Diverting Debris and Saving Water: Innovation for the Environment – Denver Peak Academy

My terrific teammate Drew introduced you to the DOTI Fellowship Program last month, and now I want to highlight more of the wonderful work that has come out of this creative program. We highly recommend it to any agency as a great way to meaningfully reengage successful innovators within your organization.

Joey Hernandez, Hermann Li, and Dominic Martinez were all part of the second round of fellows placed within DOTI. Joey Hernandez, is a Supervisor on the Solid Waste Management team, Hermann Li is an Agent on the Right of Way Enforcement team and Dominic Martinez is a Crew Lead on the Resurface and Reconstruction team. Joey embedded with the Street Sweeping team to work on the street sweeper washout process, Dominic embedded with the Traffic Operations team to work on their data entry process and Hermann embedded with the Finance team to work on their contracting process. While all three did incredible work in their respective fellowships, we’re highlighting Joey’s project here because it is such a visual process with huge environmental impacts.

The street sweeper washout process was something that the street sweeping leadership team identified as having room for improvement due to the amount of water being used, but also concerns that had been brought up by the environmental regulations team. As you might imagine, street sweepers pick up a lot of disgusting stuff (public service announcement: don’t be a litter bug!). Debris that was being washed out of the sweepers while they were attached to the hydrant was going directly into the drainage system and filling the stormwater drainage basins. Following the process recommended to them by the street sweeper manufacturer, drivers would hook the sweeper up to a hydrant and run water through it for roughly five minutes. This is recommended for preventative maintenance and amounts to about 5,000 gallons of water per wash. With 30 trucks being washed out 191 days in 2019, that amounted to 28,650,000 gallons of water a year!

Joey worked with Norm Roderick’s (who participated in the pilot of the DOTI fellowship program!) team to get a baseline of the current process and brainstorm solutions for using less water, while keeping the debris from entering the stormwater system. They tested several methods and ultimately found that by filling the truck with water, leaving it in the hopper and turning on the sweeper, they could get the trucks clean in 30 seconds. Another benefit of leaving the water in the hopper is that they can drive it over to the mechanic’s bay, where it can be dumped into the sand trap. Then the debris can be removed and properly disposed of in a landfill.

This was a massively successful innovation saving 25,785,000 gallons of water and over 668 hours of staff time, and we credit that in large part to Joey’s ability to create trust and exhibit leadership that values the perspective of staff who do the job every day. He and Norm already had an established relationship of respect and trust that really sped up this improvement. While most fellowships take the full three months to learn processes and come up with solutions, this was done in just a couple of weeks, the speed of trust in action.

Norm Roderick (left) supervises the street sweeping team Joey Hernandez (right) worked with on this massive innovation for his DOTI Black Belt Fellowship.