The Rapidian

The City of Grand Rapids proclaimed a Utility of the Future Today

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The City of Grand Rapids Environmental Services Department received recognition for 'exceptional performance' in the 2016 "Utility of the Future" recognition program.
ESD Manager Mike Lunn and Assistant to the City Manager Tom Almonte give highlights of the city's work during a radio interview.

ESD Manager Mike Lunn and Assistant to the City Manager Tom Almonte give highlights of the city's work during a radio interview. /City of Grand Rapids

Underwriting support from:

/Water Environment Federation

The River of Dreams rain garden is located at the Water Resource Recovery Facility

The River of Dreams rain garden is located at the Water Resource Recovery Facility /City of Grand Rapids

Impressive accolades continue to mount for the City of Grand Rapids' national award-winning Environmental Services Department (ESD). Today, the ESD learned it has earned recognition from the inaugural Utility of the Future (UOTF) Today Program.

Launched on the eve of Earth Day 2016 (April 21), the UOTF program celebrates the “progress and exceptional performance” of wastewater utilities while supporting the widespread adoption of the innovative UOTF business model.

The selection committee chose utilities that met the criteria for the Utility of the Future Today by looking at the adoption of UOTF principles to become the “Organizational Culture of the Future.”

Specificially, the UOTF committee considered, praised, and acknowledged the Environmental Service Department’s vision for:

  • 2015 completion of the city’s new, $400M sanitary sewer system – three years ahead of schedule. The system eliminates raw sewage/other pollutants from entering the Grand River.
  • the city’s Water Resource Recovery Facility's (WRRF) new energy efficiency program. The WRRF will save Grand Rapids taxpayers $2.2 million in energy costs through 2031. The WRRF facility now provides service for 11 West Michigan communities. It also treats 40 million gallons of water per day.
  • the city’s planned public-private partnership to complete the installation of a solar farm by the end of 2016. The solar farm, located across the river from the Water Resource Recovery Facility, will send electricity back to the ESD’s wastewater facility. The ESD will buy that electricity through an agreement to save the city upwards of $200,000 per year. The site of the solar field is on an old landfill used between 1950 through 1973.

The ESD joins 61 public and private utilities from across the U.S., Canada, and Denmark selected for recognition by a peer committee of utility leaders. The UOTF will recognize the ESD and others recipients during a Sept. 27 ceremony during the Water Environment Federation’s Annual Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC) 89th annual conference in New Orleans, La. The ESD will receive a display flag and certificate to promote its outstanding achievement.

“Many utilities optimize their operations, consistently meet or exceed their regulatory requirements, and engage their employees and communities in meaningful and productive ways,” said the Water Environment Federation's Executive Director Eileen O’Neill. “We are excited about this new opportunity to recognize the achievements of small, medium and large forward-thinking utilities that are providing sustainable, efficient, and value-added service to their communities.”

“The work we have completed over the last three decades has created an entirely new future for the city," said ESD Manager Mike Lunn, "and our culture has played a large role in that success. By being a nationally recognized leader for environmental stewardship, we have created a citywide culture among our staff and Grand Rapids residents. We strive to adopt sustainable skills and practices in our own lives and businesses.”

The UOTF concept was first introduced in 2013 to guide utilities of all sizes toward smarter, more efficient operations and a progression to full resource recovery with enhanced productivity, sustainability, and resiliency. Since then, many utilities have successfully implemented new and creative programs to address local environmental and community priorities.

The program is a partnership of water sector organizations, including:

  • the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA)
  • the Water Environment Federation (WEF)
  • the Water Environment & Reuse Foundation (WE&RF), and
  • the WateReuse Association, with input from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

“EPA has been pleased to provide input to the partnering Associations on this important new program,” said Andrew Sawyers, Director of EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management. “We believe it will play an important role in EPA’s efforts to advance effective and sustainable practices that will help utilities across the sector on their journey to becoming the Utility of the Future.” 

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