Best Advice of 2017: Nuggets of Wisdom from Nine Successful Utilities

From how to implement a manhole rehab program to improving operational efficiencies, we look back on some of the best pieces of advice utilities shared in the pages of Municipal Sewer & Water magazine in the past year

As is typically the drill when the latter part of December arrives and a new year approaches, it’s time for some reflection. Here we reflect on some of the industry knowledge that has appeared in Municipal Sewer & Water magazine in 2017. A lot of utilities are featured in the magazine over the course of a year and there is often something to learn from their experiences:

“We could have taken a shotgun approach and inspected manholes all over town, but decided to be more methodical. We didn’t look at geographical areas as much as the material that made up the manhole. Brick was generally structurally fine after exposure to H2S, although the mortar might be affected. We looked primarily at concrete manholes that were most likely to be corroded by sewer gas.” — Gina Ishida-Raybourn of the Municipal Utilities Department in Chandler, Arizona, on the approach the city took when it started a manhole rehab program

“We got someone trained and certified in 12 months by job shadowing with an existing operator. It worked out well.” — Tim Wilson of Marshalltown Water Works in Iowa on the effectiveness of an apprenticeship program the utility started three years ago

“Will it help us operate the facility and meet our service level commitments, our customers’ needs and our regulatory requirements? What will it take to train operators to operate it as designed and intended? Will it create more work? Will it make us less efficient? Sometimes it’s OK to just roll the window down manually instead of using a button.” — Rebecca West of Spartanburg Water System in South Carolina on adding technology to operations

“It starts by looking at the watershed. Can you easily identify the players? And how likely is it that they’d be willing to work together? It’s one tool. There are certainly places where water quality trading or plant additions make more sense.” — Dave Taylor of the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District in Wisconsin on fighting nutrient pollution through adaptive management — working with landowners upstream to reduce their contributions

“District metering was one of the first concepts we implemented to drive efficiency. Establishing district metered areas can reduce the time required to isolate a leak to just a day instead of having to check the entire system over possibly months.” — Chris Leauber of the Wilson County Water and Wastewater Authority in Tennessee on using district metering, which makes it possible to isolate areas from the water system using fewer shut-offs

“We’re checking whether they’re pulling too many amps, how many hours they’re running, and making sure the pumps are alternating properly. We’re doing everything we can to prolong the life of the pumps that are running properly and identifying a potential hazard, and taking care of that pump before there’s an emergency problem. When you look for problems, you find them. It’s costing a fair amount of money here. You’re finding pumps that need to be replaced — we’ve replaced quite a few more pumps this year than we would have preferred to do. We’ve made quite a few more repairs. But it’s also prevented much more costly and disruptive problems. We’ve found pumps that were hours away from getting burnt up. The only way we would have found them otherwise would have been a few hours later when it did burn up and the lift station was overflowing. So we’ve saved thousands of dollars. We’re not sending guys out in the middle of the night, we’re not paying overtime, and we’re not putting them in a more dangerous situation.” — Jason Arnold of the Lufkin Department of Water and Sewer Utilities in Texas on a proactive lift station inspection and maintenance program the utility implemented a couple years ago


“We have to learn how to do it smarter instead of harder, and be able to keep our community’s businesses up and operational. The worst thing we can do is work on a sewer line that can disrupt traffic. We have to learn how to use technology to our advantage.” — Steve Salka of the city of Durango, Colorado, on the utility department embracing pipe bursting and CIPP lining, particularly because the community relies heavily on year-round tourism

“We’ve had drones for about a half-year, but they’ve already proved very useful, particularly on our South Kent Island sewer expansion project. We’ve used them for surveying and mapping and to get photographic records of as-builts and open trenches. We’ve also used them to locate and map division valves, collection points, valve pits and fire hydrants. We’re incorporating all of this into our GIS system. Everyone’s eager to think of new uses for the technology.” — Todd Mohn of the Queen Anne’s County Department of Public Works in Maryland on using drone technology

“You have to get city leaders on board with the understanding that they’re going to be looking at large budget numbers for that maintenance. It’s not exciting to fund pipe lining — like it is to put in a new city pool or another ‘feel good’ project — but it is necessary. One solution we have found that works well is to piggyback onto other projects. Combining stormwater infrastructure repairs with transportation or parks and rec projects helps save money and provides more incentives for funding. But sometimes the best solution is just sitting down with council members with pictures. They need to see the pipe full of sediment with no room for the water to get through.” — Dennis Roland of the Department of Public Works’ Stormwater Division in Alpharetta, Georgia, on getting the support of elected officials for infrastructure projects


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