Best Bang for the Buck

Shrinking budgets and aging infrastructure are constant challenges, but don’t let them hold you or your system back.

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Efficiency is something we could all use more of. Everyone would like to get more done with less time, energy and money.

As managers of municipal water and wastewater systems, you’re continually asked to do more with less. Budgets shrink and the workload grows as infrastructure ages. And that aging infrastructure creates a cycle that’s tough to break: Lack of funds puts maintenance on the back burner, infrastructure continues to deteriorate, available funds and manpower are shifted increasingly toward emergency repairs, which are more expensive, siphoning even more money away from preventive maintenance, which in turn allows continued degradation and leads to more emergency work.

The three feature profiles in this month’s issue of Municipal Sewer & Water all have some lessons to share on creating efficiency within your departments. Cambridge, Ontario, is a good example. In 2003, the Cambridge Transportation and Public Works Department altered its approach from a piecemeal, reactive model to a unified approach focused on asset management.

In 2007 and 2008, the department inspected more than 90 percent of its manholes. In addition to as-needed sewer cleaning, the department has scheduled 25 miles worth of sanitary and 25 miles of storm pipe cleaning and maintenance this year alone. The department is also overseeing the replacement and rehabilitation of 3.5 miles of water mains and the rehabilitation of 1.5 miles of sewer lines this year.

The city’s approach to asset management is paying big dividends. Between 2010 and 2012, the city saved $2.5 million and reduced I&I by almost one billion gallons. Water losses were likewise reduced by 22 percent between 2009 and 2012, which saved the city 580 million gallons of water and $1.6 million in revenue from 2010 to 2012. The number of water main breaks peaked at 52 in 2007, dropped to 37 in 2011 and was down to only 27 in 2012.

None of this would have happened if the city had taken a reactive approach, but proactive planning and maintenance, while potentially a bigger cost upfront, has delivered big savings and improved efficiency.

In Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where Larry Parsons was recently honored as Idaho Collections Operator of the Year, efficiency is also top of mind. When Parsons joined the department in 1989, maintenance work was done on an as-needed basis and emergency calls were routine. He didn’t like that approach, and the focus quickly changed to proactive cleaning and inspection of the collections system. The result was a 75 percent reduction in costly emergency calls.

The city began using CIPP about 10 years ago. At the time, open-cut replacement projects were costing roughly $130 per foot. With the CIPP program, that cost is down to somewhere less than $30 per foot. It’s been a significant savings of time and money for the collections department.

A little further west, in Santa Rosa, Calif., efficiency has been achieved in other ways. The city’s Local Utility Operations has had to cut positions and lay off some employees, but new technology, equipment, processes and employee empowerment have enabled the department to accomplish the required work with fewer people. Better prioritization and stronger asset management have also played a role.

Santa Rosa’s greatest measure of efficiency, however, may be the Geysers Recharge Project. Each day, millions of gallons of high quality, filtered and UV-treated water are produced at Santa Rosa’s subregional Laguna Reclamation Plant. Some of the water is sent to storage ponds for local irrigation, but most is pumped directly to a magma chamber where it is used to make steam, which in turn drives electrical turbines. The electricity produced is enough to meet approximately 60 percent of the power needs of California from San Francisco north to the Oregon border.

The efficiencies employed by all three of these utilities should stand as examples for all water and wastewater departments. Shrinking budgets and aging infrastructure are challenges, but they can be overcome.

I hope the lessons in these stories can help you improve your own operations.

Enjoy this month’s issue.


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