The Cobb County–Marietta Water Authority (CCMWA) provides wholesale water to cities, counties, and water authorities across a five-county region in northwestern metropolitan Atlanta, Georgia. It recently won the Gold Award for Exceptional Utility Performance from the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA). In this interview, outgoing General Manager Glenn Page talks with Municipal Water Leader about how CCMWA delivers efficient water supply, maintains infrastructure, and meets water quality challenges.
Municipal Water Leader: Please tell us about your background and how you came to be in your current position.
Glenn Page: I have a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Clemson University and a master’s in environmental engineering from Georgia Tech. After designing pipelines for CCMWA as a consulting engineer, I joined the staff 34 years ago as a project engineer. I was named assistant general manager in late 2001, when we had to address changes in utility management to respond to the events of 9/11. I was appointed general manager in late 2007, following the retirement of my predecessor.
Municipal Water Leader: Please tell us about CCMWA.
Glenn Page: We are a water wholesaler and provide treated drinking water to approximately 900,000 people through 10 wholesale customers across a five-county region, including cities, counties, other water authorities, and a defense contractor. We supply all the water to Cobb County, which is a primarily urban metropolitan area just northwest of Atlanta. Our mission is to provide sustainable and reliable drinking water that supports public health, public safety, and the economic vitality of our region.
The word sustainable is key for us. We don’t just define that from an environmental perspective. We plan decades into the future. That planning includes financial planning and fiscal policies that are designed to help us remain financially viable well into the future. This allows us to continue to execute our mission year after year.
Since we are an authority, our board is able to take a business approach rather than a political approach. This allows us to do long-term planning; we’re not just planning from election cycle to election cycle. We have 116 employees. For a water authority that has over 170 million gallons per day in production capacity, we are a lean organization. We have held a triple triple‑A bond rating since 2002.
We have a low debt ratio and strong financials, and we’re currently in a rehabilitation, or rebuilding, phase in our infrastructure cycle. Part of our financial strategy is to pay for our depreciation up front so that we have cash available for replacement projects. We would plan to borrow for a project to meet a growth need or to meet a new regulatory requirement, but currently, we’re paying for our entire capital improvement plan with cash. Our capital improvement plan requires expenditures of about $50–$70 million per year.
Municipal Water Leader: Does CCMWA partner with other regional water and wastewater entities in the area?
Glenn Page: CCMWA is located within the footprint of the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District. The district encompasses 15 counties and 95 cities that are required by state law to coordinate water supply, water conservation, wastewater treatment, and storm water management together for the good of the region. I currently serve as the chair of the district. Like many areas of the country, we are moving toward a One Water approach.
Specific to our system within the district, CCMWA’s largest wholesale customer, the Cobb County Water System (CCWS), now buys about 75 percent of the water we produce. CCWS collects wastewater from its customers and from some of our other wholesale customers and treats it to a high level before discharging it back into the environment. Two of CCWS’s water reclamation facilities discharge back to Allatoona Lake, which is the water source for our Wyckoff water treatment plant. We have recently received a record of decision from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers acknowledging the allocation of water returned to Allatoona Lake by CCWS to CCMWA for supply—essentially, it is a reuse stream. As a result of this decision, we will not have to purchase any additional storage for increased supply from Allatoona Lake for at least 30 years. This decision by the Army Corps has endorsed the coordinated planning between water provider and wastewater discharger, employing One Water principles and requiring no additional costs to our customers for additional infrastructure or the purchase of storage space.
Municipal Water Leader: Please tell us about the award CCMWA recently received from AMWA.
Glenn Page: We received the Gold Award for Exceptional Utility Performance, which is actually not the result of a competition, but a measure against a standard. Several years ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), AMWA, the American Water Works Association, the Water Environment Federation, the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, and other water industry associations defined a standard through a publication titled Effective Utility Management: A Primer for Water and Wastewater Utilities. In the publication, these organizations laid out 10 attributes of successful utilities and 5 keys to management success. A successful applicant for the Gold Award must demonstrate that the 10 attributes and 5 keys to management success are present and practiced in its organization.
Municipal Water Leader: What does the award mean for your organization?
Glenn Page: We’re constantly getting awards, but this one is special because it recognizes the contributions of everyone in the organization. You can be successful in a lot of different arenas, but this award recognizes excellence in every area of the authority and shows that our focus on leadership, alignment, and workforce development is paying off.
Municipal Water Leader: Please tell us about your conservation efforts and leak prevention systems.
