The Mission Beyond the Utility: 2020 WF&M Award Winner Andy Kricun

Everyone knows that running a water or wastewater utility is closely connected to the important mission of protecting the environment and public health. For Andy Kricun, the real mission has always been beyond the utility, making an impact on the community.

“I always believed very strongly that a big part of one’s life is to be appreciative of what you’re given and also to give back as much as possible,” he says, reflecting on how local utility work affects the general public.

With a background in both chemical and civil engineering, Kricun has amassed a 30-plus year career in the water sector, culminating in his most visible role as the executive director and chief engineer of the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority (CCMUA) in Camden, New Jersey, from 2011 to 2020. In addition to his time at CCMUA, he has served on the board of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA). He’s also a founding and steering committee member of the Water Resources Utility of the Future Today initiative, based on the notion that clean water utilities can and should serve as environmental champions in their communities. He also serves on the New Jersey Environmental Justice Advisory Council and chairs its Water Equity Taskforce.

Under Kricun’s leadership, CCMUA made strides in cleaning up the Delaware River and its tributaries. The utility has gained industrywide recognition for improving its operational performance while reducing rates. The Authority has also taken on a number of partnerships to enhance green infrastructure throughout the area and cut costs through the use of solar energy and recovering methane from biosolids. The CCMUA’s combined operating and capital costs are now lower than they were in the mid-1990s.

His success at CCMUA and activities across the industry have led Kricun to become a respected figure among water utility leaders, and he is frequently a sought-after speaker at industry conferences and events. In 2012 he was the recipient of the Praxis in Professional Ethics Award by Villanova University, and has received three environmental quality awards from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). He also received the NACWA President’s Award in 2016 and the New Jersey Public Sector Engineer of the Year Award from the American Society of Engineers in 2018.

After retiring from CCMUA in February 2020, Kricun joined former DC Water CEO George Hawkins’ Moonshot Missions as managing director. He also serves as a senior fellow at the US Water Alliance and as a senior advisor at The Water Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

“Andy is a remarkable beacon on almost every issue that is significant today in the water industry,” says Hawkins.

But through it all, there’s little doubt Kricun’s passion for water is rooted in his love of community.

CCMUA & Early Career

Growing up in New Jersey, Kricun excelled in his academics long before his days at CCMUA or the wastewater industry. He found an early mentor in a high school chemistry teacher who he says inspired his interest in the subject. He would become one of the first from his high school in New Jersey to attend an Ivy League school, attending Princeton University and later graduating with honors in chemical engineering. Kricun also found pleasure in volunteer work in his college days and became taken with the idea of community service and having a job that would make a larger impact.

“I initially thought that would mean things like more volunteering,” he says. “I didn’t really realize that someone could make a difference in a job like chemical engineering.”

It turns out that chemical engineering would lead him to CCMUA in the mid-1980s when he applied for a job there after returning home from college.

The CCMUA was originally created to bring Camden County into compliance with the Clean Water Act. By the mid-1980s when Kricun joined, the organization was still in the midst of ramping up such programs to reduce pollution in the Delaware River and its tributaries.

Camden County is located in the southwestern portion of New Jersey, across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. Burlington, Atlantic and Gloucester Counties border Camden County on the north, east and south. The county is about 226 square miles in area with 37 municipalities within the county. The CCMUA operates an 80-million gallons-per-day wastewater treatment plant and a large regional sewer system that services more than 500,000 customers in southern New Jersey.

Kricun says he was immediately interested in the available position and took the opportunity to join the utility. Growing up in Camden County, Kricun was well aware of the poverty, unemployment and high crime rates that plague the area. Despite its historical and prosperous industrial center, Camden was suffering from hundreds of contaminated sites, run down businesses and residential areas, declining population, and of course, aging infrastructure.

But all of that only motivated Kricun. In fact, he vividly remembers a time driving through the City of Camden and noticing how powerful the odors were coming from a nearby treatment plant.

“The wastewater treatment plant had no odor control. I started thinking about how unfair it was to the people who lived there, and as a chemical engineer, I knew that those odors could be neutralized,” he says. “So very early on I thought there was an opportunity for a mission.”

That mission stayed with Kricun for the remainder of his career with CCMUA as he made it his personal obligation to ensure disadvantaged communities were not unfairly subjected to operational or financial burdens of the local utility.

Around the time he was getting started with CCMUA, Kricun also turned his attention to civil engineering. While realizing that his background in chemical engineering was closely connected to water treatment, he knew that a civil engineering license would lend itself to the construction work of the authority. “I thought it would give me a perspective that my colleagues didn’t have,” he says.

