tournament, and the remaining cost will be due the day of the event.

    Retirees plus one guest may sign up!

    Ice storm report highlights improvements needed before the next major event

    Following the December 2016 ice storm, staff from all areas of the utility discussed and documented what happened, things that went well, and action areas to improve our response for the next event.

    The ice storm was one of the largest outages EWEB has experienced. At times, an estimated 22,000 customers were without power. Recovery required about 10 days to restore power to all customers, and cost EWEB just above $4 million.

    The intent of Post Incident Action Report is to capture lessons learned from the ice storm, develop a plan of action to address identified improvements, and assign responsibility and resources to address the identified improvements. The primary goal is to document improvements and transfer this knowledge soon after the incident into an action plan that can be used to improve EWEB’s response for the next incident command system (ICS) event.

    The report captures a summary of the event, including facts and stats on daily outages and restoration, labor costs and hours worked, and customer communication metrics.

    Due to the unprecedented severity of the storm and the duration of restoration, several weaknesses in our day-to-day and ICS systems and practices were exposed. The report reveals that these weaknesses resulted in loss of efficiency and duplication of efforts in addition to burnout of staff, in some instances, during the storm.

    In many areas, these weaknesses served as a catalyst for staff to react in flexible, novel and innovative ways within a relatively short timeframe. As a result, several new systems and practices were put in place during the storm, which will be retained for future multi-day restoration efforts.

    Here are the top six goals and actions taken from the post event analysis. These goals have been assigned out and are targeted for completion by Sept. 1, 2017:

    1. Ensure there are at least three backups identified and trained in each position in the ICS structure.

    2. Add the following positions to the ICS Structure:

    a. IT primary and backups to be on hand around the clock during ICS
    b. Board liaison to communicate directly with board during event.
    c. Customer information coordinator for social networking, website.
    d. Warehouse to be moved under finance.

    3. Determine the number of resources needed for Responder data scrubbing and train those individuals.

    4. Hold functional exercise drills during “blue sky operations.”

    5. Create “mission control center” where information is shown and accessible to all visually throughout outage.

    6. Each ICS section chief will participate in quarterly briefings during 2017 to discuss progress towards completing actions in this report.

    The report also includes a summary of post-event customer feedback collected through online surveys and a first-ever post-storm Customer Open House. A total of 580 customers participated in the survey. Some of the key findings relate to customers opinions and perceptions about tree trimming practices and smart meter technology.

    About 33 percent of customers believed that changes to EWEB’s tree practices would have reduced the impact of the ice storm. We are in the process of analyzing tree trimming programs and associated benefit in terms of outage effects, however, current practices are still in effect. EWEB’s tree trimming practices are in line with industry practices. A majority of the tree related damage associated with the storm were from trees outside of EWEB’s legal span of control.

    According to the survey results, almost half (43 percent) of the responding customers are interested in smart meter technologies benefits. In the context of outage management and widespread outage response, smart meter technology provides several benefits. With smart meter technology, customer calls are not relied upon to gather location, duration and quantity of outages.

    The report concludes that additional benefits and risks of smart meter technology need to be closely analyzed and in the context of outage management in addition to everyday business regarding metering of customer data.

    General Manager announces new affordability and budget targets

    In order to meet customer affordability expectations, by 2020 GM Frank Lawson wants to trim $15 million and some 60 employees from the annual budget.

    For at least a decade, our customers have been telling us that we do some things really well. Through formal and informal, qualitative and quantitative feedback, customers tell us we excel in the quality of water and power, and safety and reliability of our delivery of those products.

    What customers don’t feel very good about is our cost. They’ve expressed this in a number of ways. Customers tell us there’s a gap between what they think is important—affordable power and water—and how they think we’re performing in that area.

    Knowing that, the GM and Executive Team are embarking on an effort to address the affordability gap.

    For some time now, we have compared our power and water prices to other utilities. Most recently, EWEB’s electric rates ranked just over the median in a list of 13 comparable utilities. Moving forward, Frank is looking to evaluate utility prices a little differently—as a percentage of median income, known as an “affordability index.” Currently, EWEB customers spend approximately 4% of the median income for our area on power and water bills. Frank would like us to be closer to 3.2% of median income, a 20% improvement.

    “Compared to other communities in the northwest, we have a significantly worse affordability index,” says Frank. “Half of the equation is out of our control because median incomes in our area tend to be relatively low compared to places like Portland and Seattle.”

    But the other half of the equation—price—is fully in our control and, Franks says, “We owe it to our customers to address the affordability issue.”

    To achieve an affordability index of around 3.2%, we need to trim $15 million out of the annual budget by 2020, according to Frank. That’s a “net” number, meaning the budget needs to be $15 million less than it is now—after all the additions and subtractions—by 2020.

    “This has to be a series of small and large decisions, top to bottom,” says Frank. “We’re going to have to make some tough choices about what we do and don’t do.”

