The nearly 400 employees of SouthWest Water Company own and operate systems in six states:
- South Carolina
When South Street Partners, owners of the world-renowned Kiawah Island, sought to sell the water and wastewater treatment utility that serves the resort island, it had several goals: a fair price, strong customer service, the highest possible retention of existing employees, and the construction of a second water supply line for safety and redundancy.
SouthWest Water Company met every objective, retaining 100% of the utility’s work force; upgrading customer service with credit card payment and online account management; and expeditious construction of a $10 million pipeline that runs as deeply as 7,000 feet under the marsh. Mission accomplished.
Wiedenfeld Water Works–comprising 13 water systems with 830 connections near San Antonio, Texas–was solely owned by a businessman who managed the utility with the help of two employees.
Nearing retirement age and facing an increasingly stringent regulatory environment, the owner wanted to divest himself of the company he had built over several decades, while still ensuring that his long-standing customers were taken care of.
SouthWest Water Company offered an attractive purchase price and employment offers for existing employees, while also upgrading the system to include Automated Meter Reading systems and online account management tools. It was a win for the owner, the customer, and SouthWest Water.
North Shelby Wastewater Treatment Plant
When the EPA and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management required dramatically lower levels of phosphorous in the effluent of this central Alabama wastewater treatment plant (WWTP), it was simply not possible for the legacy system at the plant to reduce phosphorous discharge by 95%.
SouthWest Water Company engineered and built modifications that reduced the average phosphorous level to just 0.2 parts per million at a reasonable cost, thereby protecting the precious resource that is the Cahaba River.
SouthWest Water personnel have adopted a portion of The Cahaba River, under Alabama’s Adopt-A-Stream Program.
Ni America Texas
Ni America Texas is a water utility that serves residential customers in Johnson and Wise counties near Ft. Worth, Texas. All aspects of the utility are regulated by the Public Utility Commission of Texas, (PUCT). They provide potable water service to approximately 1,030 residences. In 2015, Pacolet Milliken Enterprises, Inc. (PME) of Greenville South Carolina obtained Ni America Texas as part of a much larger transaction in South Carolina where they purchased Ni America from its private equity owners.
Pacolet Milliken Enterprises is a private, family owned investment company that was founded as a separate corporate entity by the shareholders of Milliken & Company with a mandate to preserve and grow its capital with a values driven, multi-generational outlook through the ownership of very high quality real assets. Their regulated utility experience was confined to South Carolina and they decided strategically it was best to concentrate their efforts in South Carolina and sell the acquired Texas assets. Given that the utility was financially sound and providing a desirable cash flow, there was no exit time table established and they would wait for the right purchaser that they could build a relationship of trust.
SouthWest Water Company has a strategic growth initiative to build around their established utilities in the states they operate in. Through their business development efforts, they identified Ni America Texas as a potential acquisition target and reached out to Pacolet Milliken Enterprises for their interest in a sale. The timing was excellent as they were having difficulties with the PUCT approval of their purchase of Ni America. SouthWest Water was able to provide assistance and guidance during the process. As the trust grew, private negotiations began for a sale of Ni America Texas to SouthWest Water Company.
Ni America Texas is comprised of seven water systems serving 1,030 residences in PUCT approved service areas in Wise and Johnson counties. Potable water is obtained in accordance with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) standards from deep wells within each system. Disinfection is performed to TCEQ standards through the use of gaseous chlorine which poses a significant health risk to operators and residents if not properly handled. The water distribution system consists of modern polyvinyl chloride (PVC) piping.
PME had several objectives in picking the right acquirer for the Ni Texas utility. They had just finished the transaction for the overall company and as part of that, established a value with the PUCT for the value of Ni Texas. SouthWest Water recognized the value they had established and were able to match that amount by utilizing a long term 25 year acquisition model. SouthWest Water’s approach to ownership is perpetual and driven by a long term view of assets.
SouthWest Water Company has extensive knowledge and experience in working with the PUCT and TCEQ in servicing the needs of their 45,000 Texas customers. This proved invaluable to PME as they were fully engaged in absorbing their South Carolina acquisition and did not have the expertise or time necessary to deal with a Texas transition. SouthWest Water handled all the filings and transition documentation in a timeframe that was significantly quicker than established precedence.
Maintaining excellent customer relations has always been an important concern for Pacolet Milliken in dealing with their tenants and customers. SouthWest Water developed and implemented an integration plan that ensured that the utility customers would have a seamless transition to a new provider. The customers also benefitted from the integration into SouthWest Water’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. They will now be able to utilize electronic and credit card payments as well as view their billing information online.
