2018 was a remarkably successful year for Aquatera.
We continued to focus our efforts on enriching the communities we serve through a culture of environmental stewardship, community investment and customer value.
Our Landfill Gas-to-Energy project has significantly reduced greenhouse gas emissions, demonstrating a reduced environmental impact. We also implemented an environmentally friendly method of bank stabilization to protect our infrastructure from river erosion.
We made considerable progress in the completion and initiation of several initiatives to increase infrastructure capabilities. The tremendous support we have received from our Shareholders has allowed us to secure grant funding for many of our projects.
The completion of the Clairmont Lagoon Discharge Project is providing long-term growth to the Hamlet of Clairmont. Construction of the 95 Avenue sewer was completed, allowing us to develop and expand our services southwest of Sexsmith. Phase 3 of the City of Grande Prairie’s Downtown Enhancement Plan was completed with the replacement of some of our oldest underground infrastructure.
Aquatera continues to invest in our community through a variety of sponsorship initiatives.
In 2018, $160,347 was invested directly back into our communities. 2018 also marked 15 years of serving our communities which was celebrated through 15 Days of Giving. Our staff came together to volunteer and donate to 15 organizations in our service region, truly living out our Core Purpose of Helping Grow Healthy Communities.
None of this would have been possible without the leadership of our former CEO, Bernd Manz. His dedication to the company over the last 15 years has laid the foundation for future growth. I thank him for his contributions and wish him well in his retirement from Aquatera.
Thank you to the Aquatera family for the commitment and value you provide to the Company, communities and customers.
Message from the Interim Board Chair
2018 was an exciting year full of transformation, opportunity and growth.
As a Board, we initiated changes that would positively impact the communities we serve and focussed on key opportunities to expand our services and create increased value to our Shareholders and customers.
Perhaps one of most exciting achievements was welcoming the Town of Wembley to Aquatera as a new Shareholder. We look forward to providing water services to the Town in 2019 and ensuring community development and sustainability for the region.
Our Lean culture continues to drive our efforts of continuous improvement through eliminating processes that don’t add value to our customers. Lean initiatives help Aquatera practice respect and accountability, providing our customers with the best service.
All our success is a testament to the dedication and commitment of our employees, Shareholders and communities. I would also like to acknowledge the leadership and direction of our former Board Member and Chair, Andy Beal, whose strategic vision guided our success for more than a decade.
On behalf of myself and the Board of Directors, it has been a pleasure to serve Aquatera and the Grande Prairie region in 2018.
2018 Board of Directors
WHO WE ARE
Aquatera is a full-service utility corporation - the provider of choice for governments, businesses and communities. Our business is to provide high-quality utility service and optimize value to consumers, the environment and Shareholders.
Helping Grow Healthy Communities
Trusted experts delivering ideal solutions and services essential to growing healthy communities.
Working together to achieve common gals and ensuring ongoing communication with customers and stakeholders.
We value each other's safety and the safety of our community and customers.
We provide quality customer service by delivering high-quality products and services.
We are environmental stewards, always striving to exceed environmental standards, while seeking to minimize the environmental impact of our services.
We couldn't provide the services we do without our customers and communities, we want to say thank you and give back.
Chief Operating Officer
Engage our Stakeholders
In 2018, Aquatera employed a third-party contractor to conduct our biennial Net Promoter Score Survey (NPS) for the purpose of gauging customer satisfaction amongst existing residential and commercial customers. The average score was 7.45 out of 10, giving Aquatera an NPS of six, which is positive. Seventy-six per cent of customers indicated that they were an active promoter or satisfied customer.
Win Your Water
Aquatera continued our successful Win Your Water campaign, inviting residential and commercial customers to participate in our monthly NPS Survey. This campaign allowed us to engage with customers on a consistent basis while providing them with an opportunity to contribute feedback regarding changes they would like to see. This input guided the development of targeted marketing campaigns, addressing specific topics important to our customers. Our average NPS was 33, indicating very satisfied customers.
