Posts

How to Choose the Best Method of GIS Data Collection for Water and Sewer Systems

Carlisle Borough Uses Infiltration/Inflow Data to Devise Long-Term Plan for Infrastructure Repair and Replacement

Like many municipalities, Carlisle Borough is grappling with the challenge of aging infrastructure. Its sewer system features infrastructure that is more than 100 years old.  Since replacing it all at once is not possible from a financial perspective, borough officials needed to a way to narrow down exactly where investment should occur.  Which projects would provide the most value to Carlisle residents and business owners?  Infiltration and inflow data provided the answer.

Why infiltration and inflow data?

In the words of Carlisle Borough staff, “Inflow and infiltration is really just a symptom of failing infrastructure.” By figuring out where extraneous flow is entering the system, we get a hint as to where cracks or defects in the infrastructure may be located.

Josh Fox recently authored an article in the April/May/June issue of Keystone Water Quality Manager magazine on this project with the borough’s director of public works Mark Malarich, P.E.

The article discusses how HRG’s engineers evaluated infiltration and inflow data to determine what infrastructure needed repairs or replacement the most. First, the borough implemented a 16-week metering program to identify dry weather flow for comparison to wet weather data for the borough’s 21 sewer basins.

We then used the data to calculate peaking factor and total infiltration volume for each of the basins and ranked the basins accordingly. After analyzing the data, we determined that some basins had high peaking factors but infiltration dropped off quickly once the wet weather dissipated (like Area 1C in the figure below).  Other basins saw high infiltration volumes for several days after a wet weather event (like area 4 in the figure below).  This suggested that a high groundwater table was contributing a sustained flow via defects in the manholes, sewer mains and sewer laterals.  Therefore, total infiltration volume provided the best data for assessing the overall condition of the infrastructure.

 

Infiltration-Inflow-Data-from-Two-Basins

Taking our analysis one step further, we prioritized the basins with the highest total infiltration volume for further investigation and compared the total volume of infiltration/inflow in a basin to its size. By calculating the total infiltration per foot of pipe, we were able to more accurately estimate the severity of damage in each basin.  (For instance, two basins may have had similarly high total infiltration volumes, but one was significantly smaller than the other.  This suggests a higher severity of defects in the smaller basin for that much water to infiltrate in a smaller space, during the same time period, after the same wet weather event.)

Prioritized Basins by each factor

Using this data as a guide, HRG worked with the borough to devise a 20-year capital improvement plan for addressing the highest priority needs in the system.  HRG also helped the borough create a financial strategy for addressing these needs.

Rehabilitation of the highest priority basin is being completed in the spring of 2017 and is expected to come in almost $1 million under budget.

Read more about this project in the April/May/June 2017 issue of Keystone Water Quality Manager magazine.

HRG has written a great deal of advice on asset management and long-term infrastructure planning for water and wastewater systems. Read similar articles below:

 

 


Josh Fox, P.E.Josh Fox, is the regional manager of water and wastewater system services in HRG’s Harrisburg office.  He has extensive experience in the planning and design of wastewater collection and conveyance facilities, water supply and distribution systems, and stormwater facilities.

 

Could infrastructure asset management improve your municipal bond performance?

Financial Reports

If you’re a frequent reader of our newsletter and postings, you know we believe strongly in the benefits of infrastructure asset management. (This is a sampling of our prior articles about infrastructure asset management.) By regularly assessing the condition of your infrastructure and proactively planning its maintenance and replacement, you can reap many benefits. Most importantly, you will increase the useful life of your infrastructure for a lower long-term cost than the typical reactive approach many governments and authorities take.

A recent article in Governing magazine gives another good reason why investing in asset management can be beneficial: it just might lower your cost of borrowing through bonds. In this article, Justin Marlowe discusses the benefit of using the modified approach for calculating the value of infrastructure required in annual GASB reports.  Under GASB standards, governments can either subtract a standard portion of their infrastructure’s value each year to account for depreciation (the traditional approach), or they can regularly assess the condition of the infrastructure, invest in maintenance to keep it in good condition, and then report the amount of money they have invested in maintenance (the modified approach).  Using the modified approach, the assets don’t have to depreciate in value like they would in the traditional approach.

Marlowe cites research he’s conducted that shows investors appear to prefer trading bonds from governments that use the modified approach:

“Governments that use the modified method trade at much narrower price ranges compared to bonds from governments that depreciate. In other words, when a government uses the modified approach, investors are much more likely to agree on how to price its bonds. For governments, this can ultimately translate into lower bond interest rates.”

(excerpted from “Selling Your Sewer’s Story – Financial statements can make the best case for public works investors”)

 

He goes on to state that very few governments at the state and local level actually use the modified approach, so with a lower supply, the demand for such investments would likely be stronger yet.

The truth is, you’re going to have to invest in maintenance and repair anyway. At HRG, we believe that, if you invest in an asset management program, you can take a proactive approach to determining what maintenance is needed and then plan and budget for it in advance. This means you can target your maintenance dollars where they’re needed most and make sure you have the funds available to do the work before infrastructure failure brings even greater costs to bear on your budget.

Justin Marlowe’s study adds a bonus benefit to this type of approach: you can cite those proactive investments in your financial statements to make your government bonds a more attractive investment to traders.

Every client need is different, and HRG would be happy to discuss asset management planning, capital improvement planning, budgeting and/or rate making options to fit the unique needs of your community. Contact us to discuss your community’s infrastructure and financial goals today: (717) 564-1121!


Adrienne M. VicariAdrienne Vicari, P.E., is the financial services practice area leader at Herbert, Rowland & Grubic, Inc., a civil engineering firm that serves local governments and authorities in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. Ms. Vicari has assisted numerous municipalities and water and sewer authorities with the creation of asset management programs that have created increased value and lowered costs for her clients.

 

 

Benefits of Utility Asset Management

As our water systems continue to age past their useful life and utilities face increasing budget pressures, the terms asset management and capital improvement planning have become buzzwords in the industry. However, as utility managers struggle to squeeze as much out of their budgets as possible, it is hard for many of them to justify the additional expense associated with developing and implementing an asset management program. Just like with any other purchase, they want to be sure the benefits outweigh the cost.  So what are the benefits of asset management and capital improvement planning?

