North Oakland County Water Authority

Unprecedented collaboration between four neighboring communities maximizes existing infrastructure to solve a regional water pressure problem and save millions annually.

Overview
A new regional water authority saves its members much more than a drop in the bucket.

If you were a Southeast Michigan resident living in Auburn Hills, Rochester Hills, Pontiac, or Orion Township a few years back, and you wanted to take a shower or water your lawn during peak morning hours in the summertime, you may have had to deal with low water pressure. And with annual rate increases of 8-10%, you were paying a premium for service. The communities’ individual efforts were unable to relieve the region’s water woes. The supplier created plans to build a new transmission to address the problem. But that project would have cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and it was tabled indefinitely.

Clearly, the communities needed an alternative solution. As the trusted, long-time engineering consultants to Auburn Hills and Orion Township, OHM Advisors knew the area and the regional water system issues well. And we saw an opportunity for a regional and collaborative approach to the problem. We advocated that if the communities could find ways to work together as a regional water authority, then they could leverage their resources—specifically, the city of Pontiac’s unused water storage capacity—to collectively reduce peak hour demand from their supplier. That, in turn, would lower water costs and improve pressure for all four communities for minimal investment.

By bringing the four communities to the same table and introducing the collective benefits of collaboration, we helped spearhead the creation of the North Oakland County Water Authority (NOCWA). As NOCWA’s engineering consultant, we developed the technical plan for collaborative water system storage operation, ultimately enabling the communities to save $5 million annually. Through the efficient use of existing infrastructure, we limited hard costs to just $80,000. And we helped NOCWA participants realize a return on their investment in less than 10 days.

 

Thinking Differently

Fostering unprecedented collaboration.

Although the four NOCWA communities were interested in working together to improve water service and lower costs, they did not want to give up ownership and operation of their own individual infrastructure. As a result, NOCWA has no single entity overseeing system operation, and the communities have to work closely together to coordinate water usage. To make this unique approach work, OHM Advisors played a key role in overseeing extensive upfront discussions and planning. Because we were viewed as a trusted advisor, committed to making sure all parties’ best interests were met, we were able to secure the communities’ commitment to moving forward with the plan.

Coordinating the complex operations plan.

Drawing on technical expertise and in-depth understanding of the regional water system, we created a coordinated operations plan designed to use existing infrastructure more efficiently, thus reducing peak usage and improving pressure. Through extensive analysis, we determined the best times to fill and drain each of NOCWA’s five storage tanks to meet residents’ water needs while reducing demand on the regional system. We helped NOCWA negotiate its contract and take advantage of significant savings. And we equipped the communities with smart tools for monitoring usage and keeping draw below the allowable rate. The plan resulted in 5-7 PSI water pressure increase during peak usage periods and collective savings of $5 million annually.

Fairly distributing the costs and savings.

NOCWA receives a single bill for its water usage. Fairly dividing that bill and allocating the cost savings among the NOCWA members was a big challenge. It was hard to pinpoint the exact value each member brought to the Authority, and therefore, determine the value each member should get out of it. By mirroring DWSD’s rate methodology and leveraging the trust we had built with the communities during the process, OHM Advisors was able to develop a fair and acceptable methodology for allocating a percentage of the monthly bill to each NOCWA member.

Making ongoing improvements for additional savings.

Since negotiating the original contract between NOCWA and DWSD for the Fiscal 2015/2016 contract period, OHM Advisors has worked with the NOCWA communities to analyze operations and fine-tune the plan to realize even greater efficiencies and further reduce peak hour demand. We worked with the supplier to renegotiate the contract and generate another $1.4 million in savings for the next contract period. OHM Advisors continues to collaborate closely with the NOCWA communities and to monitor and analyze operations, continually looking for opportunities to generate even further savings.

Standing up the Great Lakes Water Authority.

OHM Advisors played an instrumental role in establishing the Great Lakes Water Authority, which now supplies NOCWA’s water. As one of the largest municipal systems in the country, GLWA manages the regional water and sewer systems for the suburban communities of southeast Michigan, formerly under the control of DWSD. OHM Advisors completed the technical operations study and developed the implementation plan to essentially split the DWSD into two organizations in a way that advances and benefits the interests of the entire region. Today, we provide program management support to GLWA, making us the first engineering consultant to advise the new authority.

"The stability that NOCWA provides to its members gives us some control over what our rates are and what they will be in the future."
Chris Barnett - Township Supervisor, Charter Township of Orion

Awards and Honors

Community

Advancing Communities

The formation of NOCWA required unprecedented collaboration between the communities of Auburn Hills, Rochester Hills, Pontiac, and the Charter Township of Orion. OHM Advisors helped the cities recognize and realize the advantages of working together to maximize existing infrastructure, reduce future capital investments, improve water service, and cut water costs. And the communities have used the experience as a catalyst for other beneficial arrangements and sharing of resources that further advance each individual community’s objectives.

Beyond benefiting the NOCWA members, forming the regional authority and utilizing existing infrastructure in a new and more efficient way eliminated the need for major capital improvements in the region, which would have become a significant expense for all southeastern Michigan communities. Instead of shelling out dollars for improvements, these communities can look to NOCWA as a model for how they, too, can cost-effectively address their water concerns and cut their costs..

Additional Water Authority Formation Expertise

A Winning Collaboration.

Hear about the benefits of NOCWA from its member communities.

Click to play video
Marysville STEM Early College High School

Transitioning an abandoned middle school into a creative and collaborative hub for 21st century learning helps students develop the skills they need to succeed in college and in our increasingly competitive and global workplace.