On 21 January 2020, Ross Waugh and Heather Himmelberger held another Ask-the-Experts webinar titled, “Infrastructure Asset Management – How to Start.” Inframanage.com presents the webinar topics through a series of blog posts.
At this point, Heather and Ross were talking about the benefits of starting asset management on small water systems.
Yes, we do have some questions coming in about small systems, and is it worth spending small system dollars on asset management because you do have such limited funding available, and you have so few customers that are paying.
And I think we want to talk about the fact that the benefits will justify your investment.
And if you go through the process of inventorying your assets and mapping them out, even if it’s just a simple map, the time you saved from looking for those later or the person who knows everything leaves and you don’t know anything, that time to find those assets is just really inefficient.
And then as you start moving into things like criticality and addressing your risk, you’re going to start to see tremendous benefits from doing the work that more than justifies the investments that you’re going to make in it.
Again we’ve talked about this. It doesn’t have to be a complicated thing. You are just asking yourself simple questions. Why am I doing this? What’s the reason I’m doing this and not that? Or the phone call at night, what am I doing about that thing?
If that happens to be my one and only well pump, and I know that it’s ready to go out at any moment and I won’t have any water for my customers, then what am I doing about that? You know, what is the plan? Is there any plan in place to take care of that?
So, asset management helps you think through those questions of, okay well, if I need to replace the pump or I need to rehabilitate it or something like that, what’s the funding mechanism for that? What is the life cycle around that? What kind of operation and maintenance should I be doing? All of those types of things.
So, even in a small utility, you should be able to see some decent benefits. If you also do the simple stuff with asset management, the benefits should justify the investments.
And sometimes something as simple as just keeping a record of all the breaks and put them up on a map, year on year. And then you go, hey, we’re getting a lot of breaks in this particular area or this specific set of pipes.
And then you can start asking those “Why” questions. Why are we getting all those breaks when we’re not getting them in some other places? And it might be a poorly installed pipe. It might be the material that’s got some faults, or it might be the pressure is too high there, or a whole heap of number…
One example we had in New Zealand was this particular bit of pipe was getting some water hammer on it off a pump. And so you know, they go and fix it and put a new pipe and it breaks again. You go, what’s going on?
Well, you see some water hammer up the line because the pumps were not set up right, didn’t have a pressure reduction or a pressure release thistle on the pump, or a bearable speed drive to wrap it up nice and quiet, it’s just slamming on and slamming off.
And the people in the area had forgotten about what a water hammer does when it goes up and down the pipe. And it was simple to fix, but you have to ask the question of why that is happening because you can go and fix pipes forever. But once you start asking the questions.
The other thing with asset management, even for very, very small systems, is if some big dollars are coming up, a big pump or a tank or a big pipe replacement, and you go, “how are we going to afford this?” but you know it’s five years away. You can start the discussion in the community and with the governance of that system.
Say, look, we’ve got these vast dollars coming up, and we think it’s real, this is what it looks like. By the time you get to the time to do the work, the community or the governance, the board, or the council, they’ve had a discussion. They know it’s going to be a bit painful.
But everybody has accepted the fact that they need to do it. You’ve looked around for different ways of funding it. Maybe there’s a state grant or something like that. But it takes the pain out of it.
What happens, as even in our own lives as our expenditure, if you know something is coming and you can plan for it and put aside some money or whatever or get a loan sort of, whatever. If it’s just something massive happens, and you’ve got to deal it today, no warnings, so that’s where it’s a bit more problematic.
And so the same thing with water networks, or wastewater networks. Indeed, we found in New Zealand, if you give people plenty of time warning over a significant expenditure, by the time they get to it, they’ve worked out how they are going to afford it. So there’s no pain, and there’s no drama around it.
So that’s a real advantage because it allows good solid decision making. It will enable people to work out how they are going to afford stuff that they have to do.
You know if you have one well pump and it drops out, and you’ve got no water, you don’t have too many choices at that point. You’re going to spend the money. But much better they give people long term warnings on it and work out what you are going to do.
Maybe your wells are starting to get pretty old as well. And you go, hey, we’re going to let you do a whole new well at the same time. So you’re not just doing a crisis thing, you are doing it in a very planned and careful and well-considered manner.