To support tribal communities and utilities across the country, the IHS Division of Sanitation Facilities Construction provides technical assistance related to the establishment, training, and equipping of utility organizations to operate and maintain Indian sanitation facilities. This achievement is possible through IHS collaboration with other federal agencies in securing funds that directly support these Operations & Maintenance activities.
Operations & Maintenance plays a vital role in keeping public utilities, including water, wastewater, and solid waste systems, running optimally and in compliance with national regulations. Within tribal utilities there are outstanding individuals who support these efforts, and we always appreciate the opportunity to highlight their work. Operators are often unsung heroes as they are generally not in the spotlight. However, due to their unwavering dedication, residents are able to enjoy access to safe water and wastewater with peace of mind.
One example of this dedication is Jerry Henscheid, the utility operator and manager of Omaha Tribal Utilities, who was recently recognized by the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona as the Tribal Operator of the Year for his tremendous efforts.
The Omaha Tribal Utility Department oversees the community water system, community sewer system, and the solid waste collection for the Macy community and surrounding rural areas on the Omaha Reservation in Nebraska.
Henscheid started working for the Omaha Tribe in 1994 as a grant writer and became interested in the water system while writing a grant to rehabilitate it. In 1997, the tribal utility operator passed away and Henscheid took over those responsibilities. He served off and on as the utility operator until 2014 when he came back permanently as the utility director. Prior to his return, the utility fell into disarray, leading to the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Justice serving the tribe and utility with an Administrative Order on Consent, which required the tribe to correct several major utility system deficiencies, or face large fines if the deficiencies were not corrected. Henscheid, upon returning as director, has worked tirelessly to correct these deficiencies.
He personally led and oversaw corrective action efforts which included establishing a utility budget, cleaning up the solid waste transfer station, ensuring routine drinking water sampling was completed, installing residential water meters, creating composite utility maps, and made many more system wide improvements. By finding and repairing multiple leaks in the system, he has reduced the utility’s daily average water demand in half, from 600,000 gallons per day to 300,000 gallons per day, which has resulted in major energy and cost savings.
Henscheid has completely turned the tribe’s utility around during a highly stressful period. Under his leadership, he has trained and mentored several other operators that work alongside him. He is diligent in identifying and repairing water system leaks, both in the distribution system and in residential homes. Henscheid also assists other communities on the reservation by supporting their projects for IHS funding and lending them equipment.
Henscheid demonstrates the spirit of service by continuously working to ensure the community members have high quality drinking water available at their homes. He has taken a utility that has dealt with routine water outages and boil water notices, and transformed it into a leader in quality and consistency.
Thank you to Lt. Cmdr. Jon Ireland, PE, tribal utility consultant for the Sioux City District Office in Iowa, for contributing to this article and for nominating Jerry Henscheid to the Intertribal Council of Arizona, leading to his recognition for this award.