Starting out as an assistant engineer, Kricun’s first assignment would end up taking him through the first 10 years of his career as he was tasked with heading up the CCMUA’s wastewater management plan. The plan involved eliminating regional plants that were discharging sewage into the county’s tributaries causing pollution levels 10 times higher than what would be high enough to close beaches and waterfront areas.

Kricun became the planning and grants administrator responsible for receiving approvals and funding to implement the plan. As a 22-year-old – and being one of only three engineers at the Authority – he says he jumped on the opportunity despite being new to wastewater utility operations. “It was all upside because there was no one else,” he says of the limited staff. Kricun quickly worked to accelerate the project and eventually secured federal grants through the New Jersey State Revolving Fund to help finance the program. It saved Camden County about $100 million as it completed the program nearly 10 years ahead of schedule.

Privatization Push

By the mid-1990s, privatization was becoming a trend for several large water and wastewater authorities in the United States. In Camden County, elected officials were strongly considering privatization of the CCMUA. Kricun was promoted to deputy executive director in 1996 and assigned to negotiate the terms with the private water company selected. Kricun explains that it was essentially a done deal, and Camden officials had already announced that the utility would be privatized.

“The private entity didn’t really feel the need to offer a very competitive price because they were the only proposer. That gave me the opportunity to see if we could beat that price,” he says. “So, while we negotiated the contract with the private company, I was also working internally to reduce our costs.”

As the process went on, Kricun identified loopholes in the price that the private entity was offering, thereby driving the price up. Meanwhile, he found ways CCMUA could make improvements in water and air quality performance while making significant cost reductions. In the end, those improvements were collectively more attractive than the benefits offered through the privatization proposal. The county determined it would be more economically viable for the CCMUA to remain a public entity.

One of Kricun’s goals throughout his career has been to integrate a greater sense of community service into the public utility’s mission statement. “If you’re an anchor institution, you’re invested in the quality of life of the people you serve,” he says. Photo courtesy of CCMUA.

A New Vision

A short time after defeating the privatization push, Kricun was promoted to chief engineer in addition to his position as deputy executive director. Having played a major role in keeping the authority public, Kricun had the ear of the CCMUA board of directors and he recommitted the utility to a new vision guided by two overarching goals.

The first was to implement an Environmental Management System (EMS) to further optimize internal performance and cut costs. An EMS is a framework that systematically ensures an organization achieves its environmental goals through consistent review, evaluation and improvement of its environmental performance. It is designed to identify a utility’s most important priorities and ensure resources are used to meet those priorities.

The second of Kricun’s goals was for the CCMUA to refocus its role in community service. One of the first things he did was convince the board to approve implementation of new odor control measures at the treatment plants. But Kricun wanted to go further and impress upon the board a sense of obligation to be a community partner.

“I thought we should graduate from doing no harm to being a proactive good neighbor. Then, graduate from being a good neighbor to ultimately striving to be an anchor institution in the community,” he says. “That was really the utility’s foray into community service.

“If you’re an anchor institution, you’re invested in the quality of life of the people you serve. To meet permits and obligations shouldn’t be the ceiling of your aspirations, it should be the floor.”

The scope of CCMUA’s EMS included improvements to its wastewater treatment, biosolids production and community service at the Delaware #1 Water Pollution Control Facility, including pretreatment, wastewater treatment, effluent discharge, biosolids preparation and drying, biosolids transportation and use.

By 2010, the CCMUA became a Certified Environmental Management System Agency in recognition of its commitment to environmental performance and community service. The certification comes from the National Biosolids Partnership — a joint venture between the EPA, NACWA and the Water Environment Federation (WEF). At the time CCMUA was the first water and wastewater utility to be certified in the State of New Jersey and one of only about 30 in the nation.

Kricun at an event to commemorate the Camden SMART Initiative, a partnership led by the CCMUA to implement a network of green infrastructure programs and projects. Photo courtesy of CCMUA.

Partnerships

Kricun would go on to be named executive director of CCMUA in 2011 in addition to remaining its chief engineer. As a result of the EMS and under Kricun’s leadership, CCMUA improved odor control performance by installing approximately $20 million in new odor control equipment. The utility also reduced operating costs such that the CCMUA’s user rate is actually lower than it was in 1996 after considering inflation. The Authority also added 100 acres of greened area in Camden for stormwater capture and brownfield reduction. It also developed a recycling program for use in local schools.

In the area of energy efficiency, the CCMUA constructed a combined heat and power plant that went into service in 2019, leading to increased self-sufficiency in energy generation. A 1.8-million-watt solar panel array was also installed at the CCMUA main treatment plant and was the first phase of CCMUA’s overall green energy initiative.

