In the words of Jim Csek, Administrator for Rutland Waterworks District, of Kelowna, B.C., “We’re on call and water doesn’t stop flowing.”
In fact, for over 60 years Rutland has worked unceasingly to provide for Rutland citizens and there’s a lot more to safe, cost-effective and high quality water provision than just turning on the tap.
“We get calls all of the time, day and night, and satisfaction is key for success for the business and for the district,” Csek says.
“We provide customer service that’s probably unusual for most water utilities. People can walk in and talk to us, and we respond right away.”
Catering to upwards of 12,000 to 15,000 water consumers through 4,000 different connections can’t be easy, yet Rutland maintains a 15-minute call-back pledge, continues to up its game in extensive water testing, customer service and stays staunchly committed to innovation and education too.
From supplying drinking water, to establishing new waterworks infrastructure, and satisfying our regulators has its challenges. But at ground-level it is highly experienced groups like Rutland that are paving the way for progress.
Having been instrumental in implementing Kelowna’s universal water metering system with the engineering department of the city, all eyes have been on Rutland for a few years now. As other municipalities throughout the nation continue to make the leap—some have transitioned in the last decade, but there’s plenty still to come—the group’s efforts regarding water testing and quality assurance seem to serve as example.
“We have six to eight (sometimes 10) strategically-located sample sites throughout the district and we test on Tuesdays and Fridays,” Kevin Reynolds, assistant manager says.
On a typical Tuesday, samples are tested for Bacteriological, Cl2 free, Cl2 total, pH and turbidity (short test). Six samples are normally involved, but depending on the rotation list there can be up to eight on a single day. Each Friday, short and full parameter tests are both conducted, testing for Cl2 free, Cl2 total, pH, iron, manganese, calcium, magnesium (hardness), nitrates, nitrites, turbidity and temperature.
“The wells we have all meet the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality and the Interior Health’s 43210 protocol,” Csek says.
“For quality assurance we utilize our better quality wells year round, then during peak summer months when demands are much higher, the wells that have higher mineral content come on, these are used for a month or two of the year.”
Rutland is the only local water purveyor with data loggers measuring water levels and temperature on its 15 locations, as well as monitoring a few other wells in neighbouring districts, sharing its extensive experience in dealing with groundwater. Another subject of great concern in testing is smart usage. This ranges from Rutland’s odd/even day sprinkling regulations to generally reducing water use and going green as a result.
“In our system we have variable speed drive pumps that work on system demand and pressure so instead of having a pump come on at full capacity and pump at 900 gallons a minute; if it’s not required the system will recognize what is needed and reduce the flow and consumption of energy. For example, it could be pumping at 300 gallons or up to 900 gallons a minute,” Reynolds says in summary part of Rutland’s conservation efforts.
“The more water you use, the higher your bill. It helps us as far as going green. We also have students going out during summer too, with information packages, to find people that may be watering on the wrong day or time of the day.”
The cost-effective provision of supply managed by Rutland is a mix of strategically-constructed facilities and embracing new technology. All the local districts (Rutland is one of five water purveyors in its region) have different water sources, operational costs, wages and staffing, and many of them have high elevation reservoirs which require further watershed management.
“Our system is run very efficiently, and that’s why we’re able to provide the lowest cost. We don’t have to treat our water other than with chlorination because it’s not susceptible to seasonal run-off and other issues of a surface water system,” Csek explains.
“What it comes down to is the cost to get a gallon or cubic metre of water to the home, then that cost is broken down and that’s where we’re cheaper than a lot of other districts.”
Future innovative moves are starting to emerge too, and Csek says that Rutland is looking at another reservoir which will allow it to pump in off-peak hours to reduce our energy costs.
“We’re also monitoring all of our wells for draw downs and for temperature,” Reynolds adds.
“[And] we’re going through proposals for our well field to be surveyed to make sure the aquifers aren’t over-pumping.”
The company’s input does not end when supply leaves its aquifers either; its reach and customer care extend into every home and water system in its network.
People and education
According to Csek and Reynolds, responding outside of Rutland’s 15-minute call-back is not just inconvenient; it is “unacceptable.” This outlook where consumers are met face-to-face—dealt with individually and with care—reigns supreme throughout the group’s various efforts to educate its end-users. In addition to working for cost-effective, high standard, smart water usage at its pumps, it strives to uphold this focus for every household.
“We’re involved in a lot of water committees, the Kelowna Joint Water Committee being one. We’re not just sitting in our offices and pumping water to our customers, we’re really involved in water supply and delivery,” Reynolds says.
“Our district has been pretty instrumental in helping others within the city, including the development of the Universal Backflow Prevention Program, Groundwater Protection Program and lately the Drought Management Program which is now being used by the KJWC and other municipalities.”
An affinity for staff commitment also plays a big part in keeping consumers aware about how their water use impacts the bigger picture, and Reynolds says that the emphasis is always on system improvement quality of service.
“We are constantly sending our staff for training on water quality, efficiency and safety,” he says.
“A lot of our guys have been here for a long time. It says something about the company. Being a small water utility we’re more involved with various aspects more than just a certain function, and we accept everybody’s input. It works well and I think it creates a lot of job satisfaction.”
With an unfaltering focus on meeting and exceeding government standards, working beyond the pale of typical customer service and educating staff and consumers alike, it is clear that like water, Rutland never stops running. Its progressive approach to the betterment of services from every angle is not only admirable; it is vital to tackle national water issues at their root causes. The group’s expertise have already proved instrumental to furthering the goals laid out in its own objectives and those of Kelowna, and as other localities follow its lead, Rutland’s imprint on standards of excellence for municipal waterworks services will become ever more well recognized.