In 2018, we introduced the Aquatera Customer Advisory Panel (ACAP). This is a group of residential and commercial customers in our service region, that we meet with on a quarterly basis, who provide us with feedback to help us enhance our services and provide the best value to our customers. This has been a valuable customer engagement initiative that has resulted in the development and execution of several successful campaigns including our quarterly newsletter, What’s on Tap, and our Resource Guide for Residential Customers.
Being on the Aquatera Advisory Panel has been a fun and enlightening experience that has provided a great opportunity for dialogue, feedback and learning between Aquatera and our community. It has been a fantastic learning experience and opportunity.
Aquatera is devoted to strengthening and empowering the communities we serve. We invest in programs and initiatives that demonstrate goodwill, positively impact our people and environment, and support our Core Purpose of Helping Grow Healthy Communities.
In 2018, we contributed $150,400 to our service region through cash and gift-in-kind sponsorships. It was also a successful year for our Bottle Donation Program. This year we raised and donated $56,000 to local youth charities and, since inception, have raised and donated more than $850,000. The Bottle Donation Program is a partnership between Aquatera and Recycle Plus.
2018 also marked an incredible milestone for Aquatera as we celebrated 15 years of serving our communities. We commemorated this momentous occasion with 15 Days of Giving. Our staff generously donated their time and money to 15 local organizations in our service region including the Sexsmith Food Bank, Clairmont Family and Community Support Services, Bandaged Paws Animal Rescue and Odyssey House. On the 15th day, we hosted a Community Appreciation event at Muskoseepi Park to recognize and thank our customers for their support.
Our involvement in and commitment to our communities and customers remains a priority for us as we seek to communicate effectively and strengthen relationships with the communities we serve.
The core purpose of Aquatera is Helping Grow Healthy Communities, which means we operate to serve and build our communities.
Interim Chief Executive Officer/Chief Financial Officer
Shareholder engagement is an important component to our success and 2018 saw increased and meaningful communication between Aquatera and our shareholders. A round table meeting, Annual Meeting and several Aquatera 101 sessions provided formal opportunities for discussion and feedback. We also met regularly with our MLA’s and MP to seek opportunities to advocate for the interest of Aquatera and our customers with federal and provincial decision makers.
In 2018, we welcomed the Town of Wembley to the Aquatera family as our fourth shareholder, and first new shareholder since inception in 2003. To celebrate this significant achievement, we hosted a Wembley Community Appreciation Event to engage with residents and share information about the Water to Wembley Project. Residents and community members joined us for a fun-filled day which included a BBQ served up by the Wembley Fire Department, games and activities, and a water taste test.
Aquatera looks forward to providing the Town of Wembley with clean, safe, reliable drinking water in early 2019!
Throughout 2018, Aquatera focussed on continuous improvement initiatives to identify and eliminate unnecessary activities, allowing us to provide more value to our customers. Lean initiatives have helped us practice respect by being accountable for everything we do and allowing us to affect our own jobs by eliminating processes that don’t add value to our customers.
We have seen tremendous commitment from all our staff who have taken the initiative to drive change in their jobs by implementing Just Do It’s (JDI’s). These are improvements applied by employees that yield high-impact results for our company and, in turn, our customers. 2018 saw significant improvements to process changes, engineering design changes and chemical changes, resulting in $630,000 in savings.
This aligns with our goal of continuously improving and creating better value and service for our customers.
We talk and live Lean everyday. It's our culture. Employees understand what Lean is and implement it in their work every day.
Chief Human Resources Officer
We work carefully to establish fair and affordable rates, while ensuring that our operational requirements are protected, and our investments allow us to continue providing trusted quality, valued service and peace of mind to our customers. Our goal is to increase customer value by providing utility rates below the median of comparable Alberta municipalities and 2018 saw us trending toward that goal.
Solid waste charges totalled $28.39, coming in second to Edmonton which was substantially higher at $47.08. Monthly charges in 2018 totalled $109.20, below the median of $115.38.
