SEWER: Doing it With Data

The City of Fullerton, Calif., turns information into gold with a GIS that supports efficient sewer cleaning, effective scheduling, and wise capital investment

"Data is useless if you’re not using it."

So says Bill Roseberry, sewer superintendent with the Maintenance Services Department in the City of Fuller-ton, Calif.

With the goal of eliminating san-itary sewer overflows, and knowing the state of its wastewater collection system, the city has embarked on a cutting-edge inspection and information-gathering program that takes data mining to a new level.

Using CCTV inspection, GIS mapping and custom reporting and data analysis, this city of 134,000 in the heart of Orange County is creating a model for how to use common infrastructure data to create more efficient sewer cleaning practices, improve work scheduling, develop more effective capital improvement programs, and save money.

Cleaning up

The Maintenance Services Department is responsible for the inspection, maintenance and repair of a wastewater collection system that includes about 300 miles of sewer, primarily of VCP pipe from 6 to 39 inches.

In 2002, the State of California issued a regional wastewater discharge requirement (Region 8 WDR) that required the city to have a scheduled program of inspection, documentation and maintenance in place by December 2005. Until then, Fullerton had used outside contractors to perform CCTV inspection and reporting.

The new WDR deadline prompted the city to procure its own inspection rig and add staff to bring the bulk of its inspection requirements in-house. (The city still uses outside firms for occasional overflow work and special projects.)

Roseberry established milestones for his expanded staff as targets for meeting the state requirements. “We set a goal to reduce overflows and to try to inspect at least 30,000 feet of sewer per month,” he says. “We had a lot of lines that had never been inspected. Many of these were large interceptors, and we have to perform that work at night during off-peak times. So the process is taking awhile, but we’ve completed about 85 percent of the system to date with a first site evaluation.”

More than facts and figures

Using a custom-built inspection vehicle equipped with the Omni Star and Nova Star inspection cameras and a variety of tractors and crawlers from RS Technical Services Inc., the Fullerton inspection crew is working its way through the system in a specific geographic pattern, moving northeast to southwest, following the system’s natural gravity path.

As the crews inspect the lines, they document findings into the inspection vehicle’s on-board computer system, loaded with POSM (Pipeline Observation System Management) software from RS Technical and using NASSCO Pipe-line Assessment and Certification Program (PACP) coding.

Although the capture of inspec-tion information was important, Roseberry wanted his inspection program to be about more than just getting survey data and complying with the WDR. The city had made a considerable investment in equipment and manpower, and Roseberry and his team began looking for ways to turn the data it collects into a powerful management tool that could be used in numerous ways throughout the organization.

GIS was the glue that brought it all together. In 2004, the city contracted for digitization of its paper maps and records into an ESRI ArcView GIS database. The initial migration from paper to electronic data took about six months and encompassed the sewer and storm drain systems.

Before ArcView, working with the department’s paper map system for planning was cumbersome. “Following a line on the maps was difficult, as it could jump from page to page in the map book in no particular order,” says Roseberry. “I was having difficulty working with it so I took a copy of all of the pages, about 90 or so, and taped them together to make a big wall map. Now, with the electronic mapping, I can print the specific information I need on two sheets of paper.”

As crews collected inspection data, staff members uploaded it into the GIS system, adding manhole locations, lateral connections, and other items not included on the original maps. The data was then used to divide the system into 53 cleaning basins to develop a cleaning and maintenance program.

Now, cleaning crews receive inspection data ahead of time that pinpoint the locations of problems such as root intrusion, silt or grease buildup, and structural defects discovered during the CCTV surveys.

The department’s goal was to clean 200 miles of sewer each year. Last year they exceeded that goal by 80 miles. “Having this information has helped improve the cleaning crew’s productivity enormously,” Roseberry says. “By knowing what the maintenance issue or structural defects are in the pipe and its location, they know in advance which nozzle or cleaning tool they should use to clean the line most effectively.”

Show me

The GIS data provides Roseberry and his team with “visual continuity” of the system. The team can now query and sort the database to see information in exactly the form they desire. For instance, they can show the locations where lines from different agencies, such as the county, intersect the city system. Or, they can show every trunk sewer in a specific cleaning basin.

Because it is tied to the CCTV inspection information, the centralized data provides a comprehensive picture of what is happening in the system. “We can tell it, ‘Show me every place where there has been heavy or medium root intrusion,’ and it collects data from the more than 700 DVDs stored on the city’s network,” says Roseberry.

“It crunches the numbers and provides a map that shows us where the heaviest concentrations of root intrusions are in the system,” he explains. “From there we can schedule cleaning crews accordingly and establish the most time-efficient cleaning routes.”

This scheduling has led to a rapid decline in SSOs, from 25 to 30 per year at program inception to just five from January to November 2008.

Access to such detailed data helps Fullerton plan rehabilitation projects, as well. The city performs about $6 million in rehabilitation or replacement projects per year. Sewer program specialist Nick Elms explains, “We can now use all this data to plan and budget our rehabilitation or replacement work much more easily. With the mapping, we can pull together exact locations, review the inspection video, and put together groups of rehabilitation projects for bid. That saves time and reduces the amount of disruption in a specific area.”

GIS data also helps Fullerton evaluate and study asset life expectancy, and conduct future planning, construction design, and scheduling. Roseberry and his team can view all projects that are being designed and cross reference that information with water main repair or street project overlays. Using these visual aids, they can modify schedules to limit disruption and restoration costs, and improve communication between departments. Accurate data also ensures that construction crews are adequately prepared to limit difficulties on the jobsite once construction begins.

A good neighbor

Fullerton has become a leader by example for surrounding communities, sharing its data with neighbors to define boundaries and responsibilities. As more neighboring communities bring GIS systems on board, communication steadily improves.

“We are unique in that we have to work with six other agencies whose lines either surround us or go through our borders or vice versa,” Elms says. “When we perform maintenance that will be at their borders or could impact their system, we inform them, and they do the same for us. If we’re having structural deficiencies in lines that continue into a bordering agency, and we are doing replacement or relining, we inform them. They might want to inspect those bordering lines to determine if they need to continue the rehab for that line into their jurisdiction.”

The development of such an extensive GIS didn’t happen overnight. Elms and Roseberry consistently push the envelope to come up with new, innovative methods for using and extracting data.

“Data is an incredible tool, but you can’t expect results right away,” Roseberry says. “You have to do things right and work slowly, but effectively, so that any amount of data you’re putting into your system is good data.”

Always on the lookout for ways to mine the gold from the database, Roseberry plans to keep throwing out ideas for using the data. Elms, meanwhile, promises to keep experimenting to make the system better.

Elms and Roseberry foresee that in five years the entire system’s details will be online. Then Fullerton will be able to perform analyses and data queries and generate detailed reports. That, in turn, will help the city develop even more effective capital improvement programs, maintain its collection system effectively, and keep rates low for its customers.


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