Water Works Reports—What They Should Contain
Carefully Prepared Contents Should Present Live Facts Interestingly—Importance of Attractive Appearance—Advertising Value to Water Works and City
Some water works superintendents and occasionally city officials may question the value of a water works report and doubt if it is money well spent. The answer to this question is simple. It depends upon the report. One of my favorite indoor sports is to examine water works reports; the good ones being read with much interest and filed for frequent reference, and the bad ones being consigned to the waste basket.
Water works reports reflect exactly what the superintendent or manager is. Invariably a good superintendent issues a good report. When one examines, as I have recently, a report that contained page after page of fire hydrant locations and another where pages were devoted to statistics fifteen to twenty years old, it doesn’t require an efficiency expert to figure out the loss and waste of time and money by issuing such a document. The printer’s proof reader was probably the only person who read the entire document. My Criticism of water works reports comes from reading them and, therefore, from the standpoint of the consumer, I am going to briefly mention a few features of reports that have made them especially interesting to me.
Why Should a Report Be Made?
A water plant is one of the chigf assets of a city; in value it ranks well toward the top of all the city investments, whether owned by the city or company. The success and continued operation of all other industries, factories, etc., are dependent entirely upon the water works. The health, growth and prosperity of the city are entirely dependent upon the purity and cleanliness of its water supply. Its customers extend over the entire city, its commodity sold is standardized and is of one quality. When city owned, every citizen of the town is a stockholder and, therefore, a report to the public is due them, and the public further has a right to demand a real water works report, in keeping with the importance of the utility.
Appearance of Report
Reports, like people, are often judged by appearances and, therefore, it should have an attractive cover and be of good quality of paper and printing. Like a girl’s skirt, it should be long enough to cover the subject, yet short enough to be interesting. The pictures accompanying a magazine article always produce a desire to read the article, and photographs and cuts should be freely used to relieve the monotony in printing and statistics.
What It Should Contain
A brief historical sketch giving date of purchase or date when built and the present value of the property, is always of interest to new customers.
Statistics themselves are rarely read by the layman, and these should be converted into graphical diagrams which are understood at a glance.
A concise tabulation of operating costs, annual revenue, fuel costs, increase in number of connections, etc., shown both by figures and graphical charts, are always interesting and these should not cover more than a tenyear period, as old statistics are of little interest or value.
A population curve and water consumption curve are always well worth the making, as it shows what future provision for growth should be made.
A plain statement from health authorities regarding purity of water with percentage of bacteria removed, with cuts or illustrations of bacterial comparison of raw water and treated water, is the best kind of advertising a report can contain, for one must not forget that his business is selling water and the reports help sell the customer. People always like to know how their money is spent, and a graphical diagram showing what part of a dollar goes for interest, labor, fuel and operation, is enlightening.
Illustrations showing losses by leaky faucets, bad plumbing and unregulated flush tanks or sewers, are helpful in bringing about reforms. Showing customers how much their own bills could be reduced by eliminating all wastage, is convincing.
The reduced pumpage, reduced fuel or power bills and increased revenue by universal meter system are features that can and should be shown in every water works report, for even in this enlightened day, we find a few communities who still sell, or rather give water away, without meter measurement.
The city, corporation or individual doesn’t exist that can make a success of selling any commodity without measurement of the amount sold. The report should show or account for the loss between water delivered and water sold, and if this doesn’t show a yearly improvement something is radically wrong and needs correction.
A water works plant is never finished or completed, and the needed extensions, betterments and improvements ought always be prominently shown in a report, then there are no shocks or surprises, and if bonds are needed there is nothing gained by concealing the fact. Show in the report why the improvements are needed and what advantages and results will be gained by them.
Every report ought to show the cost of delivering water per 1,000 gallons, including interest, depreciation, sinking fund reserve, etc. This information is not always known by the superintendent himself, and when he figures it out, he will in many towns find that large users, railroads especially, are getting their water at less than its cost of production. When one glances at his own railroad and Pullman expense these times, it causes the reflection that railroads ought to have sufficient funds available to at least pay for the cost of furnishing water. In these days of regulation of rates, one cardinal law acknowledged by all is that the rates of each utility, whether a water plant, light plant, or railroad, should be based on its value and cost of operation. The railroads or other large users are not mercenary institutions with rates made because of their being a special aid or help to a town. Every report should show what the rates should be to earn this interest, depreciation and operating expenses.
Value of a Report
It is of much advertising value to the entire community, so much so that many commercial clubs are joining in the expense of printing and circulating water works reports. Every live water works superintendent knows the advertising value to himself by getting out a good report. It places him in a favorable light before many other communities where opportunities for advancement are existing. The educational value is of greatest importance. It acts as an aid in getting bonds for needed improvements, as a basis for argument for equalizing rates or in securing a raise of rates it is of much value.
A report to be of any value must be interesting, for if not interesting it will never be read. The author of the report or some water works official should personally present a resume of his report before every civic organization of the town, not omitting the women’s clubs.
In Glasgow, Scotland, which city prides itself on being the best governed city in the world, the head of each utility or department is required to give at mass meeting a public accounting of his utility. For example, the water department head gives the workings of the department, its needs, etc. I listened one night to an address by Thos. Melvin, manager of the sewage department, on the subject of the “Cleansing of the Clyde River.” He told how the Clyde River had been transformed from a foul sewer-like stream to a beautiful river abounding in fish and lined with house boats. The lecture, or really his report, was illustrated with slides and was of much interest. These reports, thus presented, kept before the public their needs and caused a keen interest in their own utilities. Extracts from reports are desired by the local papers and should be given them. Send each customer one by the meter reader or hand them out by the window collector. Exchange your reports with the officials of other cities of your state.
The water works plant is the chief asset of the city, but the lack of general knowledge concerning it is a fault we can largely correct by getting out and presenting a genuinely interesting report. Whether it pays or not depends on the report and its presentation.
(Note—Paper read before the annual convention of the Southwest Water Works Association at Oklahoma City.)