Generating additional revenue through increased disposal at the Aquatera Landfill will help us reduce these charges going forward and steer our utility rates below the median.
Drive our Culture
We value each other’s safety and the safety of our communities and customers. In 2018, we maintained a ‘World Class’ Total Recordable Incident Rate (TRIR) of 0.78, however, we continue to pursue a goal of zero injuries. Our focus this year was on encouraging employees to report all incidents, including minor injuries and near misses, to help us identify the root causes and implement actions to prevent future injuries.
Employees have embraced this improved process implemented by the Lean Safety Program and played an integral role in sustaining our remarkable safety performance.
The success of our safety focus was also demonstrated through the completion of our Certificate of Recognition (CORTM) internal audit. We achieved a score of 86 per cent, maintaining our Partnership in Injury Reduction Certificate of Recognition.
Our commitment to safety also prepared us for changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act that took effect on June 1, 2018. With an established Joint Workplace Health and Safety Committee, comprised of representatives spanning all departments, we were well equipped to implement this transition with ease.
We continue to focus our efforts on creating a safer work environment and reducing our TRIR.
I appreciate Aquatera for viewing safety as a value and not as a "priority". Priorities can and do change, while values define who we are and bring us together.
Aquatera remains a model of environmental stewardship and we continually look for opportunities to reduce our environmental impact.
Our work with the Mighty Peace Watershed Alliance and Wapiti River Water Management Plan to develop a Source Water Protection Plan for the Wapiti River began in 2018. This was initiated by Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) to ensure the appropriate management and stewardship of the resources in the Wapiti River. Aquatera will play a pivotal role in this process.
In the fall of 2018, we implemented two environmentally friendly methods of Bio-Engineering to address erosion and stabilize the Wapiti River banks. This included live gravel bar staking, a technique designed to mitigate erosion by decreasing water velocities and encouraging sediment decomposition, and rough and loose soil treatments, a technique that provides surface conditions ideal for vegetation while reducing water run-off into the river bank.
It is crucial that we protect this essential resource as we continue working to provide trusted quality, valued service and peace of mind to our communities.
Engineering Services Manager
Aquatera continues to invest in the development of our employees. We don’t see them only as workers, but as an integral part of the Aquatera family. And we don’t take this responsibility lightly. When our employees are enthusiastic about their work, it enhances their motivation and well-being, resulting in improved productivity, increased value and enhanced customer satisfaction.
In 2018, we focussed our training efforts on Leadership Development, Change Management, Lean, Safety, Mental Health First Aid and continuing education for our operators. Enhancing our employees’ skills and upholding our operator certifications ensures that we have the capacity to meet the needs of our growing customer base and provide expert support to other communities and industries. This year saw additional positions in Treatment Operations to support growth in remote communities.
We continued to be an active partner in the Indigenous Employment Coalition, hosting one student in the 2018 Indigenous Employment Society. Through our Provincial Dual Credit Strategy for Water and Wastewater Operators partnership, we provided employment opportunities for four students in the Grande Prairie Public School Division. Additionally, we hosted two NAIT students, providing them with practical experience to supplement their education program. Students gained valuable work experience and employability skills to guide them into the future.
Aquatera continues to maintain a strong financial foundation that promotes long-term sustainability. Our investments and borrowings are structured to ensure appropriate cash flows are available to support capital planning and growth.
Operational efficiency and customer service remain key areas of concentration. Our 2018 operating budget focussed on these by maximizing revenues outside of our core business and expanding our capacity to serve our shareholders as growth in their respective regions continues.
Under the Unanimous Shareholders Agreement (USA), annual dividends are paid at the mandatory rate of five per cent. In addition to the mandatory dividend of $2.4 million, the Board declared a discretionary dividend of $1.9 million. Dividends to shareholders in 2018 totalled $4.3 million.
The return on equity for 2018 is 12 per cent. Debt levels are projected to rise to fund investments in Aquatera’s Capital Plan. Debt to equity levels will remain within the established limit of 1:1 into the future.