Target your money with asset management

Target budget dollars where they’re needed most and eliminate wasteful spending.

An asset management and capital improvement program helps you identify exactly what maintenance and repair work is necessary without guesswork. Why allocate money toward cleaning out pipes selected at random, when you could target that money to the pipes that need it most (and use the savings to accomplish other system goals)?  Why replace pipes simply because of age when they may be in perfectly good condition?  Many factors besides age can cause the deterioration of infrastructure.

Photo by TheeErin. Published via a Creative Commons license.
water main break sinkhole

Minimize Risk

Knowing which infrastructure is most likely to fail (and correcting deficiencies before it does) can save you major expenses later in the form of property claims, water loss, etc. Knowing which failures would be the most catastrophic helps you target money toward their prevention as a first priority. With the budget limitations of municipal utility management, you might not be able to prevent every system failure, so it’s important to know which ones have the potential to cause the most financial damage and impact the most customers.  This way, you can focus your efforts on preventing those first.  If a failure does occur, a good asset management plan will include a proactive response plan, allowing you to respond quicker and more efficiently (thereby reducing damage and disruption).

Increase ROI with asset management

Maximize Returns

Asset management and capital improvement planning is all about proactively investing in measures to extend the life of your infrastructure.  These small investments can extend the life of an asset by several years.  Over time, the money you save delaying replacement will far surpass the money you spent to maintain the asset, and your customers will have enjoyed better, more consistent service for this lower cost.

Water sustainability

Promote Sustainability

Finding and detecting failures in the system like leaks can prevent water loss and the wasted energy consumed to treat water that never makes it to a customer.

Rating Five Golden Stars on Blackboard

Optimize Customer Service and Satisfaction

Proactively maintaining your assets ensures they function at peak performance for a longer period of time and are replaced before they fail. This means your customers receive top quality service without disruption and are happier for it. In addition, many asset management solutions include optional customer service applications that make it easier for customers to submit service requests and track them to completion.

 

Justify your rates with asset management

Justify Your Rates

Rate increases are never popular with customers, but they are easier for them to accept when they are backed up with clear data showing exactly what improvements are needed and why.

Attract funding with asset management

Access grants and loans

Competition for funding is fierce, and government agencies are under pressure to make sure the money they invest is used wisely. As a result, they’re more likely to award funds to utilities who have clear documentation of the project need, its benefits, and a plan for getting it built, operating it, and maintaining it at optimum levels over time.

Know your worth with asset management

Know your worth

Many utilities have been considering the option of leasing or selling their assets as a response to growing financial obligations in the public sector. A comprehensive asset management system provides documentation of the value of your assets, so you can ensure you are in a position to negotiate the best possible deal for you and your customers.  Potential investors will be more comfortable making a significant investment if they fully understand the value and the risks they’re assuming. (For more Insight into the utility leasing trend, see our article on calculating fair annual rental value.)

Every manager must take careful stock of his revenue and his expenses, but not all expenses are created alike. There is a difference between a cost and an investment, and asset management is clearly an investment in your utility’s future.  In essence, it helps you provide better service at a lower cost with reduced risk and improved financing options. How many investments can you make that provide that kind of return?


Do you want to learn more about asset management and capital improvement planning? Read our other Insights on the topic:

What is utility asset management?

Many utilities struggle to respond to aging infrastructure and increasing regulation. This article explains how asset management works and presents it as an important solution to both of these problems.

Better Roads for Less Money with Asset Management

Graphical proof that municipalities that invest in asset management save money and get better infrastructure results.

Position Yourself for Infrastructure Funding with an Asset Management/Capital Improvement Plan

4 reasons why municipality’s with asset management/capital improvement plans are more likely to be awarded grants and low-interest loans.

Asset Management: What Does It Mean to You?

An introduction to infrastructure asset management and what you need to consider when picking a solution/getting started.


 

Asset management can also be a valuable tool for municipalities managing a stormwater system. As MS4 permit requirements continue to grow, municipalities need to know more and more about the location and condition of their stormwater infrastructure. HRG has extensive experience creating asset management systems for stormwater systems, and we offer a wealth of advice about meeting MS4 permit requirements and funding stormwater program needs through user fees. Check out these Insights for additional information:

Tips for Preparing Your 2018 MS4 Permit Application
Learn more about: the specific deadlines associated with the 2018 MS4 permit application, how to apply for a waiver from the new Pollution Reduction Plan requirements, what details must be added to the 2018 mapping, and how municipalities can collaborate with others to improve the effectiveness (and reduce the cost) of their MS4 program.


Paperwork

Stormwater Utility Guide
Get answers to frequently asked questions about stormwater user fees and advice on how to build public support for a fee in your community. This guide provides an overview of a user fee’s benefits and an outline of the steps one must take to decide if a user fee is right for their municipality.

Stormwater Utility Guide

Also check out these examples of our project experience with asset management for water, wastewater, and stormwater systems:

Capital Region Water, Harrisburg, Dauphin County, PA
Herbert, Rowland & Grubic, Inc. (HRG) is developing/customizing a Geographic Information System (GIS) database for Capital Region Water (CRW) potable water, storm sewer and public sanitary sewer infrastructure networks.

CRW Logo


HodderHoward Hodder, GISP, is the manager of HRG’s Geomatics Service Group. As such, he oversees the delivery of surveying and geographic information system services to all of our clients firm-wide. He has extensive experience in asset management for municipal clients, particularly in the areas of sanitary and storm sewer systems. Contact Howard with your questions about asset management and GIS.

Join Howard at the 2016 Pennsylvania Utility Management Summit, being jointly presented by the PA American Water Works Association, PA Water Environment Association, and Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association! He will be presenting a workshop entitled “GIS and Asset Management: Putting a World of Information at Your Fingertips.”

Utility Asset Management: Maximizing ROI

Money being washed down the drain

 

Each year, water and wastewater utilities send uncalculated dollars down the drain because of leaks and system failures, but asset management could provide the savings they need to respond to the creeping threats of aging infrastructure, water shortages, and increasingly stringent regulations.

Last year, UCLA filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power for $13 million in damages sustained during a water main break on campus in 2014. This break released 20 million gallons of water onto Sunset Boulevard, flooding the street, campus buildings, and athletic facilities.

