Running water is something most of us take for granted. In fact, outside of a few camping trips, I would be hard-pressed to imagine life without taking a daily shower, running the dishwasher, washing my hands, flushing the toilet or visiting any business that did not have indoor plumbing. However, after researching this article I can’t help but wonder if our water safety blanket is going to burst faster than a municipal water main. Our nations water systems need help, is a utilities EAM system part of the solution?

The Disrepair of Our Municipal Water Systems

The typical costs per gallon of water are about $.001 or 1/10 of a cent per gallon to $.005. Water cost, as compared to other utilities, is very much dependent on the Cities proximity to water sources as water is expensive to pump and transport. Beyond the relatively low price for water there is reason for great concern.

“The Government Accounting Office (GAO) in a 2002 report stated that 33 percent of water utilities did not adequately maintain assets and a further 29 percent had insufficient revenues to even maintain current service levels.”

Source: United States Environmental Protection Agency

The EPA report goes on to discuss how pipe failures due to age and corrosion should be expected to increase exponentially.

Asset Management Issues

    • Many municipal water systems were installed soon after WWII making the average age between 50 and 70 years.
    • Annual leak rates for 3 major cities
      • Rochester, NY – loses 24% of the daily water supply or 7.1 million gallons per day or 2.6 billion gallons per year. For scope, this amount is approximately 3.5 times the amount of oil leaking from the Gulf Oil Disaster on a daily basis.
      • Buffalo, NY – loses 41% of the daily water supply. Buffalo is slightly larger than Rochester
      • Philadelphia, PA – loses 33% of the daily water. Philly is 4 times the size of Buffalo and Rochester added together.

Can you imagine how much is lost nationally?

  • Miami, FL fixes over 1400 leaks a year
  • Estimated cost to repair California drinking water infrastructure – $17.5 billion
  • Estimated cost to fix the USA aging water supply system over the next few decades according to the EPA – $325 billion

Municipal Water Utilities Asset Management Options

There are three major reasons for the thousands upon thousands of leaks fixed by municipal maintenance teams annually. The first is the age of actual water infrastructure which can be well over 50 years. The second is the result of corrosion as water contains impurities that can cause pitting and other forms of pipe or valve corrosion. The third reason is for many years municipal water systems were not properly maintained. More specifically, cities have long operated on a reactive maintenance basis performing only limited inspections and water audits. The result is small leaks are becoming gushers on a regular basis washing away needed revenues.

As the water infrastructures have aged and corroded, water utility maintenance teams have become overwhelmed. To make matters worse, the average age of skilled maintenance workers is over 50 which is contributing to a skilled labor shortage to complete work orders. This leaves municipalities with only a handful of choices to avoid life altering water disruption for residents and businesses as well as avoiding skyrocketing water costs. The choices local governments have are:

  • Propose a tax increase to fix major infrastructure issues. Probably not a voters first choice unless they are made aware of the consequences for failing to act.
  • Float a municipal bond issue to fix the infrastructure issues. The problem is finding enough investors because so many cities and States are facing an economic crisis which lowers their capability to repay.
  • Raise water prices to end users in a never ending spiral to make up for lost water.
  • Continue reactive maintenance until either a catastrophic disaster takes place or corporatization occurs (private or corporate ownership of water utilities). Corporations will fix the problem but will also raise prices to accommodate their investment.
  • Try and do a little more proactive maintenance each year in an effort to identify small leaks before they become major repairs. The investment a city must make is minor compared to the cost of replacing its entire infrastructure. Capital replacements can be phased in over time.
How an EAM for Water Utilities Can Help Plug the Leaks

The last option above makes the most sense for municipal water systems. Taking better care of water utility assets through preventive maintenance and inspections will slowly but surely enable water maintenance teams to take back control and manage their own destiny as well as lengthen the useful lifecycle of assets. However, in order to accomplish this goal, municipal water utilities need EAM features to organize information and help streamline the work order process.

An EAM system contains two major tools that can help water utility management. The first is an EAM system sets up and organizes asset information in such a way that management has access to complete asset information such as location, decryption, age, condition, and costs. Each asset record will also contain a complete maintenance history including work request, work orders, who performed the work, what was done, time spent as well as tools/parts used. The database created can then be used by water managers to better plan infrastructure replacements as well become a knowledge source for new recruits.

The second major tool is that EAM software has a very powerful maintenance management design. Using an EAM system will automate manual work order processes and give water maintenance managers the ability to schedule all maintenance activities including work orders, inspections and preventive maintenance. Slowly but surely maintenance will regain the ability to be more proactive in reducing the number of leaks. The work order automation process allows for more work to be done with the same amount of resources.

Share with us how your municipal water works are plugging the leaks. If you liked this article you may also want to read: