Best of the Decade: Utility of the Future

Miami-Dade’s master plan encompasses hundreds of improvement projects with a focus on building resilience.

Best of the Decade: Utility of the Future

Crew members prep a section of pipe for installation. The new 48-inch force main is part of the North Miami Avenue Betterment Project.

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Some utilities struggle to meet the conditions of a consent decree. Others use it as a baseline. The Miami-Dade (Florida) Water and Sewer Department took the $1.6 billion in improvements outlined in its consent decree and added nearly $12 billion in utilitywide upgrades.

Equipped with a comprehensive master plan, the utility is already into year four of its $13.5 billion capital improvement program — one of the largest among U.S. water and wastewater utilities. Some 775 projects, representing $1.1 billion in department assets, have been completed. Another 861 are in the planning or construction phase. They range from sewer line and waterline rehabilitation and replacement and enhanced monitoring and data systems integration, to improved energy efficiency and treatment plant upgrades and expansion — from one end of the service area to the other.

“The challenge for water utilities is resilience,” says Hardeep Anand, deputy director for the utility’s capital improvement program. “How can we give our customers the comfort that we will be resilient enough to be able to bounce back in the face of a disaster or a disrupting event — large or small — in the future?” he asks. That means being able to overcome climate change — including rising sea levels — replace aging infrastructure, address the threat of cybersecurity, comply with new regulations and still meet the demands of economic growth and an expanding population.

For its planning and foresight, the utility was one of 61 utilities recognized as Utilities of the Future at the Water Environment Federation’s annual conference last year.

Sprawling district

Serving 2.3 million people, plus thousands of daily visitors, and covering 400 square miles, the department is the largest water and wastewater utility in the Southeastern U.S. Its water system draws water from the Biscayne aquifer and treats it at three large regional treatment plants and five smaller plants, plus a new reverse osmosis water treatment plant. Together, these facilities provide an average of 314 million gallons of high-quality water per day via a distribution system of more than 8,000 miles. The system includes more than 126,000 valves and 38,000 hydrants.

Three wastewater treatment plants process an average of 308 million gallons of wastewater per day, collected through a 6,300-mile system of mains and laterals. There are 1,047 sewer pump stations, two ocean outfalls and 21 deep injection wells. About 13 mgd of treated wastewater is currently reused.

The department employs more than 2,800 people and has an annual operating budget of approximately $400 million.

Critical data

Miami-Dade County, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection entered a consent decree for improvements to the wastewater collections and treatment system in June 2013. But while the decree has mandated a number of projects throughout the county, the utility had been working on improvements in the years prior to the agreement as part of its comprehensive master plan and capital improvement program.

The planning of the program, stretching more than 15 years, depends in large part on data along with operations and maintenance principles contained in its capacity, management, operation and maintenance plan, according to Anand.

“Data is one of our biggest challenges,” he says. “We need to be able to integrate data from various sources and analyze it through the lens of utility resiliency and efficiencies in order to become a smart utility for both the present and the future.”

New SCADA technology w ill be key. Anand says the department’s SCADA plan is only about 20% complete. For now, he says, “We look at data the best we can. The goal is for more SCADA to be deployed so that incrementally we become a smarter utility.”

Anand envisions wider use of dashboarding as the department progresses. “Dashboarding is somewhat new to utilities, though it is common in other industries like marketing and banking,” he says. “We need the same concept here so we can see big data, run the analytics and make smart decisions related to predictive maintenance as we build dynamic and adaptive capital improvement plans.”

The quality of the data is also important. “We can’t make decisions based on corrupt data,” Anand believes. “Data governance and integrity becomes critical.”

Data should not only be assembled, it must be communicated, he explains. “It’s critical that when internal divisions of the utility sit around the table, they are able to discuss global utility data, which is consistent rather than from their own roles and perspectives.” For the team to work, the barriers of data and traditional information silos will need to be overcome, he says.

Likewise, the information needs to be disseminated down to all 2,800 department employees. “At the end of the day, our workforce, our designers and our consulting workforce all need to know our road map.”

