SEWER: Training, Technology, Teamwork

The City of Santa Barbara creates an exemplary sewer maintenance program by putting the latest tools in the hands of an empowered and highly capable staff

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Santa Barbara is a historic coastal California city with underground infrastructure that dates as far back as 1870. Maintaining and rehabilitating the wastewater collection system requires diligence and teamwork.

The Wastewater Section of the city’s Water Resources Division sets high goals for itself: clean at least 200 miles of sewer lines per year, CCTV inspect some 35 miles per year, and replace or rehabilitate about 32,000 feet of pipe per year as part of an annual capital improvement program.

To achieve those goals, the city has deployed a collection of software tools, information systems, specialized forms, field data collection processes, quality control and assessment, and a consistent employee-training program.

It’s all built around the section leaders’ dedication to building a high-functioning team covering every area of responsibility. “You can have all the latest fancy technology tools, but unless you have truly dedicated team members, they won’t be much help,” notes Manuel Romero, wastewater collection superintendent.

The result is a model program that is simple and efficient and is quickly becoming an example for other coastal communities.

Making it manageable

Santa Barbara’s wastewater collection system consists mainly of 6- to 8-inch VCP pipe spanning 277 miles and serving about 24,000 accounts. The Wastewater Section is also responsible for the Estero Wastewater Treatment Plant, which treats an average of 9 mgd.

Inflow and infiltration (I&I) is a concern, especially during winter peak wet-weather periods, when demands on the treatment plant can triple. Root intrusion and simple wear and tear from age and seismic activity are also top concerns. Consistent inspection, cleaning and rehabilitation of the entire system is a necessity.

The Wastewater Section breaks its inspection and cleaning program into two categories: annual preventive maintenance and priority preventive maintenance. For example, of the 200 miles the city aims to clean each year, about 100 miles are considered priority maintenance — lines scheduled based on analysis of previous CCTV inspection findings.

In 2003, Santa Barbara contracted ADS Environmental Services to conduct a flow-monitoring study. The data helped the city engineering department create a hydraulic flow model of the system using H2OMAP Sewer (MWH Soft Inc.). As part of that, the system was broken down into 43 basins.

Assignment of areas within the basins to be cleaned in the preventive program is based on a 12-month cycle. Some locations are scheduled twice per year based on need. Priority cleaning focuses on response to customer complaints or requests for service, and on responses to problems found during inspections.

The inspection work is performed by the section’s three-person in-house CCTV inspection team, except that within the past six years the city has contracted for inspection of its larger-diameter lines, including mainlines from 10 to 42 inches. The city crew uses a camera truck from RS Technical Services Inc., equipped with a NovaSTAR zoom camera, TranSTAR transporter, Omni III zoom camera, 1530 Mini System, and an onboard computer with POSM pipe survey software.

The city uses the NASSCO Pipeline Assessment and Certification Program (PACP) standard for analysis and assessment of its system. PACP coding provides a scoring system that helps the staff determine which lines throughout the 43 basins will comprise the 100 miles that fall under each year’s priority program.

How are we doing?

Just getting the annual 200 miles of cleaning footage completed isn’t enough for the Wastewater Section. Follow up and quality assurance are keys to ensuring that the team’s efforts in the field are effective and keep the collection system healthy.

The cleaning and inspection schedule and tasks are closely tied together. Inspection helps the department verify that its cleaning methods, such as selection of nozzles, skids and cleaning pressures, are effective.

“We emphasize a strong quality assurance-quality control program,” says Romero. “We perform different types of follow-up, such as sporadic CCTV inspection checks of selected locations on our priority-preventive list. We also do a failure analysis that tracks historical data, inspections, and cleaning history. These things help create a process of individual responsibility — a personal accountability for all team members — so we can truly know how well we’re doing.”

Those types of follow-up are especially important for Romero, who remembers starting as a temporary employee 28 years ago. The section’s field team is young: Six of the 11 field staff have less than three years of experience.

The right tools

Armed with a new CCTV inspection vehicle purchased in early 2009, the latest pipe survey software, a 2009 Vactor 2100 Series combination truck, a Vactor 1,500-gallon jetter truck, and an older Vactor combination unit, the team has what it needs to meet its annual goals. Still, a few prescribed best management practices (BMPs) help the young team members while they gain real-world experience.

