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  • Powerhouse Q&A with Richard Hanan

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    Most of us take clean, running water for granted. We turn the knob or lift the lever on our faucets, and it’s always there, streaming out, free and clear. But a lot of work goes into keeping the flow going in Montgomery, and Richard Hanan, Chairman of the Montgomery Water Works & Sanitary Sewer Board for the past two decades, is on top of it all.

    Explain how our water works system is set up in Montgomery. The water board is a private corporation that operates under a franchise from the city. Our leadership is composed of nine board members who are appointed and elected for six-year terms by the Montgomery City Council. The board members are compensated, but it is truly minimal. Our water works is an almost $85-million-a-year business.

    How long have you been involved? I founded and ran Loeb & Hanan Home Builders with my brother, and that was my primary job until we retired and shut the business down. I’ve been with the Water Works board for decades though. I’m entering my 54th year as a board member, and I’ve been chairman for more than 20 years. When I first started, there was a lot of work to do to get it in better order; things weren’t running smoothly. But now they are.

    What are Water Works’ main services and responsibilities in our community? We provide water and wastewater treatment, and we do it at a very low price. We continually monitor our lines and water quality and address issues when they arise. Our mission is to provide the highest quality water and sewer service in harmony with the environment.

    How much water a day does Water Works deal with? We can treat about 56 million gallons a day if need-ed, but we average about 35 million gallons a day.

    Are there water quality issues in our area? No. We recently met with the new commander of the Corps of Engineers, and they were very pleased with our water quality. We have our own lab certified to do all of the required Environmental Protection Agency tests, and we test the water every two hours. Our lab also does tests for other smaller cities. We maintain that we put water back in the river cleaner than when we took it out.

    Are there any infrastructure issues? We have some really old pipes in our city, some that are probably 100 years old. We continually work to upgrade pipes and recently replaced a lot on the south side of the city. We actually budget more than $1 million each year for rehab purposes. But interestingly, some of the really old stuff is still holding up great, like the brick manholes on Dexter Avenue downtown.

    How do you work to balance services and the protection of our natural resources? We just built a new wastewater treatment facility in East Montgomery that became operational last November, and it has made us more efficient. The technology in our industry is always changing, but we stay current. The regulations from Alabama Depart-ment of Environmental Management and the EPA change often too, but we work very closely with them. We are also a part of the Alabama Water and Waste Water Institute, of which I am president, which is made up of some of the largest cities in the state and was set up to share knowledge and work together on environmental concerns. The relationships it creates also gives us a way to collaborate with other areas if/when there is a natural disaster that affects our services.

    How do our water costs compare to other states and regions? Montgomery enjoys some of the lowest costs in the Southeast. For instance, we are much cheaper than Birmingham. We actually have lots of folks visit our facility to learn what we are doing.

    How do you keep costs down? Our employees—We have 278 right now, and many have been with us more than 20 years—are very efficient and very dedicated to their jobs.

    Are there any problems posing a threat to our water system? One really big issue is common fats, oils and greases (FOG) generated from cooking being poured in sinks and down drains. Most people just don’t think about it being harmful, but as FOG cools, it becomes solid and constricts and, ultimately, blocks pipes. We have three vacuum trucks that go out every day to deal with this.

    How are you raising public awareness of this issue? We’ve started a campaign to inform people why they shouldn’t pour FOG down their drains, and we provide free jugs they can use to store and then dispose of the grease in-stead. We call it our Grecycle program. It seems to be helping.

    You’ve been in business in this area in one form or another for a long time. What’s your  impression of the current business climate here? We have a great working relationship with the city, and we also work closely with the Chamber when it is working to bring industry here. We see new companies here as new customers, and we think our low costs are one of the positives that draws business here.

    What, outside of the Water Works and Sanitary Sewer Board, gets your time and attention? I’ve been involved as a board member at the McInnis School, a school for mentally and physically disabled people in the greater Montgomery area, for 40 years, and I’m president of the Special Olympics of Alabama. I’m also on the Montgomery Housing Authority Board, a member of AUM’s Advisory Board and a member of USAmeriBank’s Board.

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