The role of CMOM

CMOM is proving to be another useful tool as the utility moves toward making its assets and services more resilient in the future.

A product of the consent decree, the CMOM sets forth several performance parameters that the department must meet in its wastewater collection and treatment programs.

“It’s required us to focus on specific things: not just the consent decree requirements — which amount to $1.6 billion in improvements — but the utilitywide aspect,” Anand says. “It’s a strategic plan ensuring that we consistently deploy asset management, capital planning, and repairs and maintenance across the entire utility.”

Typically, CMOM programs help utilities optimize the use of human and material resources by shifting maintenance activities from reactive to proactive. In the case of the Water and Sewer Department, the utility is building predictive maintenance into its normal operations. “Emergencies will happen, but we want to become predictive, not reactive … know what’s coming and plan for it,” Anand says. “Good data becomes the basis for all decision-making behind the scenes, and it allows better capital improvement planning.”

Pipe projects

Many of the hundreds of projects the utility is working on involve sewer lines and water mains. The department has thousands of miles of water pipes and sewer lines; many are old or undersized and in need of repair or replacement. In other cases, new lines are being extended to newly developed parts of the district.

Anand points to a number of showcase projects:

• Kendall Boulevard to Southwest 104th Street, where a 12-inch wastewater line is being installed without disruption to traffic or the neighborhoods. The project is expected to take five months. The areas around construction will be restored at the end of the project.

• Renewal of a large waterline traveling down Southwest 152nd Street, parallel to Zoo Miami.

• A 5,300-foot force main replacement under Norris Cut between Fisher Island and Virginia Key. The pipeline required a 10-foot-diameter tunnel. The line also required opencut replacement of 2,700 feet of 60-inch-diameter pipe in the wastewater treatment plant and directional drilling 1,000 feet of 10-inch-diameter pipe.

Anand says the new lines both impact and improve the daily lives of customers. “In older neighborhoods, many of our lines pass under front yards and backyards.”

To avoid community disruption, the utility often turns to sliplining. Juan Bedoya, chief of Wastewater Collection and Transmission, points to a 3.7-mile sewer relining project along Southwest Seventh Street. There, the wire wrap in a 54-inch prestressed concrete pressure pipe had badly deteriorated, causing pipe failures. Rather than use opencut methods to replace the line, the department turned to sliplining with HDPE. Bedoya says HDPE is preferred because its smooth surface results in minimum capacity reductions. Plus, he says sliplining with HDPE is cost-effective on a life cycle basis. “From an environmental and public standpoint, sliplining with HDPE is the way to go,” he says.

Ric-Man Construction is doing the sliplining work.

A significant portion of the department’s large-diameter pipelines are prestressed concrete cylinder pipe, and Bedoya says the entire PCCP system is being examined using the PipeDiver tool from Pure Technologies. The device travels through the lines, using electromagnetic waves to identify and locate broken prestressed wire wraps, which are the main indication of potential problems.

Anand notes that predictive maintenance enables the department to replace pipes before they fail and cause property damage.

“It’s a maximization of existing infrastructure and enhancement in operational resilience.”

Ocean outfalls

In 2008, the Florida Legislature and governor approved a new law requiring all wastewater utilities in southeast Florida using ocean outfalls to reduce nutrient discharges by 2018 and cease using the outfalls by 2025. The law also required utilities to reuse 60% of the treated effluent ocean discharges.

The utility explored a number of options and decided to construct a new 100 mgd West District Wastewater Treatment Plant in the western portion of the county while reducing flows —including storm surges — to its three existing wastewater treatment facilities. “By moving water from east to west, we will be reducing stress on existing pump stations,” Anand says.

The nutrient reduction goal will be met through the use of new deep injection wells at the North, Central and West district plants, and a new industrial injection well at the Central plant. The reuse requirements of the Ocean Outfall Program are being evaluated further to identify the most feasible compliance strategies.

Water system

New projects are shoring up the department’s leak detection system to reduce water losses, and they’re also installing state-of-the-art advanced metering and a fiber optic emergency response system.