SouthWest Water is committed to safety and immediately converted the water treatment facilities from potentially dangerous gaseous chlorine to a more stable disinfection process utilizing liquid bleach. This eliminated any possibility of a dangerous gas leak into each of the communities that are served. In addition, they converted all the water meters to an automated meter reading system that is safer for the utility workers and provides more timely information for the customers.
Pacolet Milliken Enterprises was able to execute this transaction with SouthWest Water Company with a minimal amount of disruption to their current priorities and accomplish all their objectives in a very timely manner.
Dal High Water Supply (Dal High) is a regulated utility with exclusive rights to provide potable water to a small service area near Athens, TX. Dal High serviced 45 customers and was family owned for decades. As time progressed, the family decided they wanted to divest themselves of the company in a quick, efficient, and painless manner.
SouthWest Water Company offered a fair purchase price and helped guide the owner through the challenging Public Utility Commission of Texas’ acquisition approval process. SouthWest Water guided the process every step of the way through all the approvals and closing the transaction. The Dal High customers were transitioned into the SouthWest Water family where they will benefit from Automated Meter Reading systems, 24/7 professional customer service, and more robust payment options.
Suburban Water Systems
California Suburban Water Systems (“Suburban”) serves approximately 76,000 homes and businesses in Southern California in the communities of Glendora, Covina, West Covina, La Puente, Hacienda Heights, Walnut, Whittier, La Mirada, La Habra, and Buena Park as well as unincorporated Los Angeles and Orange County areas.
Suburban is regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) who ensures that Suburban’s customers are treated fairly and are charged reasonable and affordable rates. The CPUC also ensures that Suburban’s capital improvements are prudent and beneficial to the customers. Suburban has extensive experience in all facets of water system operation including:
- Ensuring safe water quality to customers
- Providing excellent customer service
- Designing and constructing infrastructure improvements and replacement
- Maintaining and operating reliable water systems
- Partnering with local agencies to help serve their residents
- Managing a financially sound utility Quality Assurance
Suburban’s primary responsibility is to ensure that all water produced, stored, and distributed to customers is safe and exceeds all regulations.
Suburban’s Quality Assurance team consists of highly certified (Department of Drinking Water Distribution – DDW Operator 5 and Treatment Operator 4) water quality professionals who have years of experience operating a range of complex water systems with various types of water sources.
Our technicians monitor the system and ensure compliance and timely filing of DDW permits, annual reports and the Consumer Confidence Report (CCR). They are also integral to our service mindset by taking calls and visiting customers to discuss any concerns they have with water quality.
Customer Service: Suburban provides excellent customer service to almost 300,000 residents in 12 cities. Suburban has two customer service centers located within our service territory where customers can speak with a representative as well as make payments.
Suburban operates call centers at both locations where we strive to ensure that all our customers stay well informed and all their questions or concerns are addressed and answered in a timely manner.
Reliable Water System: Providing reliable water service to our customers is a top priority for Suburban. Suburban maintains 850 miles of pipe, 31 reservoirs, 18 active wells, 100 booster pumps, 76,000 service connections, and produces and sells approximately 50,000 acre feet of water per year. Suburban currently operates five (5) DDW drinking water systems in Southern California.
Suburban’s Production group manages our many sources of supply to meet customer demands, provide required emergency and fire protection, and maintain desirable water quality while minimizing energy and water costs. Suburban uses a Supervisors Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system that monitors and controls our facilities 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Suburban requires its operators to hold the State of California Water Operator certification to ensure they perform functions according to state requirements and ensure safe drinking water for our customers.
Partnering with Local Agencies: Suburban coordinates its efforts with representatives of the cities in which we serve. We participate in utility coordination meetings and respond to requests for underground utility information to support the design of city projects, relocate facilities that are in conflict, pull excavation permits, and comply with local paving repair requirements. We are responsive to resident inquiries received by the City Council and Public Works, and keep the City personnel informed of locations where work is performed each day.
Managing a Financially Sound Utility: To minimize the cost to the customers and ensure long term viability, Suburban leverages a number of technologies to improve efficiency and streamline its business processes. Suburban’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system integrates all of the company’s Information Technology Systems (IT) and uses Mobile Data Terminals (MDT) to connect field operations personnel with the ERP system while they are working in the field to ensure timely delivery of information to our customers. Suburban spends approximately $16 million a year in capital improvement projects.
