Are you serious about prioritizing your infrastructure into First Place on your TO-DO List? If so, you must have a real discussion about the parts and pieces that make up the infrastructure of you utility? Where do you begin: with the unprotected source of your water, the electrical grid that keeps everything (and I do mean everything) running, your treatment plants – pumping – stations – storage-tanks, the aged and venerable collection and distribution system, the all important 100-year design considerations, your security system, the emergency response plan and personnel’s emergency response training, your communication system that doesn’t connect every department, or the lack a meaningful infrastructure management database that includes all the vital elements of your systems?
An airplane pilot will tell us it’s impossible to land his plane if he is flying blind. He will explain that he must have data to land the plane, he must know where he is, his altitude, his destination, his fuel range, and usually communications are good things to have. Like the pilot, you need data before you can begin evaluate the condition your infrastructure. The lack of accurate and verifiable data may well be the reason managers appear so unwilling to honestly prioritize the importance of infrastructure management and why they continue to put band-aids and tourniquets on a dying patient instead of performing life-saving transplants. Managers just do not know where to begin.
Do you honestly believe you can always put off to tomorrow what needs to be done today? Natural disasters that cause major disruption to utilities are in the news every day, and we all know that “there, but for the Grace of God go I”. Post 9/11, the U.S. woke up to the threat of terrorism that plagued much of the world for years. Today, countries have the common understanding that they must guard against terrorist threats to their infrastructures. Here in the U.S., governmental agencies issue regulations that mandate utilities take specific action to protect the public in the event of terrorist attacks. While municipalities benefit by this added regulation because they improve their emergency response plans, most utility infrastructure database are not keeping pace with the preparedness planning. Has yours?
If a utility focuses on developing an accurate and verifiable infrastructure database, it will be able to answer the question of where to start improving its infrastructure. With a meaningful database, utilities will begin to generate huge savings that will quickly offset the cost of building the database. Unfortunately, many managers put short-term budget considerations ahead of long range infrastructure improvement considerations; they don’t seem to grasp the cost saving benefits of developing a sound database.
Although it varies by country, the old “let the next guy worry about it” attitude continues to be pervasive in our industry. Of course, modern accounting practices, such as Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and the GASB 34 Summary Statement, that mandate accurate valuation of assets based on anticipated life and replacement cost, are pushing utilities toward a reliable valuation of their assets. Cities with old, outdated and deteriorated assets have experienced downgrading of municipal utility bonds and now must pay higher interest rates on their bonds. If your infrastructure is up-to-date, how much less interests will your tax payer customers have to pay? Isn’t it just possible that this saving on interest will pay for the database and all rehabilitation?
In April, Utah State University published a widely circulated a research paper by Steven Folkman entitled, Water Main Break Rates for the United States and Canada. The study encompasses 10% of the nations’ installed water main network and reveals, “The average age of the failing water mains is 47-years old and 22% of all mains are over 50-years old.” In the introduction to the AWWA thirty seven page paper, Buried No Longer by AWWA, the authors start out with this chilling statement: “A new kind of challenge is emerging in the United States, one that for many years was largely buried in our national consciousness. Now it can be buried no longer. Much of our drinking water infrastructure, the more than one million miles of pipes beneath our streets, is nearing the end of its useful life and approaching the age at which it needs to be replaced. Moreover, our shifting population brings significant growth to some areas of the country, requiring larger pipe networks to provide water service.” What is the average age of pipes on your systems?
The obvious answer to the question of where to start is you begin the unraveling process by developing an accurate and verifiable database. Picture building a new utility system: You start by installing piping systems for water, wastewater and storm; these systems consist of valves, hydrants, mains and structures. Apart from roads and highways, these four devices (vales, hydrants, mains and structures) comprise a large part of your utility’s capital investment and are absolutely critical to your system’s operation; they also are going to be a large part of future rehabilitation, as you work toward building a 100-year plus design life for your infrastructure. Aside from electricity, valves, hydrants, mains and structures are the critical control points you need when catastrophe occurs; they are vital during breaks; they are absolutely necessary to mitigate exposure and damage during natural disasters, or terrorist attack. Do you know where your devices are, or if they are working as designed? Can you rely on your infrastructure systems under the worst of conditions?
Today is the time for this discussion to begin. What are your thoughts about the foregoing? Can you offer an alternative approach? What has been your experience with infrastructure management in your utility?
Look at www.gethurco.com for solutions on where to start.