Aug. 1, 2018

“Do you know where your assets are?” Chris Stern, director at Trimble Water, asks water utilities. Infrastructure is constantly being built over, and often there are only hand-drawn sketches available to pinpoint its location. Even in cases where good records are kept, such as Los Angeles, they’re still not digital. “It’s old technology that is inefficient.”

Asset management is a large challenge for customers, due to aging infrastructure and lack of investment. The historical approach held that pipes last 100 years and utilities should adopt a 1% annual replacement rate. Kelly Ball, senior consultant for PSD Software, estimates that cities typically rehab 20% of their manholes a year. But tracking the condition of assets can extend their life because it’s possible to “prolong the life of the system by avoiding events.”

Utilities need an asset registry to manage information about their assets, says Christa Campbell, industry specialist for global water practice at Esri, which she describes as the world leader in mapping and analytics. A geodatabase contains the location and all the information for each asset, including the installation date and type of material. “It should be an authoritative data source that maps assets, contains all relevant information, and helps to identify patterns.”

To remain accurate, a digital record should be updated as changes are made. “You have to know the condition of the assets so you can determine the highest-risk asset,” explains Stern. Therefore, he advises, it’s critical to capture good records.

GIS—a geographic information system for capturing, storing, managing, and analyzing data—can be used as a system of record and a system of engagement, making it easy to share information Campbell says. “Data collection in the field can validate and grow your asset registry, analysis supports activities such as leak detection, and web maps help to share information across your organization and with stakeholders. Management tools allow you to share with the right people, applications help with daily workflows like inspections, while story maps bring your work to life whether it’s about conservation or construction projects.”

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Wireless pressure and infrastructure monitoring

GPS has been used in a variety of industries, but is now providing broader solutions as it supports the life cycle of infrastructure such as pipes, valves, hydrants, and meters—and in wastewater, manholes, pumps, and lift stations.

Trimble’s smart water management software (Trimble Unity 3.8) is a cloud-based, GIS-centric software-as-a-service solution that runs on a mobile app and is suitable for the water, wastewater, stormwater, and environmental water industries. It works with an iPhone and is capable of 1-centimeter accuracy horizontally and vertically.

Furthermore, it enables customers to monitor operations in real time, assess the condition of assets, reduce leakage and non-revenue water, locate and map infrastructure, and track maintenance and repairs. Real-time data helps utilities make better decisions to predict and prevent failures.

Version 3.8 extends the platform’s capabilities to include proactive asset performance monitoring with the integration of Trimble Telog wireless Internet of Things remote monitoring sensors to measure and monitor water, wastewater, and groundwater systems for water pressures, flows, levels, and rainfall volumes. The software provides “layers of value,” says Stern, such as mapping and the condition of the asset, tracking for maintenance and repair, and real-time monitoring. The ability to provide an indication of performance data and the expected condition of the assets is hugely beneficial, allowing utilities to address the challenges associated with aging water infrastructure, leakage, and non-revenue water loss.

The latest technology from Trimble for asset management and mapping uses Mixed Reality technology. This shows high-accuracy Trimble mapping technology displaying buried infrastructure locations below the street based on GIS data.

Information about flow and pressure is important to collect. Spikes in pressure can cause damage to the pipes. A drop in pressure indicates a leak, which can lead to a pipe burst. It’s the same for sewer lines, which have an added environmental issue when overflows occur.

Trimble recently partnered with Aquarius Spectrum to distribute wireless leak detection and monitoring. Sensors on hydrants and valves assist an acoustic leak detection correlator in looking for lost revenue water. Trimble Leak Manager takes you to the area, while Trimble Leak Locator pinpoints the leak. “They work together,” summarizes Stern. Together, they are more precise and accurate, with fewer false positives—and contribute to as much as 18% reduction in water loss. “Utilities lose $12 billion in lost water revenue annually, so this is significant savings.”

