Gregory M. Baird, Managing Director and Chief Financial Officer of AWI Consulting LLC, alsohas served as the CFO of Colorado's third-largest utility, and finance officer of California's 17th-largest city. He has thus had a sharp eye on the emerging crisis of America's crumbling water and wastewater infrastructure--both from the perspective of revenue-strapped public utilities in a water-challenged West, and as an advocate of the best ways to meet the challenge.
Baird summarized much of his thinking in "The Aging Water Infrastructure," from which his consultancy's acronym was derived. It appeared in the November/December 2010 newsletter of Water Utility Infrastructure Management, available free in the US and Canada. Those who prefer a graphic-rich presentation online can read Baird's 26-page pdf "The Aging Water Infrastructure (AWI): Needs and Challenges," prepared in October 2010 for the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the North American Society for Trenchless Technology (RMNASTT).
It is hard to overstate the extent of the challenges faced by the systems that carry and cope wit US water and wastewater, vital and related utilities we rely on everyday. "Community water systems include over 1.8 million miles of network pipes," Baird notes, along with the breathtaking estimate that there are 21 feet of sewer pipe for each of 314 million Americans.
More disturbingly, much of the vast network of buried pipes and pumps that serve our largest cities were installed when most transportation was by horse and electrification was an emerging technology. Any changes or improvement will be massive undertakings. Furthermore, the gap between what it will take to repair and update this critical infrastructure and the money actually set aside for that work grows each year.
What Baird champions is an asset-management strategy that is both affordable and sustainable, in which work is allocated to extend the life of water and wastewater assets in the most cost-effective manner possible. "There is no one-time fix," as he pointedly reminds us. "This momentous task of addressing the aging infrastructure dilemma requires overcoming many challenges, especially during this extended economic crisis."
One of the keys to doing so, Baird says, must be predictive maintenance.
"As city councils are educated on asset-centric business practices, they begin to comprehend that the water and wastewater utilities are the most capital intensive industries," he observes. "...in order to attain cost savings, operational efficiencies and lower future risks a return to properly maintaining our assets and extending an asset's useful life in a cost-effective manner is required."
"About 90 percent of US water and wastewater utilities use a geographic information system (GIS). Every utility is actually on an asset-centric path using GIS for mapping, ...next expanding with additional GIS applications and finally achieving an enterprise-wide operation. When the investment in GIS is the focus and the whole enterprise is the vision, the full power of GIS tools and functionality can be employed for long-term cost savings."
"An asset registry (geo-database) combined with a [computer maintenance management system] (CMMS) creates a foundation for an enterprise asset management system (EAMS) as promoted by the EPA. This simple and powerful combination captures asset data, work history, and condition assessments necessary to produce cost-effective, condition-based and predictive maintenance programs."
"This era of sustainability, deliberation, and economic downturn is not for the weak of heart," Baird concludes." [Water and wastewater] rates will need to increase, and if affordability is truly a core concern then there must be a change from the crisis management approach of waiting for the next sink hole and fixing it to a predictive methodology to avoid even higher rate increases."
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