    One of those “tough choices” involves headcount. We currently have 510 “full-time equivalent” staff. Frank wants to get that number down to 450. To get there, Frank and the Executive Team want to use a combination of attrition (reductions through “normal” means such as retirements and resignations), and strategic elimination of certain positions or functions.
    “There’s compulsory work and there’s strategic work. Compulsory is keeping the lights on, water flowing, and interfacing with customers. All of the other stuff we choose to do,” says Frank. “This is tough because we have to look at tradeoffs. We won’t continue to do everything that we’re doing today because our customers have said they don’t want to pay for everything we do today.”

    Frank describes the 2020 target as a “ramp” that gives him and the Executive Team time to “make good decisions, and not rush to into decisions that we may end up reversing or reevaluating.”

    “There’s a sense of urgency, but there’s not a sense of panic,” says Frank.

    This is not the first time we’ve made budget and staff reductions aimed at managing water and power prices. Since 2012, we’ve taken significant steps to become more efficient, lower operating costs, reduce debt and defer or delay certain capital projects. Thanks to this series of cost cutting measures over a five-year period, electric prices remained flat in 2017.
    The fact that we’ve been making reductions and cost-cutting measures for a number of years now will make the next set of decisions all the more difficult. There will be tradeoffs for the utility and for customers.

    “We’re going to have to look and see where we want to invest in beyond the compulsory level,” says Frank. “That’s not to say that certain programs are not important, or that certain projects have not been done well. It’s saying that we have a different priority, and when you have a different priority, you have to make a different decision.”
    The Board of Commissioners will have a say in that decision as well. A strategic planning meeting with the Board is planned for mid-May. “Right now we’re talking about goals and targets, but we’re not going to make a lot of decisions until we know what level of support we have from the Board,” says Frank. “Commissioners need to understand what the affordability target starts to look like in terms of day-to-day decisions.”

    This could mean reevaluating big, strategic projects such as AMI, second water source, and Carmen Smith. Frank anticipates that he will have a better feel for what reductions are on the table, and a plan for moving forward, in the June – July timeframe.

    “We want to be able to do this in a way that’s not only prudent, but open and transparent in terms of direction we want to go as an organization.”

    EWEB installs earthquake early warning system sensor

    Gov. Kate Brown, the University of Oregon and EWEB staff held a news conference last week to announce the fully integrated “ShakeAlert” system for the West Coast, which includes a new early warning sensor at Leaburg Dam.

    Jason Hueser, Mark Zinniker, Gov. Brown, Mike McCann, Joe Harwood, Jill Hoyenga

    GM Frank Lawson, Electric Operations Manager Mike McCann, and Generation Engineering Supervisor Mark Zinniker spoke about the benefits of the early warning system, advances in the West Coast ShakeAlert system and pilot uses being developed by project partners.

    An earthquake early warning system can give automated systems and people precious seconds take protective actions before the severe shaking waves from an earthquake arrive. The system does not yet support public warnings, but this version allows selected early adopters to develop pilot implementations that demonstrate the system’s utility and develop technologies that pave the way for broader use.

    ShakeAlert sensor at Leaburg Dam

    The sensor at Leaburg Dam is first installed by a new pilot project sponsor in the state of Oregon. EWEB plans to install a second sensor at Carmen Smith later this spring.

    Check out a video of the news conference and learn more about ShakeAlert on our eweb.org Newsroom: http://www.eweb.org/about-us/news/eweb-installs-earthquake-early-warning-system-sensor

    EWEB earns Tree Line USA recognition for 11 years running

    The Arbor Day Foundation named EWEB a 2017 Tree Line USA utility in honor of our commitment to proper tree pruning, planting and care in our service territory.

    Tree Line USA is a national program recognizing public and private utilities for practices that protect and enhance America’s urban forests. A collaboration of the Arbor Day Foundation and the National Association of State Foresters, Tree Line USA promotes the dual goals of promoting safe and reliable electricity while maintaining healthy community trees.

    “EWEB’s commitment to proper tree-care practice benefits your customers in numerous ways, including providing cleaner air and water, increasing property values and improving quality-of­ life,” said Dan Lambe, President of the Arbor Day Foundation. “Trees also conserve energy and reduce peak demand, a crucial benefit to customers and providers alike.”

    To achieve Tree Line USA status, utilities must follow industry standards for quality tree care, provide annual worker training in best tree-care practices, sponsor a tree-planting and public education program, maintain a tree­based energy conservation program, and participate in an Arbor Day celebration.

    EWEB maintains four full-time, certified arborists on staff to inspect and evaluate vegetation around power lines, determine required maintenance activities, and communicate with customers about tree trimming activities. Eleven contract crews perform all pruning and trimming work.

    Crews trim around 300 line miles of vegetation annually to minimize falling trees and branches. In 2016, EWEB planted 115 new trees through our partnership with Friends of Trees and volunteer events.

    Congratulations and thank you to our excellent Vegetation Management staff!