The lawsuit is just one of many claims the utility has received from people and businesses impacted by the water main failure; and it’s a reminder of the often hidden and forgotten costs utilities face when their infrastructure fails.

Every day, U.S. utilities produce 34 billion gallons of water, and 22% of it is lost through leaks. That’s billions of dollars in treatment, energy, labor and operations costs that cannot be recouped. These leaks cost the average utility more than $100,000 per year in revenue, but water main breaks like the one at UCLA can be even more costly.

Each year, there are approximately 240,000 water main breaks in the U.S., costing utilities an average $500,000 per break.

Much of our water and wastewater infrastructure is old and has far exceeded its life expectancy. Some pipes date back to the Civil War era! The cost to replace this infrastructure will be high, but, as these examples demonstrate, so is the cost of doing nothing.

As utilities struggle to budget for the replacement of aging systems, they continue to face increasing cost pressures from federal mandates. While the EPA establishes new limits on different contaminants (often requiring utilities to acquire new technology or improve their facilities), funding has not kept pace with these new demands. A report by the Water Infrastructure Network indicates that federal funding on water and wastewater systems has declined by more than 70% since 1980. As a result, local utilities have had to shift more of their revenue from operations and maintenance to new capital expenditures, leaving them even more ill-equipped to respond to an aging system.

At the same time, conservation efforts and improved technology have led many Americans to reduce their water consumption. While this is great for the environment, it translates into lower revenues for utilities – even as water acquisition costs increase (because utilities must turn to more expensive water sources once the least costly sources run dry).

With rising costs and shrinking revenues, utilities need to carefully manage every dollar to ensure the maximum return on their investment. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that the cost to make the improvements our water and wastewater system needs to keep functioning over the long term is more than $1 trillion. While there is plenty of work to be done, there is simply not enough funding to do it all at once. Therefore, ASCE recommends assessing the condition of every pipe and valve to determine the risks of failure and properly allocate funds where they are needed most. The need for asset management and capital improvement planning in the water utility industry has never been greater.

What is asset management?

Asset management is a systematic approach to minimizing the cost of owning, operating, and maintaining your infrastructure at acceptable levels of service.

It is not a computer system or GIS, though these are often valuable tools employed in an asset management program for record-keeping and data analysis. Depending on the needs of your utility, an effective asset management system could be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet or as robust as an enterprise level solution integrating all of your inventory, operations and maintenance, billing, and document management functions.  The solution can include mobile interfaces for supporting field crews and even interactive applications to enhance and promote public interaction and transparency.

While utility managers often reject implementing a large-scale asset management program because they think it will cost too much, the truth is: asset management is an investment designed to cut  inefficient or wasteful spending and stretch your budget further.

It is about optimizing how you spend your budget dollars in order to make sure they are providing the largest possible return on investment: reducing the life cycle costs of each asset you own while maximizing the service that asset provides over time.

A proper asset management and capital improvement program will help a utility identify areas where money is not being spent wisely and reallocate those funds where they can be most beneficial.

It will also help you recognize and evaluate options for keeping your assets functioning for a longer period of time, so that you don’t need to invest in expensive upgrades or replacements as frequently.

An asset management program involves:

Creating an inventory of what you have and its condition

Establishing your goals.

Prioritizing what’s most critical and directing resources to those needs first.

Measuring the results.

Analyzing those results and repeating or revising the cycle.

Circular Nature of Asset Management

 

It is a circular process that never ends. Many things change over time: the condition of your assets, regulations and the business climate you operate in, the number of users you serve, etc.  A good asset management and capital improvement program helps you plan for these changes in advance and respond proactively before they become threats to your bottom line.

Because of the tight financial constraints under which most utilities operate, they often take a reactive approach to budgeting for maintenance and replacements. As an asset fails, they make room in the budget to fix it or replace it, but this reactive approach will not be sustainable over the long-term.  Our infrastructure is too old, and too much work will be needed to be able to pay for it all at once.  Utilities need to plan for this inevitable future now, so that they can begin saving the money they will need in the coming decades.

 

Photo by Connie Ma. Published here under a Creative Commons license.

crews working overnight at a water main break
Proactive approach vs. Reactive: By monitoring the condition of your assets and planning for their maintenance and replacement in advance, you avoid the high costs associated with failures like this middle-of-the-night water main break.

Though the financial obligations associated with aging infrastructure, increasingly stringent regulation, and shrinking grant programs can seem overwhelming, asset management and capital improvement planning can help. Asset management helps you find the waste in your spending programs and put those dollars to better use. It helps you recognize potential threats to your system and minimize risk (thereby minimizing the financial damage those threats can do). It also helps you improve service to your customers and achieve buy-in from them when the case must be made for rate increases.

Investing in asset management and capital improvement planning can be hard to justify when utility budgets are stretched so thin, but the savings an asset management program can produce will more than pay for the program over time. Those savings, in fact, may be crucial to meeting the coming challenge of replacing our aging water systems and addressing the possibility of spreading water shortages.

In business, there’s an old saying: Sometimes you have to spend money to make money. With asset management, you spend money to save   money.

 

Asset management can also be a valuable tool for municipalities managing a stormwater system. As MS4 permit requirements continue to grow, municipalities need to know more and more about the location and condition of their stormwater infrastructure. HRG has extensive experience creating asset management systems for stormwater systems, and we offer a wealth of advice about meeting MS4 permit requirements and funding stormwater program needs through user fees. Check out these Insights for additional information:

Tips for Preparing Your 2018 MS4 Permit Application
Learn more about: the specific deadlines associated with the 2018 MS4 permit application, how to apply for a waiver from the new Pollution Reduction Plan requirements, what details must be added to the 2018 mapping, and how municipalities can collaborate with others to improve the effectiveness (and reduce the cost) of their MS4 program.


Paperwork

 

Stormwater Utility Guide
Get answers to frequently asked questions about stormwater user fees and advice on how to build public support for a fee in your community. This guide provides an overview of a user fee’s benefits and an outline of the steps one must take to decide if a user fee is right for their municipality.

Stormwater Utility Guide

Also check out these examples of our project experience with asset management for water, wastewater, and stormwater systems:

 

Capital Region Water, Harrisburg, Dauphin County, PA
Herbert, Rowland & Grubic, Inc. (HRG) is developing/customizing a Geographic Information System (GIS) database for Capital Region Water (CRW) potable water, storm sewer and public sanitary sewer infrastructure networks.

