AWWA’s Water Industry Report Confirms that Replacing Aging Infrastructure is Paramount. Smart decision-making about what to replace first requires breakthrough visibility.
A key part of the American Water Works Association’s annual survey is the list of “Top Ten Issues Facing the Water Sector.” Most of the concerns on the list are fluid and move up and down the Top Ten list each year. For instance, “emergency preparedness” rose in the rankings this year to the number three spot, as one might expect in this pandemic era. Other concerns drop modestly from the last survey.
But the number one concern of the water sector has stayed the same since 2017. Yes, the five-peat winner of the #1 concern of the water sector is “Renewal and Replacement of Aging Water Infrastructure.” Interestingly, the perennial number 2 concern has always been “Financing for capital improvements,” which is essentially a subset concern of the first. That is, financial constraints make it difficult to replace the aging, failing infrastructure. Or, more precisely, financial constraints require water utilities to do infrastructure replacement in a more strategic and thoughtful way.
One way to be more strategic is to only replace those water mains that really need it. The challenge is that the condition of buried infrastructure can be difficult to assess. Here’s an analogy: Think of a deck attached to a house with dozens of decking boards as the flooring. As an alternative to replacing the entire deck (which would be very costly and labor-intensive), we can replace some, but not all, of the boards when we have the time and budget. We all would approach this task of “infrastructure renewal and replacement” the same way. We would examine the deck through our sight and touch senses and determine what boards were the most rotted. We would not just blindly replace the boards on the deck that were chronologically the oldest. Such an illogical approach would inevitably lead to replacing some boards that were perfectly fine and serviceable while leaving rotted-out boards in place simply because they are “younger” than other boards.
The difference between the deck and the water mains is that with the deck, you can see the conditions of the boards, not so with underground water infrastructure. By continuously monitoring a system using parameters like flow, pressure, and acoustics, utilities can know where leaks are occurring (even if they don’t surface) and can track transients (energy surges that travel through the pipes -also known as water hammer) that can damage pipes and cause breaks.
Combined with asset information like pipe material and other environmental data, utilities can get a good picture of which areas of their system have a higher likelihood and consequence of failure and, therefore, require attention. When compiled together over time, these data and analytics can help you determine if the best option is to replace, re-line, or repair specific pipes. As the State of the Water Industry report made clear, capital planning is a critical concern of water utilities. The key to a strong deck is continuous visibility that helps prioritize the weakest and most at-risk components based on clear and convincing evidence. Same with water systems.
We would love to dive deeper with you on this critically important subject. Schedule a chat with us at www.exelonaquify.com.