Partnerships to develop green infrastructure – an idea adopted from the water utility across the river in Philadelphia – became a hallmark of Kricun’s tenure as executive director.

An early example was the formation of the Camden Stormwater Management and Resource Training (SMART) Initiative between CCMUA, the city and several area non-profits. The Camden SMART Initiative developed a network of green infrastructure programs and projects. Also borrowing from Philadelphia Water, CCMUA launched the green jobs programs PowerCorps Camden and Green Ambassadors. PowerCorps is an AmeriCorps program that aims to address poverty and improve the sustainability and resilience of Camden. The program provides pre-employment training for at-risk young adults, working on Camden’s network of storm sewers, rain gardens, vacant lots and parks. Green Ambassadors hires 10 to 20 high school students for a five-week summer internship, where students work with a variety of projects.

In 2013, CCMUA took its focus on partnerships even further as it launched the Camden Collaborative Initiative, a partnership between governmental, non-profit, private and community-based agencies designed to plan and implement new strategies to improve the environment and quality of life for Camden. The collaborative was led by CCMUA, Camden County, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. EPA.

Since its inception the initiative has drawn the interest of about 60 partners, who collaborate on grants, plans and implementation of projects ranging from air quality, waste and recycling to land and brownfields, environmental justice, environmental education, stormwater management and resource training.

In one project, CCMUA used funding from an Open Space grant from the county to purchase an abandoned industrial property with plans for transformation into a riverfront park. The result was Phoenix Park, which provides waterfront access for Camden residents, eliminates contamination to the Delaware River and reduces flooding by capturing 5 million gallons of stormwater. CCMUA partnered with Camden City, religions organizations, local residents and businesses and national partners to complete the project aimed at revitalizing Camden’s Waterfront South neighborhood.

Perspective on Industry Challenges

Throughout his career Kricun has been a strong supporter of the potential of public utilities to not only fulfill their core duties but go above and beyond. He describes his focus on partnerships at CCMUA as a method to impact the overall community and serving as a primary duty of the utility.

“It’s far from wastewater treatment and permits, but it’s in the lane,” he says. We’re just widening the lane.”

He’s also been a proponent for keeping water and wastewater utilities public entities, an issue that he has some perspective on following CCMUA’s brush with privatization. It’s not that he’s a staunch opponent of privatization but rather a believer that a utility – public or private – should strive to fulfill and exceed its duty to the public without influence from profit or politics.


“One of the biggest drawbacks of under-resourced communities is that they’re non-networked.”


Another industry challenge, Kricun says, is information dissemination. He hopes to address this through his work with George Hawkins and the team at Moonshot Missions, which is focused on providing resources to underserved utilities that stand to gain the most from innovative management, financial and technological approaches.

Kricun explains that while public water systems are willing to share information, the key is disseminating it in an effective and systematic way.

“One of the biggest drawbacks of under-resourced communities is that they’re non-networked,” he says. “If you’re a networked utility, you go to the NACWA conference, you go to WEFTEC or AWWA. You’re hearing about what other utilities are doing and you can learn how to adapt it. But if you’re not a networked utility, you’re not hearing all of that. You’re not getting the benefit of hearing how technology advances and how other practitioners are moving the ball forward.”

Moonshot Missions’ primary focus is to support under-resourced, non-networked utilities, maximizing the dissemination of information to these utilities to improve performance and reduce costs – and the organization’s founder says Kricun is a perfect fit to have on board.

“Many of the trends that are some of the big issues facing the water sector – how to work with your community, how to consolidate smaller operations into a larger regional context, how to demonstrate what a public utility can do to drive efficiency gains – all were hallmarks of Andy’s leadership at Camden County,” Hawkins says. “All of those are elements that are relevant today.

“I think his story is one of the very best.”


Andrew Farr is the managing editor of Water Finance & Management, published by Benjamin Media in the greater Cleveland, Ohio, area. He has covered the water sector in North America for eight years and also covers the North American trenchless construction industry for sister publication Trenchless Technology.

Water Finance & Management Award

The Water Finance & Management Award was created in 2012 to recognize leaders in the water/wastewater/stormwater utility sector who are at the forefront of driving innovation and who have had a lasting and meaningful impact within their utility/field. Nominations are submitted and voted on by WF&M’s editorial advisory board. The winner is chosen by vote, based on innovation, as well as the economic, social and environmental benefits that have occurred as a result of the individual’s leadership, contributions and lasting impact.

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