Moving to a New Platform

Laguna Beach County work crews enjoy the benefits of new technology in the field.

Moving to a New Platform

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Laguna Beach County Water District provides water services to around 25,000 residents within 8.5 square miles of southern Orange County. The district receives approximately 1.14 billion gallons of water per year from the Colorado River and Northern California and stores it in 21 reservoirs. To deliver safe, reliable water to its customers, the district operates and maintains 36 pumps, 14 pumping stations, 3,500 valves, 900 hydrants, 8,000 customer meters and over 135 miles of distribution pipeline.

While LBCWD is a relatively small operation with 40 staff, 20 of whom serve on field crews, it is a forward-thinking water utility that has been moving from paper to digital over the last several years.

“More recently, in the last six months we have moved most of our operational management to Sedaru and rolled out FieldForce to manage our day-to-day operations,” says Bobby Young, engineering manager for Laguna Beach County. “With real-time mobile work management and network intelligence for pipes, valves, hydrants, customer meters, pumps, etc., our work crews can do their job better with information at their fingertips and have the ability to complete work records before they leave a site.”

A holistic view

Laguna Beach County uses the new platform for its maintenance programs including hydrant, valves, meters, sample stations, backflow, pumps, water mains, laterals, water leaks and emergency pumps. Work orders get assigned to a field crew who can see the work location on a GIS map and layer in assets that may affect or be affected by the work that needs to be done. The geographical display gives crews a holistic view of the work area so they can see where the water is coming from and where it’s going. Crews can update progress in real time in the field and schedule additional work if needed and move on to the next job.

Having records of past work often helps field crews resolve current issues, so they see the value in continuing the thorough record keeping. LBCWD is working on building a strong historical baseline. “The more data we can collect, the better we can plan and predict situations before they become an issue,” Young says.

Replacing one manual process with a technology solution always seems to accelerate additional advancements. In 2016, LBCWD switched to advanced meter infrastructure. That ended manual meter reading, but inadvertently led to ending meter box inspections. This resulted in the need for a new metering maintenance program to check the 8,000 meter boxes every year or so, as they were no longer being monitored during their billing cycle.

The new program is run efficiently through Sedaru, tracking the progress of the two-person field crew as they record findings in the field. If needed they can write a ticket for construction in the field if the job is outside of their scope, before moving on to the next box.

“This used to be done with paper, amounting to potentially 8,000 slips, and as you can imagine it was not uncommon for a slip to be misfiled, or not make it to inventory ordering, or the work order to not get into the right hands,” Young says. “Now all of this is tracked in real time, and most valuable is the building of a historical baseline that will allow us to see trends, such as certain meters that need checking more often than others.”

Easy integration

Laguna Beach uses a Wachs valve machine in support of its valve exercise program. Using an advanced application integration, Sedaru now remotely operates the Wachs valve machine, while automating field data collection, eliminating the need for manual data entry to be completed in the office and automatically updating the valve status in real time.

The platform also integrates 811/utility locator service, or DigAlert as it is known in California, saving LBCWD time by automating the process. When a DigAlert ticket comes in, Sedaru parses the ticket information into the utility’s GIS, digitizes each ticket’s attributes and presents the location on a map. The program reports all tickets and prioritizes those qualified as an emergency. If a ticket falls within the utility’s service area, the program automatically creates a work order. 

Work orders can be automatically assigned based on location or an administrator can assign them to field personnel based on current location, expertise or workload, and add any special instructions before sending it to the technician’s mobile device. Assigned tickets can be seen on a map and details can be drilled down in Field Force. The app has a tape measure feature that allows the field crew to determine the distance of the area; then technician’s record information such as field status, pictures and comments, and automatically submit the Positive Response to DigAlert. By digitizing the process, LBCWD also gains an accessible historical record that provides defensibility in the event damage occurs.

Improved monitoring

LBCWD is fortunate to not have a lot of leaks, but the old way of tracking on paper meant repair work was sometimes missed. The new platform allows work crews to monitor leaks when they are on site, and instantly add or mark a change in a leak.

“Layering of information helps us to track and repair leaks when we are next in the area before it becomes a bigger issue,” Young says. 

Actionable data

Having data on all assets organized in detail in one place makes it easy to use. For example, in a redevelopment situation, LBCWD can look at a map and see what assets will be affected when a building gets torn down and rebuilt. The new build may require a different pressure zone, or a larger house may need a bigger meter, etc. If a new development is going in, staff can quickly see if there is water to the lot or if system improvements need to be made. 

The more information that is gathered into the operational management system, the more likely it is to become valuable throughout the utility.

“Recording maintenance helps us budget for capital planning,” Young says. “As we build strong historical baselines, we expect to be able to be more proactive and plan for new challenges such as extreme weather events and measuring the benefit of new technologies and infrastructure improvements.”

Whole team adoption

“Staff are building trust in the data stored in the management platform and so they are using it on a more frequent basis,” Young says. “Having a user-friendly experience for field crews to enter information is more appealing than scratching an instruction on a napkin or making a note on the back of a sheet and then remembering what to do with it when you get back to the office. That said, we are asking our workforce to do things differently and there are times when an iPad is hard to see in the sun, and it needs to be handled with care, which is not always easy to do in the rain or mud. So, we are asking people to do the best they can, and we are really pleased with the results.”

Overall, the benefits of having real-time data in the field helps crews understand how decisions are being made, and how they can find efficiency. As water utilities are being asked to do more with less, these efficiencies, wherever realized, are helpful and crews know it.

“I have been with the County Water District for 26 years and have gained a lot of knowledge during this time that has given me the ability to problem solve quickly and plan based on experience,” says Eric Callahan, engineering technician and GIS specialist for Laguna Beach. “However, as we hire new people, we need this knowledge to be transferable. Building our historical records is a valuable educational resource for new hires. On the flip side, our longtime employees have been asking for a better way to record and centralize information so it can be easily accessed, for quite a while.

“We have tried a few programs over this digital journey, but the team has taken to Sedaru, in part because it’s extremely user friendly and customizable, and because it has become instrumental in running our everyday operations.” 

Trent Kamis and his team at Aquatic Informatics help utilities improve operations, maintenance, and asset management with digital solutions.


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