Dean Moss knew about water when he started as general manager of what was then the Beaufort & Jasper County Water Authority in 1986.
He didn't know much about the nuts and bolts of running a utility, though.
"I knew how to spell all the keywords, but I didn't know anything really about business, and this is a business," said Moss, who had worked as an environmental planner in Arizona and Florida before hearing of a job opening at the authority from friends in the Beaufort area.
In the quarter-century since, Moss has learned plenty about how to make and pay for capital investments, collect money, keep the books and make the decisions necessary to safely deliver millions of gallons of drinking water to thousands of people each day.
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The authority, which had about 2,000 customers when he started, now has more than 45,000 in southern Jasper County and most of Beaufort County.
Moss, who plans to retire in November, said he's pleased to be handing over "a relatively peaceful situation" to his successor, Ken Griffin of Hillsborough County, Fla., whom the authority named last week.
Moss attributed the authority's growth during his tenure to three factors: the area's population boom; water lines that have been extended to replace wells in rural areas; and the acquisition of other utilities, including those in the cities of Beaufort and Hardeeville, the town of Port Royal and at local military installations.
"If the community wants to grow, it's our job to help it grow," Moss said. "To the extent we have done that, that's a good thing."
One of the accomplishments he's most proud of is ensuring the authority charges the same rates to all customers, from the Talmadge Memorial Bridge near Savannah to Dale in northern Beaufort County. That's not the case at many utilities because competing jurisdictions often use utility rates as bargaining chips to lure development, he said.
He's also proud to have overseen the authority's acquisition of the local military bases' utilities. That process, which required 10 years of negotiations with federal officials, has helped keep rates relatively stable for the authority's non-military customers by providing a large, predictable source of revenue, he said.
Next year, when the authority finishes overhauling the aging and antiquated systems it inherited, they should be among the military's best, Moss said, a factor that he said could help protect the local bases if military officials launch another round of closures.
Looking back on his career, Moss said it's been fun to continually tackle such challenges.
"I can't imagine doing anything I would've enjoyed any more with my life," he said.
Moss, who will turn 65 next month and is building a house in Port Royal, said he doesn't have many firm plans for retirement other than traveling and visiting his grown children.
He expects to keep working, perhaps helping smaller utilities. He also intends to keep volunteering with organizations such as the Beaufort County Open Land Trust, Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce, United Way, Savannah River Maritime Commission and Lowcountry Economic network and alliance, although he said he might be removed from some of those positions once he retires.
He wants to remain involved in debates with Georgia officials about a planned port in Jasper County and saltwater intrusion into the aquifer under Hilton Head Island -- intrusion he said results in part from over-pumping in the Savannah area.
One of the people who has worked with Moss on that issue, Braye Boardman of Augusta, said Moss is a powerful negotiator for South Carolina's interests because he analyzes problems thoughtfully, can break them down into understandable "bites and chunks" and knows issues along the entire river, not just in the Lowcountry.
"I'm glad he's on the South Carolina side, " Boardman said. "... Dean believes in good science trying to help us solve some of the issues on the Savannah rather than politics getting involved."