Take A Proactive Approach To Maintenance And Management

Utilities face different challenges, but the best are unified in their approach to getting the job done.

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The three profiles in this issue of MSW tell very different stories. From rebuilding after devastating floods in High River, Alberta, to testing out cutting edge technology in Moline, Ill., and focusing on cooperation and strong asset management in Pleasant Prairie, Wis., these stories are all tied by the common thread of perseverance and success.

High River, a suburb of Calgary, was hit with heavy rains in 2013, causing massive flooding and forcing all 13,000 residents to be evacuated. The town’s utility shops were destroyed, along with a dozen service vehicles and many lift stations, and the entire sanitary system was offline. Every free pump in the province and some from other provinces were brought in to remove more than 2 billion gallons of water from the town.

The utility department, meanwhile, concentrated on maintaining the water treatment and distribution system and engineering the reconstruction of the wastewater system. The distribution system became operational within about 10 days of the flood, but the sewer system was in bad shape. Inspection showed sections as long as 5 meters where no pipe remained. The focus shifted to rapid replacement.

Today, about three-quarters of the town’s downtown sewage system has been replaced and returning businesses have been reconnected to service. The scale of the flood was matched only by the scale of the effort and cooperation needed to get the systems flowing again.

In Moline, Ill., the water system dates back to the 1870s. Water mains must withstand changes in temperature from 33 to 90 degrees F and, in order to transmit water from the lowest parts of the city, an initial water pressure of 110 psi is required. The old cast-iron mains are prone to heavy tuberculation and specific sections experienced repeated service failures and were responsible for severe water discoloration.

The utility wanted to rehabilitate these sections, but didn’t want to interrupt service for a prolonged period or incur the high cost of running a bypass line to customers. A local contractor recommended a new technology capable of preparing the pipes for lining the same day. The Tomahawk system from Envirologics was able to clear out the tuberculation with air-driven aggregate and leave the pipe dry so it could be lined immediately.

The job didn’t compare to rebuilding an entire collections system, but it was a great success nonetheless.

In Pleasant Prairie, success has come from a progressive, proactive approach to asset management. After the economic crisis of 2008, the utility needed to make all its processes more productive and responsive, while spending fewer dollars.

Crews do most work in-house, including sewer system inspection, cleaning and repair. Older clay pipes are being relined, and the utility is planning to reline laterals when the main lines are completed. They are using sonic testing equipment to find leaks in water lines, along with checking sumps in basements while utility staff members are on the property.

Of all the advancements and improvements in technology, the village’s asset management system has had the biggest impact. But officials say the key to that success goes beyond technology and is really a result of the cooperation between the utility and the village IT department. Asset management software was first implemented in  the solid waste department and then added to water and wastewater. Staff members have worked together to customize the system, which has resulted in huge efficiency gains, allowing the utility to do more with less.

All of these utilities have different stories to tell, but the effort to rebuild, willingness to improve practices through new technology, and desire to improve efficiency through a proactive approach to maintenance and management are all good examples of how to generate success in your own utility.

I hope you can take something from each of these stories and use it to improve your own operations.

Enjoy this month’s issue.


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