Water challenges can lead to water wars in some US communities. Yet when communities band together to address water supply, infrastructure, and other concerns, the collaborative effort generates cost-effective, environmentally responsible, and water-efficient solutions. Such is the case in the Bellevue, Washington area, where communities that at one time were divided over water issues, united in 1999 to create the Cascade Water Alliance. Cascade is a municipal corporation comprised of five cites and two water and sewer districts in the Puget Sound region. It provides water to 350,000 residences and more than 20,000 businesses, led by its CEO, Chuck Clarke.
What He Does Day to Day
Because Cascade is a regional water utility, often issues arise that necessitate a more significant examination than required of just one utility, notes Clarke. “Although Cascade is not a traditional utility, we own and operate the Lake Tapps Reservoir for future water supply,” he says, adding that he spends significant time on affiliated operational issues. Leading and managing a staff of 10 professionals is coupled with managing work with Cascade Water Alliance’s members and board members, all elected officials. He also spends time on regional collaboration and partnerships as Alliance members seek solutions to regional challenges and engage in strategic planning.
What Led Him to This Line of Work
Clarke earned a B.A. in biology and an MBA from Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, WA, which in 1995 honored him as an “outstanding alumnus.” Before his current position, Clarke gained management experience at all three government levels as a Seattle deputy mayor, prior to serving as Seattle Public Utilities director; as director of the Washington State Departments of Community Development and Ecology, and Vermont Agency of Natural Resources; and as an EPA Region X regional administrator.
What He Likes Best About His Work
Cascade works with a board of elected officials, representing each of its members. The structure was organized at Cascade’s inception, enabling the organization to address matters quickly, efficiently, and cost-effectively without going through typical bureaucratic channels. “Our elected officials are engaged and involved in strategic decisions and are able to move as quickly as needed,” says Clarke. Each member of the small staff of experienced professionals handles a key area: planning, conservation, outreach and legislative work, and engineering and operations of the Lake Tapps system. The lean administrative staff “keeps the organization running in a sound and efficient manner,” says Clarke. “With a small and nimble staff and a responsive board, we are able to get work done more quickly and more efficiently than any place in which I have ever worked.” The result is a better bottom-line and quicker project completion, he says, adding that “the issues we work on are exciting. Without the responsibilities of day-to-day operations of a utility, we can work on broader regional issues—issues that will affect our future and that of smaller utilities that may not be able to do the planning work themselves. Working together with other regional water suppliers means we plan for, and are preparing for, the future in a responsible and integrated manner.”
His Biggest Callenge
Assuring certainty of supply while incorporating flexibility for future decision-makers is the biggest challenge all utility managers face, notes Clarke. “Cascade is well-positioned going forward,” he says. “It has great regional partners, an involved and responsible board of directors, and a good plan for the future. We in the Puget Sound region of Seattle, Tacoma, Everett, and Cascade are working together to ensure every available drop of water is used before new sources are delivered. We are planning a resiliency project together to determine what challenges and risks our region faces such as earthquakes, water quality issues, drought, and climate change so we can mitigate risks to be better prepared as a region to address them.”
Cascade and its members are also working on an effort to determine what they, as members and as an entity, need to do to prepare for potential water supply delivery interruptions. “We have learned that by working well ourselves, and working collectively and collaboratively with our regional partners, our water supply planning, delivery, and future work is stronger and makes us better able to bring water to our customers today and tomorrow,” says Clarke.