Other benefits include reduced cost of repair and construction due to pinpointing the site—a big driver for utilities, Stern says, and improved asset performance, extended life, and reduced risk.

“If a pressure recorder finds a leak but doesn’t see water, and the utility doesn’t use a leak detector, the leak could burst the pipe,” cautions Stern. “That’s expensive. A UCLA campus flood caused by a sewer overflow cost $1 million in liability and fines.”

In addition, the value of water in drought areas is elevated. “They manage water as a valuable resource,” says Stern. Tracking non-revenue water is vitally important. “There’s no excuse not to use technology to be a steward of the environment.”

Unfortunately, too many have found an excuse. Stern says there are more than 3,000 using the technology, but many do so only temporarily for a study or project, rather than for permanent deployment. “They do small-scale studies to fix a problem. It’s a reactive approach: engineering problem-solving.” He calls it “lift and shift” as part of the capital improvement planning process to study the system. “For wastewater, it’s regulated that they must monitor overflows,” he explains, adding that EPA regulations have driven adoption of the latest technology in wastewater, while acceptance lags in water.

Barriers to adoption include lack of awareness; adoption resistance by a utility, which Trimble tries to overcome by offering as a hosted service that provides alerts and alarms for the customer; and funding. “It’s a challenge to update pipes at a static rate [by age],” notes Stern, “but you can reduce risk, improve performance, and prevent failure through monitoring.”

Esri’s analytics and mapping can supply data that provides an overall assessment of the system and its components. Do some areas have a record of leaks? Campbell queries. The same type of pipe? The same age? The same contractor? Corrosive soils?

Proactive planning is better than reacting to a crisis; however, disaster preparedness and recovery can also be improved. A tracing tool identifies the asset’s location and then traces the system to determine which lines and valves to shut for maintenance or emergency repair. “It knows which valves are operational,” says Campbell. It can save time and money—drive time, search time with a map (which are often not updated), data entry, etc.

Vital information is shared with the office and the field to assist with disaster preparedness. That’s important because of a trend that sees roughly 60% of utilities staff reaching retirement eligibility within the next five years. “Most utilities function with in-house expertise, but they really need that information in the GIS system where everyone can access it,” explains Campbell. Domestically, GIS is here in a large part of the market, Campbell observes, but she is seeing increasing migration to web GIS, which field crews can access.

In addition to sharing information, mobile solutions allow crews to respond and prepare better; on the East Coast, that might be hurricanes, Campbell says. Before the emergency, the system allows the authorities to manage road closures and sandbags. During the situation, it can alert to road closures and flooding, and after the crisis, it can collect damage data for funding and aid. “It helps with budgeting,” says Campbell, pointing out that utilities are often “strapped for cash.”

A map of critical assets

Located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, the Philippines experience frequent earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and typhoons that cause catastrophic losses. Manila Water Company Inc., in National Capital Region, Rizal Province, Philippines, prepared a Natural Calamity Risk Resiliency and Mitigation Masterplan to ensure that there is a reliable water supply in the event of a natural disaster for the service area covering the East Zone of Metro Manila (the National Capital Region) and Rizal Province.

Modeling with WaterGEMS illustrated what would happen if one or more interconnected supply systems shut down and which facilities would cause the most losses if they were operating at less than full capacity. The results helped Manila Water prioritize resiliency measures and contingency plans for more than 100 facilities to ensure that there is a reliable water supply during calamities. Estimates based on the simulations reduced the cost to restore reliable water service by $380 million, compared with $520 million without these measures.

Manila Water operates the concession to provide water treatment, water distribution, sewage, and sanitation services to the eastern side of Metropolitan Manila, where there are more than six million residential, commercial, and industrial customers. The concession encompasses 24 cities and municipalities in a 1,400-square-kilometer area. Manila Water has a mandate to provide customers with an uninterrupted water supply that complies with national drinking water standards. The masterplan saved $30 million in insurance costs through the end of Manila Water’s concession period.