CRW Logo


HodderHoward Hodder, GISP, is the manager of HRG’s Geomatics Service Group. As such, he oversees the delivery of surveying and geographic information system services to all of our clients firm-wide. He has extensive experience in asset management for municipal clients, particularly in the areas of sanitary and storm sewer systems. Contact Howard with your questions about asset management and GIS.

Join Howard at the 2016 Pennsylvania Utility Management Summit, being jointly presented by the PA American Water Works Association, PA Water Environment Association, and Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association! He will be presenting a workshop entitled “GIS and Asset Management: Putting a World of Information at Your Fingertips.”

Effective Utility Management Starts With These Strategic Planning Tips

Strategic Planning Whiteboard

This article was originally published in the June 2016 issue of  Keystone Water Quality Manager. It is reprinted here with their permission.

We’re all familiar with the phrase “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” This is paraphrased from an exchange between Alice and Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Like Alice, you know you need to get “somewhere” because changing regulations, increasing costs, aging infrastructure and customer growth affect the way you provide your service. Each year as operators, managers, and board members, you’re forced to establish budgets, adopt rates and policies, and make recommendations that have long-lasting effects. You may use the best information available at the time but can’t be sure that you’re adequately prepared for what’s just around the corner.

Strategic planning is a tool that helps to identify where you need to go and the best road to get there by exploring the fundamental values and principles that support your utility’s policy and operating decisions. Properly done, it looks at all aspects of the utility’s operations in order to see if they reflect the needs of your customers, ensure regulatory compliance, and generate sufficient financial resources to be sustainable. This is not just a financial plan focused on replacing existing facilities or acquiring new ones, but a comprehensive look at the factors that will drive both short and long-term events and an identification of strategies to address them.

There are five basic elements in a strategic plan:

  1.  Vision
  2. Mission Statement
  3. Critical Success Factors
  4. Strategies and Actions to Meet Objectives
  5. Prioritization and Implementation Schedule

However, there can be as many additional elements as the utility feels is necessary to properly address the needs of all its stakeholders: its users, employees, and the community at large. Some of these elements may take a long time to complete, while others can be accomplished relatively quickly. For some, a good deal of data will be needed, while others will simply reflect widely accepted industry practices and preferences. The plan could take a month or a year to complete, depending on the level of detail believed to be required. However, one of the benefits of the planning process will be simply identifying the stakeholders and discussing the elements of the plan with them. The ability to identify areas of consensus and concern is a hugely important and valuable outcome of the plan.

Getting Ready for Strategic Planning

Before you can begin the process, there are some preparatory activities that should be completed:

Authorization
The first task in strategic planning is obtaining the authorization to move forward with the process at all. It is important to involve all of the decision-makers in the strategic planning process, and discussing the scope of the plan and its benefits is one of the best ways to achieve “buy-in” for the entire process. Without buy-in, it will be difficult to fully implement the resulting plan.

Identification of Stakeholders
Another important step is to make sure the process considers all relevant points of view. This may seem easy, but, when you actually begin to list them, the number of people and organizations relying on your utility to be well-managed and provide affordable, high quality service is probably greater than you think. While some seem obvious, consider the following examples:
• Current users
• Employees
• Regulatory agencies, including PA DEP and US EPA
• Municipal government, conservation districts and planning agencies
• The Chamber of Commerce or local economic development agency
• Future users, including land owners and developers

This is not intended to be a complete list, only a guide, and not every group will require the same level of involvement in the strategic planning process, but understanding how each group might be impacted is important.

Planning Your TimetableDetermination of the Plan’s Time Frame
Strategic plans are generally long-term, usually five years, but a different time horizon may be more useful if you are aware of some specific event likely to occur just beyond the five-year planning period. If a significant expansion of the utility appears likely, five years may not be long enough.

Organization
How will the strategic plan be organized? Who will guide the process? Is it to be done by an outside professional or internal staff? What is the schedule? What will the final plan look like, and how will it be disseminated? Does it need some type of formal adoption or approval? If so, by whom?

Determining the “Vision”

In essence, visioning asks the question: What will the organization look like in the future? Visioning will supply the context for the other elements of the strategic plan. For a wastewater utility, the visioning process may actually be one of the most involved elements of the plan since this is where you try to get a peek at what’s around the corner. Unlike some businesses where visioning is a projection of some blend of marketing prowess, economic predictions and industry trends, each utility is unique because the factors that drive future events will impact it differently.

The task is made a bit easier if you divide visioning into an external scan and an internal scan. Although they may be related in many ways, the external scan looks at:Financial Reports

  • potential changes in the regulatory environment,
  • community growth and development,
  • changes in demographics,
  • future interest rates,
  • future construction costs,
  • the overall level of economic activity.

(Increased economic activity in nearby communities should also be considered since it may impact your service area.)

The internal scan will focus more on:

  • the needs of existing users and employees,
  • service improvements,
  • transparency,
  • facilities,
  • finances,
  • rates,
  • operating policies,
  • organizational structure.

These are but a few of the areas that need to be considered in some detail.

The visioning process is almost as diverse as the elements themselves. Clearly, information from outside the utility is necessary. This may include individual interviews with consultants, suppliers and community leaders. Telephone calls, questionnaires, online surveys, and specific messages printed on bill inserts can also solicit feedback from targeted stakeholders. Regardless of how it’s done, the result should be a clear and concise statement that reflects the major trends that are likely to drive the future direction of your utility. But, before you can get too specific, you should develop the broad organizational goals. This is best done with a mission statement.

Drafting a Mission StatementDrafting Your “Mission Statement”

I know the idea that you can somehow cram the entire essence of an organization into a couple of tightly worded sentences seems impossible. Some mission statements will run on for several paragraphs, but do they really provide more information about the philosophy or principles that govern the utility’s operations? Usually not. Instead, the discipline of packing an organization’s values into a few words may actually provide a better understanding of its goals. Here is an illustration of a short but insightful mission statement for a wastewater utility, courtesy of the Lancaster Area Sewer Authority:

“To provide quality service and apply technology to process wastewater so as to protect and enhance the environment and health and well-being of the community at a reasonable cost.”

