Reflections on Two Years Leading DC Water
June 05, 2020
Two years ago this week, I took the daunting step of becoming CEO of DC Water. My life hasn’t been the same since. During two eventful and remarkable years, we’ve experienced unprecedented challenges and unforeseen changes in the landscape. We’ve shared triumphs and exciting new possibilities, while also adjusting to a pandemic that has drastically altered life for everyone in the country. Through it all, I’ve been guided by a single principal: how to provide the best water and wastewater service to our customers while also leading the men and women who make up the workforce of DC Water.
When I began at DC Water in June 2018, I was a transplant from Indiana who had worked for decades in the water industry, both private and public.I’d only been here in Washington DC for a matter of weeks before a mistake in our primary pump station on Bryant Street resulted in a near total collapse of water pressure for thousands of residents, businesses and other organizations. A pressure drop of that magnitude empties out some water lines and requires the authority to issue a boil water alert. That event was disruptive to our customers but we learned from it – and improved. We realized that despite having literally dozens of ways of communicating with them, we needed even more and speedier methods.
It also required clearer internal policies for making decisions that would trigger immediate notifications to everyone in the region. We embraced those changes and now have a much better process in hand. Just as significant was the authority moving from our office space at Blue Plains to a new building in the Navy Yard neighborhood. That change allowed us to consolidate employees in one location and save on leased space, as well as improve communication and coordination by getting staff in one place.
Finally, the proactive move to a Metro adjacent and walkable location improved the accessibility and transparency of DC Water. That step allowed us to better serve our customers and I was proud to lead the authority for such an important milestone. Apart from those big moments, internally and behind the scenes DC Water has been transforming itself into a more responsive and efficient operation. Improving training and expectations for our managers, increased education and opportunities for senior staff, a renewed sense of pursuing one mission: these were all new initiatives for DC Water.
Part of my guidance for the DC Water team has been emphasizing the three Ps: People, Place and Pay. This served as a way of solidifying our commitment to our workforce and making sure that the men and women of DC Water are compensated and treated like the all-stars that we want serving the nation’s capital. Alongside the internal changes I’ve implemented at DC Water was a strong focus on how we interact with our community and especially with low income customers.
With an eye on that, I created a Stakeholder Alliance of diverse individuals and organizations to serve as a sounding board for all DC Water initiatives. I’m most proud of this dedicated group; the Alliance is two years old and still one of the most valuable parts of our group outreach efforts. Alongside the Alliance I have worked diligently to make sure that DC Water is in tune with the needs of low-income residents, churches and other organizations that struggle with water bills. This focus on affordability has emerged as one of our top challenges at the organization and one that I think about every day.
I think we’ve met the challenge in the best way possible; expanding assistance programs, increasing funding for those programs and finding new and creative ways to assist those customers having the toughest time with their water bills. Amidst all of that, the authority continues to make steady progress on our Clean Rivers Project, building underground tunnels to divert sewage from the Anacostia and Potomac rivers, plus Rock Creek. We’re not just a water authority – we’re an environmental leader.
Finally, two years into my time here at DC Water we are and continue to look for the best way possible to serve our customers in the era of COVID-19. This pandemic has upended life across the globe, and here at DC Water we are thinking each day about the best way to protect our staff and protect customers while still providing uninterrupted service.
I’m proud of the way we’ve faced this challenge.
While the work goes on each day, when I reflect on my two years here at DC Water I think that we continue to meet the difficulties of the crisis while continuing to get better each day. I look forward to facing those challenges and always welcome input from everyone in the city. You can reach me at CEOsuggestions@dcwater.com.