Its goal is to mitigate the adverse effects of natural disasters on Manila Water customers and maintain reliable water service during natural disasters when it is essential for sanitation, hygiene, and preservation of life. However, the Philippines are threatened by an average of 20 typhoons every year, with 10 making landfall and five reaching superstorm proportions. In 2009, the deadliest season in decades, Typhoon Ketsana left more than 670 dead and caused $237 million in damages.

The country also suffers at least one destructive earthquake each year. When the magnitude 7.6 Samar earthquake struck in 2012, it displaced more than one million people and destroyed extensive infrastructure, leaving critical facilities inoperable, and disrupting water service. Government hazard assessments predict that the next catastrophic earthquake could cause as many as 34,000 fatalities and disrupt access to drinking water for months.

WaterGEMS system analysis and design software

To assess preparedness for such a calamity, Manila Water conducted a Resiliency and Business Interruption study to determine which of its facilities would be the most vulnerable. The RBI study confirmed that the utility would suffer significant damage to dams, water transmission and distribution pipelines, treatment plants, reservoirs, pump stations, and other facilities. Initial damage assessments indicated that it would take $520 million to restore service after a calamity.

The utility concluded that it could not afford to lose these critical facilities and that it would take too long to restore them to full operational capacity. The RBI study suggested high-priority facilities that would need to be made more resilient to minimize damage. Lower priority facilities would require contingency plans in case of their loss. The objective was to mitigate the adverse effects of a natural disaster, ensure a reliable water supply during such calamities, and accomplish these objectives for the most economical cost. Savings would not only benefit the private utility and its public partners but also be passed on to customers in the form of lower tariffs.

WaterGEMS, Bentley’s water distribution analysis and design software, was used to build a model and simulate operations of the entire water supply system. The model incorporated data from internal and external sources, including ground elevations, demand loading and patterns, pipe profiles, and other parameters. Manila Water undertook a rigorous process to optimize the masterplan for improving resiliency and mitigating risk at its more than 100 facilities.

Simulating operations under various scenarios revealed the effects of losing one or more components of the water system, illustrating how interconnected systems would react if one or more systems shut down. The what-if scenarios included assessing options for evacuation sites near secure and reliable water supplies, network segmentation, water storage capacities, and other variables. The results allowed Manila Water to identify and prioritize critical facilities with confidence.

The modeling also helped the utility to make contingency plans in case of catastrophic losses. The simulations identified the best locations for underground emergency reservoirs to supply evacuation centers and other population centers if connecting systems were damaged. The masterplan also prioritized facilities whose failure would cause further damage, such as a dam that would cause a catastrophic release of water if it failed.

WaterGEMS produced project cost calculations, supporting documentation, and detailed reports for review. According to final RBI study projections, the WaterGEMS simulations demonstrated that the proposed measures would significantly reduce property damage and business interruption in Metro Manila and Rizal Province. More importantly, the plan would ensure a stable water supply for Manila Water’s customers.

“Mitigation of the adverse effects of a natural calamity is a race against time. Bentley’s WaterGEMS helped Manila Water minimize the amount of its investment while maximizing the resiliency and contingency of its facilities,” says Diogenes Adelbert Voltaire B. Evangelista, water system analysis and planning engineer, Manila Water Company.

Credit: ESRI
A web map displayed in a simple application that shares location data

Stormwater monitoring using GIS is common in California for loss prevention and to track leaks. Quarterly certified inspections mandated by the EPA using GIS are conducted in a FOG environment to identify grease traps for violators. Sensors on manholes take readings of surges in flow—or lack of flow—to predict or see problems. A surge can predict a downstream overflow coming. “The software can predict and confirm an event, which can allow the utility to be pre-emptive, particularly for sanitary sewer overflow. They look through GIS at the area to see overflowed manholes, gather data, map to process, and log in to hot spots,” explains Ball.