The mission statement should not simply be a collection of carefully chosen words that project an image that isn’t consistent with the utility’s values; rather, creating the mission statement should foster a deeper understanding and commitment to those values. This, in turn, provides the benchmarks that measure success.

business-servicesIdentifying “Critical Success Factors”

The visioning process should identify the broad goals and major initiatives that need to be incorporated into the strategic plan. It is not important to determine their feasibility at this point; detailed examination of alternatives will be done later. Simply decide if they are consistent with the mission statement and are not mutually exclusive. Some likely success factors might include:

  • Achieving greater transparency.
  • Building up operating and capital reserve accounts.
  • Having all professional employees become certified in their specialty.
  • Exploring alternative billing and payment procedures.
  • Creating or reviewing emergency response procedures.
  • Reviewing or increasing use of technology to achieve greater efficiency.
  • Expanding facilities to accommodate expected population increases.
  • Developing an action plan should demographic changes result in reduced flows.

These are only illustrations; the vision and mission statements will help dictate the critical success factors that should be included in your plan. The key here is to keep the success factors general in nature but focused on specific identifiable outcomes. Another important consideration is quantifying what it means to be successful and the metrics for measurement.

From the above illustration, achieving greater transparency is a success factor, but what exactly does that mean? What is it that should be more transparent, and what are the limits of what is made publically available? Can it measured by the number of visits to your website, or does it mean the creation of a website? Is it measured by a fewer number of requests for specific information or telephone inquiries? How about the development of a newsletter? Is that something that most customers believe would be useful based on data collected during the visioning process?

Some critical success factors may not be determined directly. In the example above, data may not have been collected on customer’s preferences during the visioning process. In that case, the success factor of achieving greater transparency will need to be defined by some other precedent activity to measure the benefits of transparency, or it may be determined that transparency is simply a virtue for its own sake whose benefits may not be immediately measurable. In that instance, the precedent activity may be to look at industry practice and see how your current practices can be improved.

If you are getting the idea that developing the critical success factors is a time-consuming process that requires a lot of effort in order to be done correctly, you’re right. This is often the work of several individuals and should involve a team approach at least to direct the work. Care should be taken to assign responsibility for completing an assignment to someone who is involved in the overall planning effort. If not, they may not understand the actual goal and may simply complete a task.

Developing critical success factors, defining them, and providing metrics for measurement is at the very heart of the strategic planning effort. While strategies and actions will provide the “to-do list” and ultimately become the basis for the final report, they will be driven first by the critical success factors you’ve defined.

Developing “Strategies and Actions”

This step is where the plan is actually created. Critical success factors identify the areas where some action seems warranted; they take our broad goals and further define the “somewhere” we want to go. The next step is determining how to get there.

negotiating_at_the_deskAgain, using the transparency example, probably everyone will agree that organizational transparency is desirable, but someone might disagree with the type of information that is made available or with the level of training that may be necessary to organize and screen information. Cost is always a consideration when implementing changes.

Because there are generally many facets to each critical success factor, it is important to have several individuals involved in formulating the strategy for evaluation and implementation. This is often accomplished by group meetings, where each critical success factor is discussed. Questions will likely arise that cannot be answered without some further investigation, so tasks must be delegated to a smaller group or an individual for follow-up. In fact, most of the early efforts will be directed to developing the process to obtain the necessary information and assigning someone to gather and analyze it. The analysis is essential so that the success factor can be implemented in a way that achieves its intended purpose. It also provides documentation for any critical success factors that cannot be implemented.

Once the strategy for implementation is determined, specific detailed actions for implementation should be prepared. One of the most important decisions in this stage of the process is timing. You want to think about the best time to launch a new initiative or modify or eliminate an existing one.

Another important task is to identify someone to champion the implementation. Maybe there is one lead person or several depending on the type and number of tasks. If achieving the critical success factor requires technology changes, someone involved with maintaining that technology should be involved in the implementation. This may seem obvious, but sometimes third parties are retained for implementation, resulting in a loss of buy-in from those who will be responsible for making it all work.
schedule

Prioritizing Tasks and Designing an Implementation Schedule

Even though this article opened with a reference to a fairy tale, there should be no fantasy about implementation. It’s just as much work as each of the other elements — maybe more, since there are now clear ideas on how each goal is to be achieved and, of course, the devil is always in the details. Regardless of how thorough the analysis was, complications can be expected. Another frustration usually is that it takes longer to accomplish than originally believed.

In order to avoid this, one of the first steps to implementation is to determine the schedule. Unless there are very few and straightforward critical success factors, some effort needs to be expended in prioritizing each success factor for each of the broad goals identified in the vision. Often, once the strategic plan is formalized, a sense of urgency to implement its objectives is inevitable. This is understandable since the reason for the plan is generally to improve the utility’s operations, so why would you want to delay?

For one thing, it’s important to remember that the plan itself looks at a five-year time period, so that not all benefits will be immediately available. Also, events are constantly changing, so some of the fundamental assumptions that went into the plan may change. This may not affect the plan, but the implementation schedule should allow time for monitoring external changes nonetheless.

Another important consideration is the time staff has available to implement the plan. While the plan is being implemented, all other work must continue. Even if some of the heavy lifting is assigned to others, the utility’s staff needs to be involved at each step if they are expected to achieve the plan’s goals and provide necessary feedback.

microphoneCommunicating the Plan with Your Stakeholders

Okay: you have the vision, you’ve determined the critical success factors, you’ve developed strategies for implementation, and you’ve created the implementation schedule. You have assigned staff to implement the various strategies in order to monitor progress and make sure that each strategy achieves its desired goal. One question remains: What does the final plan look like? Is it a printed document, a slide presentation published on your website, or an internal spreadsheet that serves as a checklist for monitoring implementation?

Like all the other aspects of the plan, the process that rolls out the plan is determined by the goals of the strategic plan itself. If the plan is centered on internal improvements, then employee meetings with handouts may be the most effective means of communicating the plan’s objectives and the strategies designed to implement them. If there are elements of the plan that are service-related – that impact your customers or the community at large – more formal printed materials may need to be prepared. Meetings with important relevant stakeholders may also be useful, especially if there are some financial impacts associated with the plan that they are expected to share.