• Leak detection. The utility has piloted its new leak detection technology on a 109-mile section of its transmission and distribution system in a densely populated area. The results have been outstanding, Anand says. In the first four months of the pilot test, the system identified 50 leaks, the repair of which saved 459 million gallons of water and produced a significant savings in nonrevenue water. For its work, the department received a 2016 National Association of Counties Achievement Award in water loss management.

• Advanced metering infrastructure. The department is preparing to deploy an AMI system throughout its 450,000 accounts. The move is expected to improve customer service and customer engagement with their water utility. Plus, the new system will conserve water and foster more efficiency among its users while generating meaningful data for the department to use in future planning.

• Acoustic emergency response. This technology will provide real-time monitoring of the wire strands in vulnerable PCPP pipe and other high-risk assets. Using fiber optics, the system will enable the utility to spot potential breaks and address them before emergencies develop.

Energy efficiency

The utility is Florida Power & Light’s single largest customer in South Florida. In an effort to reduce its carbon footprint while reaping cost savings, the department is strategically pursuing opportunities to reduce energy usage.

The department’s Utility Resiliency Plan aims to incorporate energy-efficient measures in technical design standards and capital projects, which will reduce energy costs, as well as the carbon footprint of its water and wastewater treatment plants.

To achieve its goals, the utility has partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy on a Wastewater Infrastructure Accelerator program focused on resource recovery and a pathway toward a sustainable infrastructure of the future. “The partnership will enable us to tap into ongoing technical assistance from the U.S. DOE and Oak Ridge National Laboratory to perform energy assessments and identify opportunities for incorporating energy-efficiency measures within the utility,” explains Lester Sola, Water and Sewer Department director.

By adopting innovative and best-practice approaches in data management, technologies and financing for infrastructure improvements, the  utility will seek to improve the energy efficiency of its wastewater treatment facilities by at least 30%. Miami-Dade was one of the few utilities nationwide taking part in the inaugural partnership at the White House in May 2016.

Energy audits will help identify areas where efficiencies are to be leveraged, and capital improvement projects will be undertaken to realize those efficiencies. A recent example of the utility’s commitment to energy efficiency is the 8 MW cogeneration facility at the South District Wastewater Treatment Plant. This project takes methane gas from the treatment plant digesters and an adjacent municipal landfill and produces electricity and heat, which are used to operate the facility.

The future

While Anand and others at Miami-Dade brim with confidence and enthusiasm as they push ahead with their master plan and capital improvement program, they recognize the challenges. “The next few years will be very challenging as we develop the framework to be a utility of the future,” he says.

The plan includes water, wastewater, climate adaptation and integration of technologies. It requires planning and compliance; coordination among utilities; program and construction management for pipeline and pump station projects; design and construction of new wellfields and a new 20 mgd wastewater treatment plant; and, not to mention, an engaged and skilled workforce, best practices, economic growth and operations optimization.

At the same time, the department has become the founding utility in the Resilient Utility Coalition — a strategic partnership formed between utilities in four South Florida counties and professional organizations to advance utility infrastructure resiliency efforts and help members deal with new challenges, especially the effects of climate change. “The coalition aims to enhance the usefulness of climate science by developing joint adaptation strategies and improving water management decision-making in the face of climate uncertainty,” Anand says.

Currently, the coalition plans to develop a regional resiliency scorecard, conduct quarterly roundtable meetings, develop “tech talks” for training and education, and publish materials for community outreach.

In the long term, the RUC recommends utilities have a resiliency plan, prioritize investment based on the plan, implement energy efficiency and achieve economic sustainability and affordability for ratepayers while engaging employees and reaching out to the community and other partners.

“The collaboration, platform and framework fostered by RUC’s members will be vital to the continuous successful delivery of services to our customers,” Anand says.

“We’re doing the right thing; we’re thinking ahead,” he continues. “How can we avoid a catastrophic failure if we don’t plan for it? It’s the path to a smart utility and a resilient utility.”


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