Managing work operations around storm and surface water is only part of the broad-range solution offered by PSD Software’s HiperWeb. The software can also assist with compliance and permitting. Service lines can integrate with billing, inventory manifest, and distribution and collection lines. The software performs 2,300 processes invisibly. “The software tracks assets, personnel, and scheduling,” elaborates Ball. “It can integrate with data acquisition programs.”

Protocols are based on priority while routing optimizes workflow. “You want to react to an event in the most economic method possible,” notes Ball. “It becomes a function of operation and saves money.”

The life-cycle asset management application predicts the next water pump failure. “This is predictive and conditional through contract award and capitalization of replacement asset,” says Ball.

In addition, it can “normalize” data, Ball says, by working with all utilities to find commonality. “Contractors, crew—water or wastewater or public works—they’re all doing the same thing a different way.” This software provides a single platform for data, eliminating confusion.

Credit: ESRI
A water loss map

The trend goes beyond wastewater, says Adam Dinges, COO, Futura Systems Inc. “We eliminate the paper process for regulatory inspections and maintenance. Information is recorded in a native database, but is converted in GIS.”

Field workers are given an iPad that enables them to spatially see the GIS info and routes them to the exact location of the asset with directions for contractors, where they digitally record information, take a picture, and route an action—either to billing or to create a work order.

The importance of GIS tracking is that it stores information on the GIS server relevant to that feature: inspection dates, location, condition, etc. There’s no separate database. Information is shared by the feature; everyone has the same data and information to be used for emergencies or maintenance. “It does away with contractor-specific forms,” says Dinges. It also provides more complete data in a standard form, which makes it easier to decipher. Previously, different data was collected by various sites or it was collected in different formats. “Data conversions are time-consuming and costly.” Utilities can choose what to share without exposing all the GIS data, he points out: no confidential information is shared.

The reason it’s important to have consistent data in an easy-to-understand format is to be able to see patterns in the data. Futura’s analytics tool, IQ, does this using historical data. “Maybe repairs are seasonal or in specific areas,” says Dinges. “This allows you to see trends and costs so you can budget.” It also allows you to see the number of repairs that have been performed. It makes the data usable, not just stored.

Dinges says there is a steady migration to GIS tracking. “Utilities are digitizing maintenance and inspection data at a rapid pace.” But he doesn’t see it stopping there. He anticipates widespread acceptance of the web map concept, in which data is posted in real time for utilities, police, medical facilities, and the community. “If a water main breaks, first responders could see the work done, the estimated time, the location, etc.”

That leads to savings of employees’ time and, ultimately, customer dollars. Dinges mentions one utility in Knox County, TN, that saved $150,000 a year in man-hours when they switched to digital backflow inspections. Rather than having to manually send the annual bill to customers for 40,000 water meter inspections, the system automatically sends information directly to the billing department. “It streamlined the process. There’s no storing manual records, no overlap of work.” Thus, fewer employees are needed—saving labor costs.

Customer service also benefits because as data is collected, it creates a history to build a database, which leads to predictive analysis and the ability to make changes accordingly. “You can see trends in the system,” says Dinges. “Who installed it, the type of parts used, which manufacturer’s part is failing…”

Dinges believes it signals a commitment from the utility to meet customer expectations when attention is paid to the quality of the equipment, equipment performance, and customer perception.

Previously, it was possible to see where an asset is, but now, it’s possible to know the asset’s make and other details, including recalls. When assets come from the manufacturer, information such as purchase date, manufacturer, and part number can be digitally input into the GIS database. “It’s the next level of GIS tracking.”

Analysis is the future, according to Campbell, who says that Insights for ArcGIS is the next step in analytics. “You can run it in an enterprise system or in the cloud.” Either way, it allows you to bring in spatial and non-spatial data, such as billing and business intelligence systems. “The strong analytical capabilities allow for on-the-fly comparisons. You can even share with other utilities for regional initiatives. GIS is limitless.” 
About the Author

Lori Lovely

Winner of several Society of Professional Journalists awards, Lori Lovely writes about topics related to waste management and technology.