Permit management and more generally environmental compliance are a fundamental corporate goal of a water utility. But also one that is increasingly challenging to achieve, as the data to support this objective is generated across multiple functions and stored in disparate IT systems.

A rise in regulations and subsequently in environmental permits in the past few years provide some welcome news for the U.S. water industry, indicating that water safety will likely improve or in some cases remain exemplary. But with more permit applications being submitted, water utilities and municipalities need to stay on top of the inflow to prevent application reviews and related tasks from bottlenecking. Why? Regulations governing a water utility account for the majority of operational effort, which incur a substantial cost. A single day’s delay caused by the regulatory process could potentially result in a costly violation-related fine.

Speeding Up The Permit Management Process

To speed up the permit application and management process, water utilities execs should look to streamlining — removing any regulatory duplication and creating more efficient administrative procedures. As the no.1 stakeholders in most quality and/or compliance departments, analysts should feel empowered to share this concept with the department they work in and encourage them to make their processes more efficient. Streamlining can help ease the pressure on compliance and quality staff and help safeguard the quality and safety of water. If implemented suitably, it makes quality and compliance departments more efficient and effective at enforcing regulations and permitting requirements. And it offers opportunities for the utility to save significantly on operational costs.

According to NACWA’s 2017 paper Envisioning the Digital Utility of the Future, streamlining procedures will contribute to phasing out wasteful processes to “enhance efficiency, reduce costs and, ultimately, maximize their return on investment”. It can reduce the amount of time it takes to move permit applications through the regulatory system and help reduce violations, which “benefit the utility by doing more with less and drive down the costs of services to stakeholders. A win-win for all involved”.

Efficiency Gains and Reduction in Violations

A beta version of the Klir platform implemented for Irish Water has enabled them to manage their Urban Waste Water processes systematically and has yielded 20% efficiency gains for the compliance team and a 90% reduction in violations. With benefits like those as a goal, our work with Southern Nevada Water Authority/Las Vegas Valley Water District has allowed us to outline the key areas to prioritize streamlining efforts on:

  1. Cross-functional communication: a highly organized and close-knit system across all teams involved in the permitting process allows for ease in tracking permit applications and reviews. In LVVWD, team members extend outstanding efforts around team communication, and this is enhanced by the teams being in close proximity to each other and running multiple weekly meetings to keep on top of the work-on-hand, eliminating countless emails with questions.
  2. Clearly defined permit application and management process: structured and documented processes – which the teams execute with rigour – is the only way to reduce frustrations and duplicated questions when processing permit applications. Our interaction with various stakeholders revealed a positive culture of ownership and accountability in LVVWD: a number of divisions created processes and ways of working which allow them to do their job successfully. However, these teams remain open to risk as these processes often sit outside an IT system and are heavily dependent on individuals and their commitment to and knowledge of the utility.
  3. Staff qualification and training: regulations change continuously , so it is imperative that compliance and quality staff stay current as regulations are up­dated.
  4. Status review: it is important for all responsible stakeholders involved to have full visibility on the full permit management process and access to a near real-time tracking of tasks as they move through the review process. Online tracking of permit applications is the most effective of streamlining measures.
  5. Automated task scheduling: a central system that allows for automated tasks scheduling undoubtedly reduces the administrative burden on staff and add efficiency to the application and review process.
  6. Technology: cloud-based software applications, mobile devices, automated workflows and notifications and electronic storage — all can enable noticeable ef­ficiencies of the regulatory compliance process. With the advent of SaaS technologies, affordable solutions now exist for water utilities who need to do more with less.

If investing in technology can be used to streamline the permit management process – permit application processing, tasks scheduling and tracking – it should only come after a careful review of the regulatory compliance process. Indeed, automating a dysfunctional process will only make a dysfunctional process run faster.

Streamlining permit management and regulatory processes represents a robust and positive ap­proach for water utilities and municipalities. Implementing regulatory efficiencies can save both time and money while improving water safety. For water utilities, the bottom line is a more robust management of permit application and review, which will set them on the path to better sustainability.

Do you want to improve Environmental Permit Management in your organization? Talk to us and ask for your free consulting days: our team of experts comes to you to spend time with your team to better understand how you currently manage permit compliance and identify optimization priorities.

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