We have in-house Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Geographic Information System (GIS) resources. We also produce engineering plans for all water infrastructure we construct internally. Suburban has extensive experience working with permitting agencies including Los Angeles and Orange County Public Works & Flood Control, Army Corps of Engineers, Regional Water Quality Control Board, Fire Departments, California Fish and Game, DDW, and CALTRANS. We participate in the conditional use permit process to ensure that the community is well informed about projects and have an opportunity to voice concerns.
Texas SouthWest Water Company (“SouthWest”) purchased Monarch Utilities (“Monarch”) from Tecon Utilities in 2003. When it was acquired, Monarch had aging water and sewer assets with a long history of regulatory compliance violations.
Monarch took inventory of the long list of its needs, worked with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (“TCEQ”) and invested substantial capital to bring all of its systems into regulatory compliance and to markedly improve customer service. Monarch prepared a capital improvement plan and prioritized improvements to address human health and safety, environmental impact, and general requirements.
The plans were reviewed with TCEQ and to date Monarch has completed each item outlined in the plans. Steps taken since the acquisition to improve customer service include centralizing customer service operations to a single location and replacing aging meters with advanced metering infrastructure technology. Monarch also established the Help2Others program in 2011 to provide charitable assistance to customers in financial, emergency, or catastrophic distress to meet water-related costs.
Qualified customers receive credits on their service bills. Monarch has been sensitive to mitigating customer rate shock related to the large capital investment needed to bring systems into compliance. In each rate proceeding since acquisition by SouthWest, Monarch has voluntarily requested less than the full amount of needed rate increases in order minimize rate increases for customers.
Monarch now operates in 32 counties across Texas with 110 public water systems, 18 sewer systems and approximately 47,000 connections serviced by 132 employees.
Romark Utility Company
Romark Utility Company (Romark) is a regulated utility with exclusive rights to provide potable water to a service area adjacent to Lake Livingston, Texas. It was 100% owned by a private developer and regulated by the Texas Public Utility Commission and Texas Department of Environmental Quality. It has approximately 125 connections. The utility was founded to service the residential developments the owner was developing. Over the years, Romark struggled with water quality and had numerous notices of violations and enforcement actions levied against it for various infractions by the Texas Department of Environmental Quality.
SouthWest Water Company has been owned and operated water and wastewater utilities in Texas since 1996 and has significant experience in turning around utilities with environmental and water quality issues. SouthWest Water Company has a strategy to grow within the states it currently operates by acquiring water utilities that are adjacent to their current operations. Romark was identified as an acquisition target that met their criteria and a private transaction was negotiated and closed.
The system is comprised of a service area on the southern shores of Lake Livingston, Texas with approximately 125 water connections. Water is drawn from wells, treated, and stored in a 43,900 gallon storage tank when not in demand. Prior to purchase’ the water was treated utilizing gaseous chlorine. The distribution system consists of 2”-6” pipes which were leaking and put under corrective action by the Texas Department of Environmental Quality.
After negotiating a fair price and taking ownership of the system, SouthWest Water Company implemented a capital improvement plan that included converting the water disinfection into a safer liquid chlorine process. Aging water meters were converted to modern wireless Automated Meter Reading capable meters. In addition, a plan has been worked out with the Texas Department of Environmental Quality to address the enforcement actions that had been previously levied.
Cline Butte & The Running Y
When Oregon Resorts Acquisition Partners (ORAP) decided to divest its ownership of the water and wastewater utilities that service the Eagle Crest and Running Y resorts in central Oregon to focus on its core competencies, they found a capable buyer in SouthWest Water Company. Aside from a fair price, ORAP had other goals: allow it to focus on operating resorts and continuance of the strong customer service it had provided the utility customers over the years.
SouthWest Water Company offered an attractive purchase price, made employment offers for existing employees, and struck a deal with ORAP for ORAP to continue providing customer service support while SouthWest Water Company transitioned ownership which minimized the effects on customers. ORAP and SouthWest Water Company also agreed to purchase emergency generators in order to continue providing service to customers in the event of power loss. The transaction was another win for the owner, the customer, and SouthWest Water.
Pristine Water Source (Pristine) is a non-regulated utility with exclusive rights to provide potable water and wastewater collection to a residential development near Klamath Falls, OR. Pristine services over one hundred customers and was ultimately owned by Premier Community Bank. The owner came into possession of Pristine after the residential development went into receivership. The owner operated the systems for several years before realizing the long term growth of the development would be better served by a full-time professional water services provider. SouthWest Water Company offered an attractive purchase price and helped the owner accomplish its goals. The real estate market has taken a positive turn and development within Pristine’s service territory has resumed again with water and wastewater services supportive of the growth. The new SouthWest Water Company customers will benefit from Automated Meter Reading systems, 24/7 professional operations, and more robust payment options.