Glenn Page: Our technical services group has deployed devices in our transmission system that help us monitor flows and pressures. Just this week, our largest customer, CCWS, had a break after taking a pipe out of service. We started monitoring our sensors in the system in that specific geographical area, and we were able to confirm the location of the break and let CCWS know immediately so that it could effect a repair. Before, it would have required somebody seeing the leak, calling it in, and having a crew dispatched to confirm the situation; thanks to the new technology, we were able to pinpoint the location for immediate repair.
Related to infrastructure and leaks, Georgia has a statewide water audit program that was mandated by the Water Stewardship Act of 2010, which is probably the most aggressive water stewardship law in the country. Every water system in Georgia is required, on an annual basis, to report its water losses, what it is doing to correct them, and how much improvement is occurring. Each system must prove that continuous improvements are being made, year after year. Because of the unique way our systems are interconnected, CCMWA submits the annual audit with our largest customer, CCWS. Our water loss rate is well below the industry norm.
Municipal Water Leader: What efforts have you made to reduce water consumption?
Glenn Page: Efforts to upgrade infrastructure to reduce the loss of water have been part of our long-range capital planning since I came to work here in the mid-1980s. We now have an aged pipe replacement program in which we use a planning tool to assess pipe replacement needs and place the highest-priority projects into our capital improvement plan. We have also used technology to evaluate the condition of our pipelines in situ to predict anticipated life before failure. Just this week, we removed seven pieces of pipe found to be
excessively corroded and to require immediate replacement. Through the use of these technologies, we are able to make some of these replacements on our schedule, rather than under the duress of a pipe break.
Over the past three decades, CCMWA and its customers have made great strides in water conservation. We hired the first water conservation expert in the state of Georgia in 1988, following a major drought, to teach landscape professionals and homeowners about xeriscaping and other outdoor water saving measures. We implemented a summer surcharge rate in 1992 to attempt to shave the peak in summer demands. In 2001, after the water planning district was formed, it established multiple water conservation measures that all its member utilities were mandated to adopt. These measures included mandatory tiered water-rate structures, toilet replacement rebate programs, and changes in plumbing codes. As a result of these efforts, individual water use in the CCMWA service area has dropped from approximately 140 gallons per capita per day in the early 2000s to around 90 gallons per capita per day now. We are producing the same amount of water today as we were in 1995, even though we have 50 percent more people. Water conservation has become a requirement for economic viability; we can grow only as much as we conserve. We used to think that we would just produce more water to meet a growing population, but we have hit the limit on water availability. That’s what droughts and the water wars have taught us.
Municipal Water Leader: What are the top concerns in your organization right now?
Glenn Page: Our biggest concerns right now are related to water quality and the workforce. We have deteriorating source water quality, and we must accept that all water is reused water. One of our water intakes is about a mile downriver of a wastewater plant discharge, and the other is in an Army Corps reservoir subject to nutrient overload and algae blooms. We are concerned about harmful algae blooms in both sources. As a result, we are expanding our source water monitoring plans and adding additional treatment steps to ensure drinking water safety. We are trying to stay ahead of the curve on the revised lead and copper rule that is under review by the Biden administration. We have already done a good bit of work in this area and expect to change our strategy to optimize corrosion control in the near future. Finally, we are watching closely for new regulations expected on perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS). These compounds, made for human convenience, will require much effort to contain and remove from our environment. While they are not a huge concern in our region, there is no urban area immune from the effects of their presence, including on water supplies.
On the workforce front, our utility experienced a 2‑month period in mid-2021 when we experienced the retirement of five employees with 40 or more years of experience each, adding up to a total tenure of 215 years. Four of these five employees were senior managers. They have been joined by several others since, and I retired as general manager at the end of 2021. Utilities and other industries around the country that are experiencing this surge in retirements require a successful strategy to survive it. At CCMWA, we have focused on individual employee development through educational and training opportunities focusing on technical matters, leadership, and other topics. This year, our human resources department won the award for best total rewards strategy from the Society for Human Resource Management–Atlanta and the Atlanta Business Chronicle, which pitted CCMWA against other businesses headquartered in Atlanta, such as Home Depot, Chick-fil-A, Coca-Cola, UPS, and Trust Bank. As we focus on individual development, we pay for full tuition reimbursement for those who want to get a college degree in our business areas. We also pay for all certification training and conference attendance and provide pay increases and other incentives when significant achievements are made. And we provide all of that on top of competitive salaries for jobs in the public arena. This type of targeted strategy will be an ongoing requirement for any water utility desiring to retain a high-performing and sustainable workforce in the coming years.