RWELLS: Using a Living Lab to Advance Water Utility Asset Management
Matt Ray, Eminou Nasser & Hamed Zamenian Jul 27, 2012
The theme of aging water and wastewater infrastructures is gaining more interest around the United States as many cities have begun to realize that their underground assets are facing real challenges. In fact, the majority of U.S. water and wastewater infrastructures are exceeding their expected life, while others in service are subject to a high rate of failure, infiltration and corrosion.
In a recent report, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) rated the underground infrastructure in the U.S. with a grade of D. Contributing to the problem is the high fragmentation of the water and wastewater industry sector, with approximately 54,000 water utilities and 16,000 wastewater utilities in the U.S. More than 90 percent of these utilities serve communities with a population of less than 10,000. Small utilities are less motivated to adopt new managerial strategies due to their serious economic constraints and most operate in a reactive, rather than proactive, approach toward their buried assets. While an asset management plan is an effective way to address problems of water and wastewater, it is a challenging task for many companies to change strategy before they are confident of the results. Therefore, a small scale project in the form of a living lab can be conducted to evaluate an asset management plan before its implementation by a water utility company.
The water and sewer infrastructures in Indianapolis cover an area of approximately 400 square miles, including 4,528 miles of water main network and 3,520 miles of wastewater. The condition of this infrastructure is not an exception of this national trend. Water and wastewater infrastructures in Indianapolis are similar to those of many American cities with pipe in the systems well past its life expectancy.
However, a significant development has occurred recently that could change the way this problem is managed in Indianapolis. The ownership of water and wastewater services was transferred from the City of Indianapolis to Citizen’s Energy Group (CEG), a nonprofit public charitable trust, in August of 2011. CEG has provided gas to the residents of Indianapolis and the surrounding counties since the 1887 and more recently, other services such as steam and chilled water. Undoubtedly, the question of water and sewer management and the environmental consequences of its deterioration is the responsibility of all, including scientific and research institutions that can contribute by evaluating and testing new ways to manage these assets.
The Riverside Watershed Environmental Living Lab for Sustainability (RWELLS) initiative is a result of cooperation between Indiana University Purdue University in Indianapolis (IUPUI), the largest urban university in Indianapolis, and the Riverside Civic League (RCL), the community organization of the Riverside neighborhood. Riverside is a very distinctive urban neighborhood in Indianapolis, shaped by the three waterways existing in Indianapolis (White River, Fall Creek and the Canal). It is also home for three golf courses and many other cultural areas. However, this neighborhood has been subject to urban decay over the last three decades. The quality of life has fallen and the infrastructure has aged and been poorly maintained. This situation has led many people and businesses to move from the neighborhood. The RWELLS initiative was conceived to address the challenges of this neighborhood (specifically related to energy, water and quality of life) with an innovative approach that includes local residents in the decision making process.
Riverside is a typical example of an Indianapolis urban neighborhood established in the 19th century. Its water network was built in late 1800s around the first water treatment plant in Indianapolis (the White River Treatment plant). Riverside’s drinking water network and pumping stations are critical to the rest of the city. The White River plant provides 97 million gallons of water every day – 69 percent of the average daily consumption in Indianapolis. Another area of concern is the combined sewer overflow (CSO) points along White River, which was listed in 1997 as one of the most threatened rivers in the U.S. due to pollution. All these factors make Riverside water and wastewater networks very important to the City of Indianapolis, and make it the appropriate location to run a small-scale asset management plan.
RWELLS’ initiative focuses on water and wastewater infrastructure and can serve as a living lab to help utilities implement an asset management plan. Living labs in general are used by policy makers and citizens for designing, exploring, experiencing and refining new policies and regulations in real-life scenarios for evaluating their potential impacts before they are implemented. The asset management plan, as defined by the Certification of Training in Asset Management (CTAM) course, is the combination of management, financial, economic, engineering and other practices exercised within a guided framework applied to physical assets with the objective of providing the required level of service in the most cost-effective manner. A well-established plan increases a utility’s control over water and wastewater infrastructures by improving the predictability of pipe failure and prioritizing the maintenance and replacement of existing pipes. This allows utilities to reduce drinking water loss by minimizing breaks and leaks. It also helps to mitigate the number of wastewater overflows by managing inflow and infiltration (I/I). Therefore, the asset management plan promotes sustainability as well as decreasing cost. An asset management plan has three basic levels: strategic plan, tactical plan and operational plan.
In the first stage of the RWELLS project, the team conducted several meetings, workshops and presentations to different organizations in Indianapolis to build a network of partners and to increase awareness of the RWELLS mission. As a result, the team has formed a partnership with CEG, the Indianapolis Mapping and Geographic Infrastructure System (IMAGIS) and the Polis Center. The team then collected and analyzed water and wastewater data related to Riverside. The data acquired from CEG contains pipe characteristics and locations. For example, data showed a total of 118,419 linear feet (l-f) of potable water mains in Riverside, 80 percent of which are cast iron and were installed between 1898 and 1969. The percentage of cast iron pipes is higher in this area when compared to the rest of Indianapolis where cast iron makes up only 33 percent of the existing pipes. The rest are ductile iron, reinforced concrete and PVC, installed between the 1960s and 2010. All water pipes are pressure pipes.
There were 61 water breaks recorded in the Riverside neighborhood in the last 30 years, the main cause being corrosion. The corrosion problem is in part related to the age of the pipes as well as other factors such as soil or method of installation. The wastewater data showed 124,000 l-f of sewer mains separated by 441 manholes, leaving a standard distance of around 280 l-f between manholes. All sewer pipes are gravity pipes. The vitrified clay pipes (VCP) and the reinforced concrete pipes are the most used types of material in this area, while PVC pipes are only 2 percent compared to the rest of Indianapolis where the percentage of PVC is high — 32.6 percent — the second after VCP (42.6 percent).
Isolating and analyzing this data allowed the team to have a clear picture of the underground infrastructure in Riverside. This step is critical in developing an asset management plan, but it’s only the start. In future stages, the RWELLS team will conduct condition assessment of all water and wastewater infrastructure in Riverside, and in collaboration with CEG and technology providers, will test and evaluate new technologies in this area (for example, early leak detectors). RWELLS also plans to work together with CEG to train local residents to replace meters and repair pipe failures, rather than hiring out of state companies to do this job — an idea that, given the success, can expand to the rest of Indianapolis.
Matt Ray is an academic lab supervisor at the Construction Engineering Management Technology (CEMT) program at Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI). Eminou Nasser and Hamed Zamenian are both graduate students in the CEMT program.