How Proactive Asset Management is Working Out for One Water Utility

Kansas City’s water utility hit a peak of 1,844 water main breaks in 2012. Today it has a much better handle on its aging infrastructure.

How Proactive Asset Management is Working Out for One Water Utility

KC Water is currently keeping a schedule of replacing 1 percent of its 2,800-mile distribution system every year. (Photos courtesy of KC Water)

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An old, popular TV ad used to warn: You can pay me now or pay me later.

It was in essence a plug for a “proactive” approach rather than a “reactive” one,  the inference being that later would mean a lot more hassle and definitely a lot more money.

The Kansas City Water Services Department figured that was sage advice once its aging water mains started to become a real problem. 

“In 2010-11, we started seeing an abnormally high spike in the number of breaks we had,” says Matt Bond, chief engineering officer for KC Water Services.

Specifically, 1,844 breaks were reported in 2012, an average of five breaks a day and an all-time high for the utility. The clay soil in Kansas City swells and shrinks during extreme weather and record-breaking heat that year is believed to have been a contributing factor to the record number of breaks.

“Those numbers quantified about the time we were in the midst of a comprehensive water master planning effort, so we decided to implement asset management principles to reduce those numbers,” Bond says. “KC Water Services rolled out a water main replacement program that year and five years later, the number of water main breaks has been markedly reduced. We developed a forecasting method that includes our entire 2,800 miles of in-ground pipe, essentially a model that helps us define where all the pipes are, where the riskiest ones are, and where we can get the biggest bang for the buck by replacing the riskiest sections before anything happens. We’ve made a commitment to replace 1 percent of the lines annually and as a result of our efforts, the number of annual breaks has gone from over 1,800 down to 745 last year.

“Once we identified the riskiest pipes and began systematic replacement, we’ve see significant improvements in incident numbers. And because we’re doing this year-in and year-out, we’re getting good pricing for our water main replacements. It’s been a good repeatable process.”

To begin this water main replacement program, the design and engineering firm of Black & Veatch discovered upward of 600 miles of the 2,800 miles of water mains were more than 100 years old, some cast iron pipe having been originally installed in the late 1800s. Breakage was also noted in ductile iron pipe manufactured in the 1950s. In the Black & Veatch survey, 70,900 individual line segments were identified.   

“We mapped the operation with our geographic information system, pulled the info out of GIS and gave it to Black & Veatch who helped analyze the status of, and conduct risk assessments on, the probability of failure —  and its consequence — ultimately developing a computerized model that we’ve continued to update with our annual field input data,” Bond says.

According to KC Water, it has saved about $22 million in potential repairs because of its proactive water main replacement program.
According to KC Water, it has saved about $22 million in potential repairs because of its proactive water main replacement program.

KC Water’s model is based around the EPA’s view of asset management best practices, which summarizes it as: “Replacing and renewing public water infrastructure is an ongoing task. Asset management can help a utility maximize the value of its operations and maintenance dollars (by) making an inventory of critical assets, evaluating their condition and performance, and developing plans to fund the maintenance, repair, and replacement of them.”

Here’s how it works at KC Water Services.

“Risk analysis gives you a pretty telling document concerning the probability of a failure and the consequences. Those assets or sectors with high probability rise to the top of the matrix and those that we absolutely need to go and do are colored in red, helping us define the 1 percent of pipes we’re going to replace in a given year,” Bond says.

Twenty projects are selected for a calendar year. Design consultants take six to 12 months to prepare specific replacement parameters for each, surveying and doing geotechnical or drilling work to figure out soil composition, before development specs are sent out to bid.

“Essentially it’s a three-year cycle,” says Bond. “We first update the information in our risk models, then year two is allocated to design professionals to develop project specs, and the third year is construction itself, lasting anywhere from eight to 12 months. You kind of get into a rhythm where you’re always doing those three activities within any given year and 20 projects a year keeps that rhythm going. Our seven engineers are kept busy overseeing this effort, as well as any others like additions to large transmission mains to support the city’s growth.”

It’s standard dig, remove, and replace, building new lines parallel with the old ones before residential interruptions take place to officially put the new pipe into service. Residents are well informed of any planned service interruptions in advance with public meetings and door hanger information, as well as contractors and inspectors being on site to answer citizen questions.

The size of the replacement line varies with area demand ranging from an 8-inch minimum up to 48 inches.

“We’re using zinc-coated ductile iron pipe as replacement,” Bond says. “We want to make sure we don’t have cathodic issues with corrosion, and zinc serves as an anode to help avoid that. We believe it’s state-of-the-art at this time and the best product going forward.”

Plus, it has a life expectancy of 100 years —  about as long as the existing project will take to completely replace the current aging mains before those new replacements will have to start being replaced themselves.

“We also have a similar 1 percent per year rehabilitation goal of our sewer assets — the pipes in the ground — and we’re using similar asset management principles for what we call our vertical assets, the water plants, wastewater treatment plants, and pump stations,” Bond says.

According to KC Water statistics, just over $108 million has been spent to date on the water main replacement program. The numbers also show a savings of over $22 million in potential repairs as the work has enhanced the integrity of the system and the instances of water main breaks has gone down.

“Our current water main replacement program is about $30 million annually, about 40 percent of our total water utility capital improvement funding,” Bond says. “We will be reviewing whether there is a continued business case to replace at the current 1 percent rate.

“KC Water isn’t unique with these kinds of problems,” adds Bond, advocating that others consider adopting a similar program. “I’d recommend using the fundamentals of asset management, a scalable approach that can be used by any size system.”


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