The only thing that’s constant is change. Absent a crystal ball, tarot cards, or an Ouija board, a well-thought-out strategic plan is the best means of seeing the future. Even if it misses the mark, knowing why it missed and what parts of the utility may be affected is an important benefit that makes the exercise worthwhile. At the very least, developing the plan will require policy-makers, managers and staff to consider each other’s points of view and understand how the customers and community view your utility.


Russ McIntoshRuss McIntosh is a vice president of HRG and a leading expert on municipal and municipal authority finance. His broad-ranging experience includes project financing, grant administration and compliance, financial consulting, military master planning, utility and corporate accounting, and business management/ownership.

Assessing the Condition of Large Sewers

Figure1Determining the condition of large sewers can be challenging, but multiple tools are available to help. This article, which was published in the October 2015 issue of Keystone Water Quality Manager magazine, provides a brief review of large sewer condition assessment tools and gives some guidance in deciding which to use.

Knowing the condition of your sewer system now can save you major headaches (and money) down the line. The investment you make today in conducting regular inspections of your pipes and pump stations will help you avoid emergencies like burst pipes and sewer overflows tomorrow, but it will also help you make better decisions about where to allocate limited revenues in terms of maintenance, repairs, and replacements.

Even though the investment in a condition assessment is worthwhile, you want to make sure you spend those assessment dollars wisely and get the data you need in the best possible quality for the lowest possible cost. Many tools are available, and each one is suited to particular needs. Which tool is right for your system? Let’s take a look at the strengths and limitations of some of the most popular methods of sewer inspection available today.

 Knowing What Each Tool Can Do

1. Zoom Camera
A handheld or truck-mounted zoom camera is a great tool for quickly assessing the condition of large sewers. A zoom camera enables you to see for several hundred feet down the sewer line, but the view is limited by any obstruction to line of sight (such as grease, cobwebs, debris or a deflection in the sewer). In addition, the camera will only allow you to see above the water level.

2. Acoustic Assessment
Another quick assessment method is the use of acoustics. The ability for sound to pass through the sewer provides an indication of whether a blockage exists or not. However, it is not a complete assessment and will require some additional inspection work. Still, an acoustic assessment can cost about a quarter of the price of basic closed circuit television, so it can be used to save money by focusing more expensive data collection methods only on areas the acoustic assessment has identified to have potential blockages (as opposed to using a more expensive, but more thorough tool throughout the entire system).

CCTV

3. Closed Circuit Television (CCTV)
CCTV has been used for many years to evaluate sewers, and it can be customized to the needs of your unique system because of the different types of cameras and vehicles that are available. A conventional pan and tilt camera may be sufficient for some pipes, but a fish-eye type camera lens can be used for a virtual pan and tilt that is somewhat more comprehensive.

CCTV provides a visual assessment of the sewer, but it can also be helpful in identifying buried manholes or revealing other unknowns in the connectivity of the sewer system.

In the past, it was a challenge to obtain sufficient lighting to get a clear picture of large sewers (see figure on the right), but new technology solves this problem by using a strobe light and stitching a series of images together, rather than recording continuous video.

4. Sonar
While some tools like the zoom camera cannot provide data on the condition of pipes below the water surface, sonar can. Therefore, it is useful for identifying debris and sensing connections below water level. However, some water must be in the sewer for the use of sonar to be possible.

Laser Profiling

5. Laser Profiling
Laser profiling can reveal buried manholes or other connections to the sewer that may not have been realized and can also be used to assess pipe wall loss (as long as the original sewer size information is available and can be entered into the software). However, like the zoom camera, laser profiling can only be used to see above the water level. Therefore, it’s wise to combine it with sonar and CCTV in order to get a complete assessment of the sewer condition, as seen in the figure on the right. (The red shows results from the laser, while the blue shows results from sonar.) For a recent project involving 70,000 feet of sewer, the cost to use these three tools together was approximately $5-6 per foot.

6. LIDAR (3D Laser)
LIDAR is an advanced technology alternative to standard visual and photographic inspection methods. It uses 3D optical scanners to collect simultaneous data and images, which can be used to produce a 3D model of the sewer. This model can then be used to measure, identify deficiencies, and make recommendations for rehabilitation or replacement. It can also be used in 3D infrastructure system modeling and management applications when combined with equally accurate pipe and structure positional data. One instance 3D data is especially useful is in manufacturing the lining for a bend in a sewer.

As an advanced technology, LIDAR provides more comprehensive data than a zoom camera or CCTV inspection could. As an added bonus, the optical scanners are typically inserted into the sewer from the surface, eliminating the need for a person to enter the confined space of the sewer and the associated dangers they could encounter.

7. H2S Gas Sensor
An H2S Gas Sensor is helpful in cases where there is concern about corrosion. The sensor can be mounted on a multi-sensor platform to provide additional insight into the state of the sewer.

8. Gyroscopic mapping
Gyroscopic mapping is used to obtain X-Y-Z coordinates of the sewer along its length, so it’s helpful for identifying the location of bends or changes in elevation. However, this tool requires known X-Y-Z coordinates at the starting and ending points of a sewer.

For large sewers, a small pipe needs to be pulled through the large pipe as a host for the probe, leading to some limitations in the information gained. However, this tool can be useful for facilities such as force mains where changes in direction are often not seen from the surface.

9. In-pipe Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR)
GPR inside the pipe gives insight beyond the sewer itself. It can reveal void spaces outside the sewer line, such as may be caused by infiltration. It can also shed light on the thickness of concrete covering rebar in the sewer.

Deciding Which Tool is Right for You

With a clearer picture of what each tool can and cannot do, you’re better prepared to decide which one will produce the best results for your system. In doing so, here are some things you should consider:

1. Understand your goals.
Consider what you want to gain from the assessment. For example:

If you know the sewer segment has concerns and has bends in it, then 3D LIDAR may be desirable as a means of mapping the sewer.

If blockages are your concern, acoustic rapid assessment may be a good starting point to help narrow the focus on runs where you want to perform further evaluation.

If you have seen evidence of corrosion in manholes and have a concrete pipe, an H2S sensor may be in order.
If you want information on the whole pipe and cannot bypass the flows, you will need to supplement a technology like CCTV with sonar in order to see below the water surface.

When defining your goals, be sure to solicit the input of all levels of staff and the ways they can benefit from the data.

