Amy Wilson 2017-06-28 00:39:13
From Farm Boy to CEO An agricultural engineer leads with distinction Neat, clean, tidy. Those words describe Beaver Water District (BWD), a water utility with three treatment plants in one of the fastest growing areas of the U.S. Northwest Arkansas boasts a population of more than half a million, and it’s growing at a rate of nearly 1,000 new residents a month. It doesn’t hurt that the area is home to the corporate headquarters of Walmart, J.B. Hunt, and Tyson Foods. But growth doesn’t happen without a ready, affordable water supply. BWD can treat up to 140 million gallons a day from Beaver Lake, a manmade lake formed by the damming of the White River in the early 1960s. BWD’s mission is “to serve our customers’ needs by providing high-quality drinking water that meets or exceeds all regulatory requirements and is economically priced consistent with our quality standards.” More than 50 people run the plant that cleans the water. Operations, maintenance, electrical and instrumentation, engineering, environmental, and administrative departments make sure the water from Beaver Lake is clean and keep it flowing to four customer cities that redistribute the water to 320,000 people. There are also internal and external communications and education programs so that area leaders and residents can maintain their trust in BWD and value their water as a precious resource. “It’s essential to hire the best. It’s critical to foster growth in one’s staff and ensure that our water utility is the very best it can be,” said ASABE member Alan Fortenberry, P.E., CEO of BWD. “We need new people, throughout the country, to enter the engineering field with water in mind. So many areas exist where their skills are needed now and in the future. Studies from the American Water Works Association (AWWA) show employment gaps, and those gaps are increasing. These are good jobs and long-term careers. We need trained engineers and other support staff to fill them.” Fortenberry bears all the markings of a farm boy’s disciplined upbringing. Raised in Leachville in eastern Arkansas, he combined his love of farming with engineering and spent the major part of his career involved with issues related to water. In high school, he excelled at math and science while working a ten-acre plot that his father made available to him. He grew corn to fatten hogs and Angus cattle, and he attended the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville with the money he earned from his small farming enterprise. When it came time to select a major, he chose agricultural engineering. After earning his bachelor’s degree, he obtained an M.S. in environmental engineering. He and his wife, Patricia Rose, married after their sophomore year. She was working on a B.S. in medical technology at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock. Alan followed her there and took a job with the Arkansas Soil and Water Commission, where he worked on water resources issues and financial assistance applications for water projects throughout the state. Later, the family moved to northwest Arkansas, and Fortenberry took a position with McGoodwin, Williams, and Yates, an engineering firm that specializes in municipal infrastructure, where he began designing water and wastewater treatment plants. He joined BWD in 1991 as plant engineer. A decade later, he had worked his way up to CEO. “I’m serious about what we do here at BWD,” Fortenberry says. “It’s our responsibility to ensure that the water is safe to drink. We hold the health of our customers in our hands.” Beginning in 2002, with the support of the BWD board and a dedicated staff, Fortenberry led a $104 million expansion of BWD’s facilities to 140 million gallons a day (MGD). The expansion was funded from reserves and the sale of revenue bonds. He spearheaded the construction of a 60 MGD water treatment plant, an award-winning water intake on Beaver Lake, and a solids handling facility, as well as renovation of the Joe M. Steele Water Treatment Plant and construction of the Administration Center, which was recognized for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). The Administration Center is home to the Education Center, which provides tours and public access to educational exhibits. ASABE members toured the BWD facilities during the 2017 Southeastern Regional Rally at the University of Arkansas. In December 2011, construction began on the Chlorine Dioxide Treatment Facility. This $5 million project, completed in early 2013, reduces the by-products of chlorinated disinfection in drinking water, as required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Stage 2 Disinfectants and Disinfection By-products Rule. In June 2016, BWD completed construction of two, 2 MW diesel-powered generators. The $5.4 million project provides emergency backup power for a 20-year planning period. Installation of a surge tank for the city of Fayetteville was completed in early April of this year. The $432,000 project protects Fayetteville’s pipeline from pressure surges during power outages. The estimate for further capital improvements projected for the future is $154 million. “I won’t be here, but the plan is in place to move this utility forward,” Fortenberry says. “That’s my job. To lead and to see the big picture, to look into a crystal ball. It may not be right on target, but it’s close, and it’s a roadmap that can be revised as needed by the future leaders of this utility.” When asked if he would recommend following the engineering path into a water-related field, he’s adamant that he wouldn’t change anything. “It’s been quite a journey from farm boy to ag engineer to CEO of a drinking water utility. I’m proud to head an organization that is tied to the health and well-being of the people of our community. After all, water is life. Human beings need it to survive. This career has allowed me to be in public service. It’s a high calling.” Fortenberry takes great satisfaction from two awards that BWD has earned—the 2013 Gold Award for Exceptional Utility Performance and the 2016 Platinum Award for Utility Excellence—both from the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies. In addition to his responsibilities with BWD, Fortenberry participates in efforts with various partners, such as the Beaver Watershed Alliance, to protect the water quality of Beaver Lake. He also serves on the board of Ozarks Water Watch and is a member of the Northwest Arkansas Council and the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission. On a national level, he’s active on the Water Utility Council of the American Water Works Association (AWWA). He received the AWWA Southwest Section’s 2010 Glen T. Kellogg Leadership Award, the AWWA’s George Warren Fuller Award in 2007, and was inducted into the Arkansas Water Works and Water Environment Association’s Glen T. Kellogg Water & Wastewater Hall of Fame in 2013. Fortenberry is a member of the University of Arkansas’ Academy of Biological and Agricultural Engineering and Academy of Civil Engineering. In 2007, he was recognized as a University of Arkansas Distinguished Alumni of the College of Engineering, and he currently serves on the Advisory Council for the Dean of the College of Engineering. Fortenberry is also a governor-appointed member of the Arkansas Board of Health. Amy Wilson, Director of Public Affairs, Beaver Water District, Fayetteville, Ark., USA, email@example.com, www.bwdh2o.org.
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