To date, Aquatera has provided $190 million in direct benefits to shareholders in the form of cash dividends, stock dividends, franchise fees and payment for service.
2018 DIVIDENDS TO SHAREHOLDERS
Grow our Business
Expanding Business Develoment
Aquatera continues to focus our efforts on growing our business through service expansion and enhancement. In 2018, the Business and Corporate Development team added a Business Analyst and Sales Professional to support acquisitions, integration and growth. Priorities included Municipal Services and Service to Industry.
For more than a decade, Aquatera and the Town of Wembley worked toward a solution that would see us providing water to the Town. In 2016, Aquatera invested $3 million toward the $22 million project, with the remainder being funded by the Clean Water Wastewater Fund Federal Program and the Provincial Water for Life Program. With the funding in place, a Letter of Intent was approved in June 2018 by Aquatera shareholders and construction of the Regional Transmission Line began in July of 2018. The Town of Wembley officially became a shareholder on January 1, 2019.
Focus on growing our Distribution & Collection (DC) Services resulted in us being awarded, and completing, the City of Grande Prairie’s Storm Flushing and CCTV project, in addition to a number of commercial and residential service contracts.
Emphasis was put on strengthening our subsidiary companies, Advanced Trenchless Inc. (ATI) and Sustainable Water Solutions (SWS). In January 2018, ATI moved to a new location in Edmonton and we began the integration of Human Resources, Business Development, Finance and Lean, and Safety. Asserting these resources and reorganizing the team allowed us to focus on leadership and industry service.
SWS continues to provide services to two key customer, Right Choice Camps and Catering (RCCC) and Atco at Site C in British Columbia. Relocating to Grande Prairie in 2018, SWS leveraged the capabilities of Aquatera with the integration of key supports including Operations Management, Human Resources, Business Development, Communications, Finance and Lean, and Safety.
Utilizing continuous improvement methodology to eliminate waste is essential in all of our successful project executions.
General Manager, Advanced Trenchless Inc.
As the Grande Prairie region continues to grow, Aquatera anticipates the needs of our communities and prioritizes investments that support future growth and capacity. To accommodate this, we have invested over $100 million to growth-related capital projects over the next five years. Through targeted capital investments, and collaboration with our shareholders and development community, we are working to improve and develop our infrastructure to facilitate this growth.
Phase 3 of the City of Grande Prairie’s Downtown Enhancement Plan were completed in 2018. This included the replacement and upsizing of our water and sewer mains on 100th Avenue, some of our oldest infrastructure.
Our current landfill cells are rapidly approaching final elevation and capacity. Construction of a new cell at our Landfill began in early 2018, with completion in early 2019. This cell will provide approximately 10 years of service. Relative to this, we completed the preliminary design for the expansion of our Landfill Gas Collection System. This will tie into our existing system and enhance the production of electricity at the Energy Centre.
Construction of the Regional Transmission Line connecting the Town of Wembley to Grande Prairie began in July 2018. This will provide the Town with a sustainable, high quality water source in 2019. The Line was built to extend west in the future, potentially serving Beaverlodge, Hythe and Horse Lake.
Detail design and construction of the Hawkers Booster/Chlorination Station began in 2018. This will provide water pressure and maintain chlorine residuals to the Hawker Business Park. Construction of the Booster Station will be complete in early 2019 and includes the initial pump station and chloramination station. Phase 2 includes upgrades to the booster pumps and will be completed as growth demands dictate.
Construction of the Clairmont Lagoon Discharge Project began in 2017 and continued through 2018. This will provide a higher level of sewage treatment by pumping wastewater to our Wastewater Treatment Plant in Grande Prairie. This project includes the installation of a lift station at the Clairmont Lagoon and a trunk sewer extension which will accommodate future development.
Construction of the 95th Avenue sewer was completed in 2018 allowing for additional development in the southwest area of Sexsmith, and service expansion on behalf of Aquatera.