2. Consider combining technologies to address different needs.
Each tool described here has strengths and limitations, so no technology is perfect for all conditions. Laser profiling and sonar can be combined to get thorough data above and below the water surface. An acoustic assessment can be used as a preliminary method in order to identify any blocked pipes that require more detailed assessments. An H2S gas sensor may be needed for pipes that may have corrosion, but you may have pipes of varying material throughout your system and may not need to pay for this technology everywhere. By working with a knowledgeable consultant, you can customize a plan using several different technologies only where they are needed in order to maximize the use of your budget resources.

3. Recognize that special equipment availability may affect your schedule.
Specialized equipment is not as readily available as basic equipment, so, if quick turnaround is necessary, you may want to plan your schedule around any specialty equipment needs.

4. Understand the sewer material being investigated.
If the sewer is concrete, corrosion is a real concern, so an H2S gas sensor or laser profiling may be needed. (This is not the case if the sewer is vitrified clay.)

5. Consider the ground surface.
Is there evidence of settlement on the surface near sewer lines? If so, perhaps in-pipe GPR should be considered to look for voids that have developed around the sewer.

6. Recognize your flows.
Some of the tools described here have specific water flow requirements. For example, CCTV and laser profiling require head space above the water to be effective, but sonar needs a certain depth of water over the bottom of the sewer (as well as any debris present) in order to be successful. Therefore, you will need to coordinate with appropriate staff to implement a means of controlling the flow of water through these lines.

Water flow also impacts the types of vehicles used to carry the various tools through the sewer. Depending on your flows, a crawler may work well, or a float platform may be more suitable. Wheels can be put on float platforms, so additional space is needed for clearance.

7. Plan for the unexpected.
As much as you try to consider every goal and every possible need, each job involves surprises. (If you knew exactly what you’d find in the pipes, you wouldn’t need an inspection, after all, would you?)

That’s why you should design a plan that is flexible for changing circumstances and build extra time into your schedule. Decide ahead of time what will be done if a buried manhole or substantial debris is found: Will you uncover the manhole now? Will you clean the debris out right away or just note it in the report?

The vehicles carrying the inspection tools can often travel thousands of feet if there are no drops or other concerns, so you may not need to access every single manhole during a condition assessment. However, you should still have a method in place for identifying each manhole in case needs change. (Also, individually identifying each manhole – even those not uncovered for access – is essential for logging the findings of your assessment in a report.)

Develop IDs for every manhole – even those you don’t plan to access — prior to inspection and have a plan for how to ID structures if one is found during the investigation. This can reduce confusion and make post-processing more efficient.
A thorough assessment of the condition of your sewers is crucial to optimizing system performance, determining maintenance and repair needs, and budgeting for the eventual replacement of aging infrastructure. It can also help you discover problems before they result in a system failure or reduced service to your customers. While inspections can cost thousands of dollars, they can save you thousands more if they prevent a sewer main backup or break (and the associated costs to repair the sewer and other infrastructure the break may have damaged). They also help you better target your cleaning and maintenance efforts to where the work is needed most.

In determining which technology to use for a condition assessment, you need to consider the materials of your pipes and the volume of flows through them, the goals you plan to accomplish, and your timeline for completing the work. Some tools like a zoom camera or acoustic assessment provide quick data but may need to be supplemented with other methods if blockages are found or more detail is needed. Other tools like laser profiling and CCTV will only provide data on the condition of pipes above the water line, so additional technologies like sonar will be needed to assess the pipes below water level. Some technologies like 3D LIDAR and gyroscopic mapping provide a high level of detail that may be necessary for certain specialized cases.

 

figure4     Figure5

The figures above illustrate some meaningful findings from a condition assessment. The “shape” of the pipe resulting from sonar and laser profiling is compared with the design shape of the pipe in the figure on the left, indicating helpful information such as debris and uncovered manholes (the red spots). The quantity and distribution of debris as shown in the figure on the right will help in developing bidding documents for a cleaning project and getting better prices.

 

In order to provide the best possible data at an optimized price, it is wise to seek the counsel of an experienced professional who can customize a plan that uses several different technologies based on the varying conditions throughout your system.

With the right tools, you can ensure you get the data needed to keep your system functioning at optimum levels for all your customers for several years to come.


Matthew CichyMatthew Cichy, P.E. is a water and wastewater senior project manager responsible for a variety of engineering tasks, including water and wastewater facilities planning, the design of water distribution systems, wastewater collection and conveyance systems, pumping stations, and water and wastewater treatment plants as well as construction administration, field inspections, financial consulting, and project management.

Bruce HulshizerBruce Hulshizer, P.E. is also a project manager in HRG’s water and wastewater service group. He has two decades of experience in civil engineering and is an active member of the Pennsylvania Water Environment Association, where he serves as their co-chair of the Collection System Committee for 2015.

 

Asset Management: What Does It Mean to You?

by: Howard Hodder, GISP

Processed and cleaned sewage

This article was first published on the Informed Infrastructure website and is published here with their permission.

The need for an asset management program is beginning to resonate with municipalities throughout the country. Many municipal employees are finding themselves responsible for researching and developing a solution that will meet the unique infrastructure needs for their communities now and in the future.

According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, asset management broadly defined, refers to any system that monitors and maintains things of value to an entity or group. It may apply to both tangible assets such as buildings and to intangible concepts such as intellectual property and goodwill. Asset management is a systematic process of operating, maintaining, upgrading, and disposing of assets cost-effectively.

Alternative views of asset management in the engineering environment are:

the practice of managing assets to achieve the greatest return (particularly useful for productive assets such as plant and equipment),

AND

the process of monitoring and maintaining facilities systems, with the objective of providing the best possible service to users (appropriate for public infrastructure assets).

Does your infrastructure make the grade?
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has developed a report card for America’s aging infrastructure. And overall, the average grade received was a D+.

Using this information as a benchmark, it is crucial that municipalities make the time to determine whether a comprehensive rating of their own infrastructure features could be calculated or is even feasible. Beyond just calculating a score, other questions for consideration include:

  • Is there a strategic plan to improve, maintain or replace assets in order to raise the rating?
  • Can the plan be implemented and goals achieved in coordination with the available budget and timeframe? How can more be done with less?
  • What about staff years of experience and turnover of those soon to retire?
  • How can decisions/spending/communications be more transparent with the public/customers and/or the decision/budget makers?

