Water District Outsources Engineering

Like most Southern California water agencies, the Ramona Municipal Water District (RMWD) has recently struggled to balance increasing costs of raw water and operating expenses with declining water sales. In ongoing efforts to hold down customer rate increases, maintain high levels of services and improve customer satisfaction, the district’s board of directors and management team decided to outsourcing engineering services.

General Manager David Barnum estimates that outsourcing is expected to save between $100,000 and $200,000 annually without impacting service or operation levels. This is possible by Dudek providing part-time outside engineering expertise as-needed and partnered with the district’s full-time, in-house management, administrative and operations staff.

“We started with the perspective that maintaining a high level of service was essential when evaluating outsourcing a critical function like engineering,” Barnum said. “From that point, our evaluation was based on what made sense for the organization in terms of efficiency and cost-effectiveness.”

Barnum said outsourcing decisions are unique to each agency’s circumstances. In Ramona’s case, he offered four factors that help contribute to the successful transition:

Involving others in decision-making. Barnum said that soliciting the input of the RMWD board of directors, district customers and other business partners was critical in determining expectations and helping define the roles and responsibilities of the position.

Make sure consultant staff is a good fit. “The partner we bring into the organization is a key member of the district team and has to be a good functional and cultural fit,” Barnum said. “They represent the district, and must have the knowledge and skills to interact with its customers and staff in an intelligent, collaborative, professional, and friendly manner.”

Michael Metts, P.E., a Dudek principal engineer, serves as Ramona’s contract district engineer. Metts has 29 years’ experience providing design and support services to nearly 100 public agencies in Southern California. His experience reporting to boards and management of district’s similar in size to Ramona; decision-making roles on projects; and working with staff and the public contributed to Dudek’s selection.

Combine bandwidth and depth. From a technical perspective, the district wanted a single source with the “bandwidth” to handle a large amount of tasks and the “depth” of skills to expand as needed. Metts can draw upon Dudek’s 250-person engineering and environmental staff when and only if required for the District’s projects.

Retain “manuverability”. “We wanted to maintain what I’d call ‘manuverability’,” Barnum said. “This means a teaming arrangement that provides the ability for us to adjust the process with a small amount of effort to make it continually more efficient for RMWD and most importantly our customers.” Factors include the one-year term for the outsourcing contract, Dudek’s wide offering of available services and the District’s ability to contract with other consultants when appropriate and as requested by the board of directors