Embracing the Future

New tools and technology complement sound operating strategies.

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Technology plays a big role in the operations and maintenance of our water and wastewater systems. That’s no surprise to the people putting these new tools to work, but the ways in which new technology is used – or bypassed – is very different in utilities across the country.

Middlebury, Vt., profiled in this month’s issue of MSW, provides an interesting look at the dichotomy between the capabilities of new technology and the value of time-tested methods.

The wastewater utility broke new technological ground with the largest ice pigging project of its kind last year. A 12,000-foot force main was obstructed, and traditional pigging presented challenges and potential problems. So the utility turned to a newer technology, pushed it further than it had been pushed before, and ended up with an economical solution.

Yet even as it charts new territory, the staff still trusts in some older methods many utilities are turning away from. While most utilities look at paper maps of their systems with a growing level of scorn, Middlebury still believes in putting paper maps in the hands of its technicians. The utility is working toward mapping all sewer and water assets in its GIS, but Superintendent Bob Wells says with smaller utilities, plain paper maps can still be the most efficient way to access data.

Directly across the country, the water utility in Bend, Ore., relies heavily on GIS data to plan and prioritize its work.

The system is 100 percent GIS mapped, with data fed into the city’s hydraulic modeling system using INFOR, its asset management program. Traditional hydraulic modeling looks at sewer and water operations as static systems. Using sophisticated software, the city has found that comparing hydraulic systems to living organisms provides better modeling and a basis for sound financial planning. The software uses genetic algorithm technology and treats each system component like a strand of DNA. It then finds the most efficient pathways to meet the requirements of the system.

While traditional hydraulic models result in a series of solutions for which engineers must develop a range of costs, Bend’s software system runs potential scenarios and immediately provides capital costs associated with any solution, along with life cycle costs of those solutions. The results add up to big savings.

The third profile in this month’s issue focuses on the Mesa (Ariz.) Water Resources Department (MWRD). Mesa has used technology to greatly improve its overall efficiency. Treatment plant upgrades, high-efficiency pumps, a SCADA system, CIPP and pipe bursting have all helped push the utility forward.

The MWRD is focused on continuing to improve performance and not just with new technology. One of the ways it does so is through a very traditional means, setting performance metrics. The metrics set very clear goals. Everyone knows what they are, and everyone is held accountable through monthly performance reports.

The MWRD’s results speak for themselves. The utility earned the Gold Award for Exceptional Utility Performance from the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies in 2013.

All three of these utilities are using new technology to their advantage, but these stories also show the value of some basic, time-honored operating principles. There is no single right answer for every problem, and you need to be open to whatever solution – new or old – will get the job done.

Enjoy this month’s issue.


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