Leadership Part 3
One of the themes in the prior two posts on leadership was that leaders are defined by a vision, the people who follow the leader and the ability to market the vision. We often fail on the marketing end, especially in dealing with water and sewer infrastructure issues. We know the infrastructure is in poor condition and that billions, perhaps trillions are needed to upgrade the system to serve our needs. But pipes are hidden and parks are far more glamorous, so guess what gets funded? At least until a failure occurs.
I teach an elected officials class for water/wastewater issues. The all acknowledge that a failure o f the utility system is a huge issue and the electorate and elected officials are often looking for “the cause” or someone who is responsible. In other words, someone to fire. It is every utility director’s nightmare, and a nightmare for many elected officials as well. Yet a 4 hour outage in a year is a 99.96% success rate. My students would be raising hell with the dean and president if I failed them for only 99.96% correct answers. And rightly so. Why are utilities any different? Public health sure, but the systems can fail, and the condition that many are in warrants far more attention to potential to fail unless we can market to the public the need to invest. Yet how many city managers, elected officials and finance director acknowledge any accountability for failures? The investigation into the Walkerton Ontario failure indicated that the employees who falsified records, the governing body, the water advisory body and other officials all the way to the province had culpability in the failure of the system that made half the town sick and killed a number of residents. Utility folks need to market the need to protect public health better, to make the public understand.
Marketing is a difficult skill set. I can tell you sales in not one of my skills. Common among engineers who tend to be more technical in nature, letting the data guide us. Even so, we have successes. Think about the City of Los Angeles. The only reason large numbers of people can live in LA is the aqueducts that were started back in 1900s by William Mulholland under the guidance of Mayor Fred Eaton. The vision was to grow LA but the limitation was water supplies. The aqueducts sparked water wars (think Chinatown, the movie), and developed through the 1930s. Hetch Hetchy, over 100 miles east, was established as San Francisco’s water supply back in 1913 as well. The reservoir system continues to supply San Francisco today. Denver Water acquired and/or constructed reservoirs and tunnels to the west side of the Rockies for water supplies prior to 1940, realizing that sustained growth in the Denver area was not available east of the Rockies. . Pinellas County and Orange County California started projects to reuse treated wastewater for irrigation of private yards, and aquifer recharge in the 1970s to sustain their supplies. Sustainability of water supplies, management of water sources including wastewater and stormwater as a part of an integrated program and sustaining the financial and infrastructure condition of the utility are the long-term priorities. We need to find those visionary projects and people today.
So here’s the assignment. Let’s find where those leaders are today, and identify what makes them a leader.