By Ying-Ying McCauley
The Division of Drinking Water regulates over 1,000 public water systems in Utah. The Division’s mission is to work cooperatively with drinking water professionals and the public to ensure a safe and reliable supply of drinking water. Our engineering review program reviews and approves the plans for the projects received from water systems. Our engineering review team works hard to ensure that the design and construction of drinking water facilities conform to regulations and common engineering practices.
I’d like to share our experience in working with the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget (GOMB) through its SUCCESS Framework. This opportunity has helped the engineering review program experience a 20 percent improvement in the services we perform since 2014.
As a starter, we had to do some real soul searching. We thoroughly examined our goals, needs, existing processes, strengths, and bottlenecks. We realized that we continue to face challenges such as losing engineering staff, difficulty in filling vacancies, increased workload, inconsistent quality in reviews, etc.
The Zen Moment
Initially, we struggled to determine performance measures. There are so many things on our plate. So, we first tried to include too many measures, which would have created tracking and reporting burdens. Through consultation with GOMB, we selected a simplified metric using only a few key performance measures.
Light at the End of the Tunnel
As a team, we identified new methods to expand our tradition of doing more with less:
- To deal with the difficulty in filling vacancies, we evaluated the engineers’ and managers’ tasks and time spent performing each task. As a result, an engineering position was converted to a scientist position, and selected tasks were transferred. The engineers and managers now focus on those tasks directly related to engineering review.
- We held several team meetings to identify performance measures. We decided to optimize how we use the data from existing databases, standardize data entry fields, and educate staff in data entry. This is our way of leveraging existing resources to increase efficiency. We chose the following methods:
- Compile plan review checklists for staff and water systems to use.These checklists improve the quality of incoming submittals and reduce review time. They also standardize the quality of internal review regardless of which staff member reviews a project.
- Revise the rules to streamline the process without compromising quality.For example, a public water system can now pre-qualify for Plan Submittal Waivers. The waivers allow water line projects to bypass the typical approval process, saving time and reducing costs.
- Use templates to improve the quality of the review and responses.These templates reduce the time needed to coach new staff and draft documents from scratch. Our templates also include an internal sign-off checklist to ensure consistency with written procedures and protocols.
Our team of 15 Division staff and four DEQ District Engineers were recently recognized for their ongoing efforts to safeguard Utah’s drinking water by the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget (GOMB).
You can read more about the success of our engineering review program in GOMB’s September 2015 blog, Drinking Up SUCCESS.
I am the Engineering Section Manager at the Utah Division of Drinking Water. I received a master degree in environmental engineering from University of Utah and am a licensed engineer. I have worked in various water agencies for 18 years, including Utah Division of Drinking Water, Utah Division of Water Quality, and Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District. Hiking in Utah’s beautiful canyons and mountains is my favorite thing to do.