Asset management is a complex topic spanning multiple disciplines and industries, each with their own unique definition. Municipalities have a lot to consider to best position themselves to implement a successful solution for their infrastructure assets.

For infrastructure asset management, there is a combination of financial, economic, engineering, and other management practices applied to physical assets with the objective of providing the required level of service in the most cost-effective manner. It includes a life cycle approach from planning, to data collection and analysis, design, construction, operations, maintenance/repair/replace of physical and infrastructure assets.

Comprehensive asset management systems enable local government officials to catalog essential data that helps to forecast, plan and budget for necessary infrastructure improvements. This data includes, but is not limited to accurate locations of all municipal owned/maintained assets such as manholes, valves, hydrants, inlets, pipes, headwalls, outfalls, and street lights; inventories and conditions of municipal owned roadways, bridges, signs, traffic lights, trees, etc.; dates when infrastructure was constructed, installed, inspected, and repaired; maintenance and rehabilitation planning and expenditures; and the value of your infrastructure (useful for the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) 34 required reporting for local governments).

Choosing an asset management solution
Once the value and reason for infrastructure asset management has been established, the next step involves the process of developing, selecting, and implementing an asset management solution. There are many solutions providers and possibilities, with varying functionalities, and large cost differences. However, there are a few simple factors that stand true across the board. The right approach is to plan first, collect and validate your data, and though the technologies and processes may change, the overall project will never end.

Plan First
The need to plan first, and plan well, cannot be stressed enough — do the homework, perform due diligence, ask questions, and exhaust resources.

Planning is the most important step in any asset management solution development process. Spending the time, effort, and monies on this task will pay dividends down the line. Remember, planning helps to define the understanding of the project and will assist with the development and selection of the required building blocks necessary for implementation of a solution with both short- and long-term positive returns on your investment (ROI). The planning stage guides the decision-making and purchasing processes to maximize the ROI with factors associated with time and the reduction of re-work, and ultimately, finances and budget.

Planning is the stage where you get to ask questions. Not just questions of what solutions are available on the market and what they cost or how long it will take to install, but difficult organizational questions. Questions like: What data is currently available? What format(s) is that data in? What are the short- and long-term goals? Who and how will staff and/or even the public need or want to interact with the selected solution? What can really be afforded now versus what can be expanded later? Is there flexibility to start small and advance as the needs dictate and budget allows? Questions can go on and on, and depending on the answers to those initial questions; additional inquiries will be and should be completed.

Absolutely essential to the planning process is the involvement of all levels of staff. Do not just ask the boss who assigned the task to pick and implement a solution. It is essential to take the time and make the effort to query the potential end users of the proposed system. This will provide insight on what major functions the system needs to be able to perform, as well as what data is available for population/migration. Buy-in by municipal staff is crucial to solution implementation and its overall success. Change management is extremely important and critical, and it will directly correlate to the final success or failure for the selected solution.

During the planning stages, municipalities must consider many different factors such as asset inventory, existing and future planned programs (i.e. hydrant flushing or pavement management), roles and responsibilities of the “Who?” will be responsible for “What?”

Data is King
The most important component of any asset management system is the data. Of course, there are the hardware and software components, and the end users’ processes and expectations, but the most important, and often most costly element, is the data. Without the data, the other components are lifeless. And without quality data, analysis results and decisions made upon those results become incomplete and incorrect, and can potentially lead to other problems. Like the old saying goes, garbage in, garbage out.

When most think of technology solution implementation, they look at all the bells and whistles, and see all the great reports and analysis that can be provided back to the end user. These are certainly good, but without accurate, precise, and up-to-date information, the fancy tools, processes, and outputs are mostly useless. Running an analysis and getting a report using incorrect or outdated information does not only produce incorrect results for decision making, but more catastrophic ramifications could result depending upon the magnitude of that decision.

It can be agreed that the quality of data is important, so is it a surprise that data development, data collection, input and/or migration, along with data maintenance is the most expensive piece? The question that then needs to be answered is “What is good enough?” Many factors must be considered: what must be known; how accurate do the datasets need to be; what will be the current and future uses of this information; who should compile the information; what does the schedule look like; and what is the budget? Unfortunately, budget most often drives the final product outcome, which can cause end users to reduce data quality to meet quantity and time frames.

Never Ending
Taking on the task of developing, implementing, and utilizing an asset management solution is a continuous process. In order for it to be successful, municipalities must realize that the process should never end. As stated before, data is constantly changing, asset information is being updated/added/edited, and technology is continuously advancing.

An asset management solution can start small with a simple feature inventory and condition assessment, and then be cultivated over time with various additional integrated solutions, processes, and analytical capabilities, adding value and efficiencies as needed and budget dollars become available.

The infrastructure asset life cycle is recurring – new/updated projects require planning that leads to data collection for accurate analysis in order to design and construct the system that needs to be operated in order to fulfill a requirement. Through operations of the infrastructure system, other potential projects are required to maintain, replace, enhance, or impact/change the system as a whole. In other words, one project leads to the next.

It may take only a few months or years to complete a project from planning to construction, but the true cost/benefit of the project is seen in the operation/maintenance phase over decades.

Asset management is more than just a piece of software and/or hardware that can be purchased off the shelf. It is a complex combination of spatial inventories and work management processes, tracking, and analysis, with a long line of cause and effect outcomes. The use of a successful asset management solution over time (i.e. additional data input, updates, historical recording, etc.) will reduce, not eliminate, the requirements of reactive maintenance of infrastructure.

By focusing the abilities of data analysis and historic record, and increasing the abilities of forecasting project plans over multiple years, you can achieve more with less or at least be able to defend why monies need to be spent. The analysis adds transparency to the public and to elected officials. In other words, asset management can help reduce and/or decrease the surprises of potential catastrophic infrastructure failures and budget overruns, ultimately providing the best quality service to the citizens of the municipality and general public.

Sometime getting started is the most intimidating and difficult task to overcome. There is no time like the present to take action towards improving your municipality’s infrastructure grade.


HodderHoward Hodder, GISP, is the manager of HRG’s Geomatics Service Group.  As such, he oversees the delivery of surveying and geographic information system services to all of our clients firm-wide.  He has extensive experience in asset management for municipal clients, particularly in the areas of sanitary and storm sewer systems.  Contact Howard with your questions about asset management and GIS.