Using Asset Management to Maximize Our Infrastructure Investment

The infrastructure that delivers our drinking water and removes our wastewater is made up of valuable assets – sewers, water mains, pump stations and treatment plants. Like financial assets, infrastructure assets must be managed to obtain the greatest return on investment for rate payers.

Asset management is a powerful tool that helps water professionals make informed decisions on how to best operate, maintain and rehabilitate their infrastructure. It builds on a community’s current infrastructure information system to prioritize infrastructure improvements based on mitigating risk to the system, affordability and customer service expectations.
The journey to a fully functional asset management system requires extensive planning followed by a commitment to maintain infrastructure data using the latest technology. Communities and counties throughout Michigan are in various stages of implementing asset management systems. Many are getting a boost from the state’s Stormwater, Asset Management, and Wastewater (SAW) Program that is funding needed software and hardware enhancements as well as infrastructure condition assessments. The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) and several customer communities are using SAW grants to expand the capabilities of their asset management systems.

Need to Manage Our Infrastructure Assets
“Many communities need to upgrade their infrastructure and struggle to pay for those upgrades,” explains Bob Schneider, Departmental Analyst with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). “Asset management helps communities discover the true value of their assets and the true cost to maintain them. It can also establish a funding mechanism to pay for current and future needs.”

All infrastructure assets have an anticipated life and require reinvestment at some point. Sewers typically last the longest in wastewater systems – 80 to 100 years. Concrete structures in pump stations and treatment plants last 50 to 70 years, while the mechanical and electrical systems at these facilities have a life cycle of 15 to 25 years.

Assets that are properly maintained typically function through their expected life spans or even longer. If maintenance is continually postponed, deterioration occurs faster leading to higher repair and maintenance costs and emergency repairs. Through asset management, the desired level of service drives the frequency of maintenance and pace of replacement to achieve the lowest life-cycle cost. The relationship between service and rates becomes more easily understood.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) is encouraging the use of asset management to change our nation’s historical pattern of under investment in water infrastructure and ensure sustainable practices in the future. The MDEQ is encouraging asset management for sewer collection systems through the SAW Program and will be phasing in the requirement for wastewater treatment plants treating one million gallons per day or more through the discharge permitting process.

“The state determined that greater investment was needed in our wastewater and stormwater infrastructure,” explains Kelly Green, Unit Supervisor with the MDEQ. “An advisory committee came up with the idea for asset management and another committee determined what to include in the SAW program. Funding is provided through the Great Lakes Water Quality Bond initiative.”

Response to the SAW program confirmed that the committees were on target – 673 applications totaling $541 million were received. A lottery was used to award the first $97 million of funding in 2014. Additional funding will be awarded as it becomes available. MDEQ hopes the program will help communities throughout the state recognize the benefits of investing in an asset management system.

Maintenance is critical to maximizing the life spans of infrastructure assets. An asset management system helps identify and prioritize maintenance activities and replacement needs. It considers how critical a particular asset is to the overall system and facilitates decision making to achieve the desired level of service.
Creating the Backbone for Building an Asset Management System
Understanding the current condition of infrastructure is the first step in developing an asset management system. An asset inventory is conducted to determine the condition of sewers, manholes, pump stations and other structures. It is a labor intensive process that entails historical research, physical inspections and videotaping sewers.

The Office of the Macomb County Public Works Commissioner (OMCPWC) is using its SAW funds to conduct condition assessments of the interceptor sewers it owns and operates. These large diameter sewers collect and transport wastewater from local communities to Detroit’s interceptors. Investigative techniques that will be used to reveal the condition of these underground assets include closed circuit television (CCTV), sonar, laser measurement, surface geophysical investigation, geotechnical investigation and physical entry and inspection. Recommendations will be made to address areas of the sewer with the most significant defects.

As part of the asset inventory, research and planning is undertaken for the geographic information system (GIS) and computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) software. The GIS stores attribution data describing the physical characteristics of the infrastructure asset as well as its geographic location. The CMMS is used to generate maintenance work orders, schedule inspections and store inventory and cost information. Together, these pieces serve as the backbone of the asset management program.
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