2021 Tacoma Water Highlights
Tacoma Water kicked off 2020 with our 2020-2025 Strategic Plan and new functional sections. With all of the disruptions in 2020 and significant changes behind us, we began implementing our strategic plan with four key initiatives.
- Customer Engagement – We contributed to two significant TPU efforts in 2021, the Advanced Meter project and the Customer Engagement Portal which provides customers usage and account information in a transparent way.
- Core Business Processes – Clear, accessible, documented processes help us prepare for the future and increase efficiency. This initiative focuses on standards, tools, and process improvement efforts which began in 2021 by modernizing our hydrant permitting process.
- Emergency Management – Aligning with TPU’s Strategic Directive of resiliency, the emphasis of this initiative is to reinforce our emergency management culture. In 2021, we contributed to TPU’s Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP), performed emergency training and exercises, and shared personal preparedness knowledge with staff.
- Workforce Development – Rebuilding our apprenticeship program was the focus in 2021 to ensure apprentices have the information, experiences, and knowledge necessary to become successful graduates and journey-level employees. Activities include evaluating and improving the classroom curriculum, learning objectives, and modalities.
Development in our service area met or exceeded new records set in 2020. We continued to execute at a high-level, meeting developer demands to construct short plats, warehouse storage, residential homes, and multifamily apartments. The workload production statistics highlight the booming Puget Sound region regarding economic development and housing demand.
- Created 312 water availability certificates, noticeably up 60% higher than the last two years, which is a good indicator of general construction activity.
- Created 1,521 fixed fee orders, 50% above the average high from 2004-2008 and five times the low of 297 in 2010, indicating an increase in regional residential development.
- Created 347 time and material project estimates (112 residential, 59 multifamily, and 176 commercial) which was just 5% shy of last year’s record.
- Reviewed and commented on 1,575 development permits, a steady level slightly above the average of the past two years.
- Added over 11 miles of new distribution mains to the system from 37 private contracts, higher in both categories from the previous years. Most projects were residential development; however, the number of commercial projects increased notably. Others included warehouse storage and two schools.
- In October, we launched our Water Supply Indicator (WSI). This new tool, created by our water resource engineers, monitors our primary water source, the Green River. Because conditions vary significantly from county to county and month to month, the WSI provides updated water messaging for Tacoma Water customers.
- We successfully deployed a new mobile workforce management solution to help our field staff manage their work. This new capability ensures customer calls for service are addressed quickly and by the right staff members. For example, when a request is made for a locate (call 811 before you dig!), for service on a connection, or we determine maintenance is needed in a specific area of our system, this tool informs and directs field crews. Since going live in August, more than 15,000 work items were processed using this new tool.
- When we use only what we need, we conserve water. Conservation makes it possible to plan and provide for residential and commercial development, take only what is needed from reservoirs and wells, and leave water in the river for fish and wildlife. During the pandemic, we improved our approach to providing conservation resources to customers in a contactless manner to equitably serve all our customers. We mailed customers 670 custom water savings kits and issued 59 paperless rebates. Our community engagement included outdoor markets, festivals, virtual presentations, and an outreach partnership with Customer Solutions. We also received an award from the Pacific Northwest Section of the American Water Works Association for a booklet entitled “Say Hello to Tacoma Water,” developed in 2020 and featured on the web and social media in 2021.
- In December 2020, Congress funded a Low Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIWHAP) to provide one-time relief for households meeting certain criteria struggling to pay their water and wastewater bills. Additional funding was provided in March 2021 via the American Rescue Plan Act. Tacoma Public Utilities worked with Commerce to help our qualifying customers access these funds.
We are committed to being stewards of the region’s beautiful natural resources. With help from our valued partners, we take great care to preserve, protect, and restore those resources while maintaining the delivery of services.
Tacoma Water provides clean, reliable water while preserving and enhancing wildlife habitats. There is a direct connection between healthy forests and clean water. In addition, we protect 32 fish and wildlife species by following numerous conservation, monitoring, and research measures in water flow management, fish and wildlife habitat enhancement, and forest and land management.
Here are just a few of the things we did in 2021 to ensure the health of our watershed.
- Salvaged over 4,000 native plants from sites within the watershed for use in current and future restoration projects.
- Acquired the 11-acre Lester Airstrip property in the Green River Watershed. In collaboration with Conservation Northwest and a Drinking Water Providers Partnership grant, we planted over 3,000 native plants to restore the site.
- Removed noxious weeds on a two-acre restoration site with help from Washington Conservation Corps crews, funded by a Re-Green the Green grant (through King County).
- Removed 267,000 sq. ft. (0.6 acres) of invasive plant species (primarily blackberry) along a stream supporting spawning salmon. Then planted 1,235 native plants to compete with the invasives and provide habitat/water quality improvements over time.
- Replaced seven failing stream culverts and four cross drains in the Upper Green River Watershed.
- Through Public Utility Board and Tacoma City Council action, we approved and endorsed the Green/Duwamish and Central Puget Sound Salmon Habitat Plan.
- In partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other stakeholders, we proceeded through a preliminary design and completed a validation study for downstream fish passage at Howard Hanson Dam.
Electric Vehicle (EV) Charging and Hybrid Vans Transform Distribution Dock
- The electrical team installed new electric vehicle charging stations at the Water Distribution building dock and added new hybrid vans to its pool. The conversion of a significant portion of our fleet to include EV components helps meet our 2022 Resource Conservation and Climate Plan goal to reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality. The first five vans were in service by the end of 2021, with 15 vans scheduled for 2022.