“We’ve had to go back to square one in regard to training and educating our crews,” says Alex Alonzo, wastewater collection supervisor. “One method to help our jetting crews with quality-control assurance is the use of request forms we’ve developed for them to fill out when they encounter difficult cleaning areas or an unusual amount of debris in a line.

“That in turn gets turned over to the CCTV crew so they can go and inspect the line to determine what issues may be present and what action the cleaning crew should take. We may also perform a post-cleaning inspection on that same line after the cleaning crew has completed the recommended cleaning steps. This also enables us to verify the quality of the cleaning work being performed.”

Jetting crews are typically dispatched in teams of two — a senior wastewater collection system operator and a wastewater collection system operator I or II. On certain locations, such as easements and high-traffic locations, a lead operator with supervisory oversight may be sent to assist.

All crew members are required to obtain California Water Environment Association (CWEA) collection system operator certification. The city also strongly emphasizes leadership and development train­ing. “It’s not all about technical training for our staff, or just hands-on field work,” says Alonzo. “We want our team members to gain knowledge for dealing with things like emergencies or conflicts. We want them to learn how to communicate and to achieve personal and professional growth.”

Ever-evolving technology

To manage its maintenance programs, the Wastewater Section has used a custom-developed Microsoft Access database, built on the city’s street names. Each day, information from the field is collected and input by the section’s administrative staff to track the crew members, the locations, and the work performed.

Things are evolving as the Wastewater Section and all other city departments are migrating to the CartêGraph asset management platform (CartêGraph Systems Inc.) The migration from its simple database to the CartêGraph system has been under way for about two years. The new system offers many advantages.

Because all city departments will be on the same platform, work between departments and management of the different sections’ vehicle and equipment fleets can be streamlined.

“The Access database was very basic,” says Alonzo. “With the new system, we are able to look at GIS data and complete historical data on any asset, see its condition, view linked videos — things that can help us determine which assets need to be in our capital improvement schedule, and when.”

The data also helps Romero perform benchmark comparisons with other coastal communities whose systems and departments are similar in size, terrain, equipment and staff. He looks at metrics such as the number of sanitary sewer overflows and stoppages, the amounts of preventive maintenance performed, and the number of customer service calls. All data covers what Romero calls a “three-phase process” — identification, analysis, and recommendations.

Of course, data is only as good as what the staff enters. The Wastewater Section works continuously to improve data entry accuracy, as the majority of inspection and maintenance data is still manually entered into the asset management system. Efforts are in progress to provide administrative support to input all cleaning-related data into the CartêGraph system.

Alonzo, who has been with the city for 25 years, admits that sometimes the old-fashioned paper documentation system seems easier. But he also knows that it often led to a “shoot-from-the-hip” response to maintenance.

“Through the course of time, we were able to develop paper methods,” he says. “It wasn’t until 1998 that we got our first computer, and since then we’ve definitely magnified our ability to use all the information we collect more effectively. Sometimes the process of data management and data entry does get overwhelming, but it’s worth the effort.”

Body of common knowledge

Quality control, software technology, continuing education and the right equipment have all helped Santa Barbara manage its system, meet its 200-mile annual preventive maintenance quotas, and meet long-range capital improvement objectives. But also critical to the Wastewater Section’s success is its philosophical approach and direction.

“It’s about turning your staff into professionals,” says Alonzo. “Our biggest challenges haven’t been funding or lack of equipment, as in most cities. It’s been people resources and finding ways to share experience and knowledge — bringing new people up to speed, getting senior staff to share and document what’s in their heads, getting everybody on the same page.”

With the software systems now in place, all data that the more seasoned crew members possess can now be input and made accessible to new team members, so that they can learn and grow. In the last few years the team has matured.

Romero considers it his ultimate duty to create “a common body of knowledge for efficient business continuity.”

He observes, “This must be kept high on your priority list as a collection system manager. You have to add value into what already exists. Be a teacher, a coach, a mentor, an advocate of quality. The minute you stop adding value, that’s the minute your programs begin to lose support. Be committed to your team and they’ll be committed to you. Create an environment where everyone has an opportunity to achieve their professional objectives and become their personal best.”


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